WASHINGTON — "Bo, ho, ho" was the message Tuesday when first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters made a pre-Christmas visit to a children's hospital.

With them was the family's Portuguese water dog, who, in this rarest of public outings, had no formal remarks — just barks and rebarks disrupting Obama's reading of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."

"He hasn't seen Santa before," she told an audience at the Children's National Medical Center, explaining Bo's antics.

The black-and-white dog was seasonally attired in a red-and-white jingle bell collar, its tail trimmed into a devil-may-care-pompon. Patients were treated with White House-made cookies shaped in his image.

The Obama daughters took turns reading Caralyn Buehner's "Snowmen at Night" before contributing to a question-and-answer session.

What's Dad getting for Christmas?

"Sports stuff," Obama said. "It's something he likes," Sasha, 8, said cryptically.

How will Christmas be different this year?

"Well, it will be easier to get on the plane than last year," said Sasha, to laughter.

How many Christmas trees decorate the White House? "Twenty-six," Obama said, with an assist from an aide.

"Unfortunately, you don't get presents under all of them," noted Malia, 11.

Favorite songs?

For Malia, it's the ethereal "Carol of the Bells," and for Sasha, it's that sprightly old standard, "Jingle Bells."

Every first lady since Bess Truman has visited the hospital. Upon arriving, Obama left the girls in the atrium to work a crowd gathered before a large Christmas tree while she met with patients in a unit for heart and kidney ailments.

Malia, leading Bo, worked a rope line like an old pro, politely saying, "Hi. It's nice to meet you," or asking, "Are you having fun? Are you excited for Christmas?"

The family soon departs the snow-blanketed capital for the president's native Hawaii.