Presidential Candidates and Their Dogs

How much do pets matter to voters?
By Karen B. London PhD, February 2016, Updated November 2020
presidential dogs

Today, we scrutinize everything about our politicians, including their dogs. That scrutiny extends all the way up the ladder to presidential candidates—both incumbents and those challenging them for the office.

Early on in our history, presidents may not have been concerned about how their dogs influenced people’s view of them. That could explain why George Washington (#1, 1789–1797) named two of his Foxhounds Tipsy and Drunkard. That surely would not fly in today’s political climate.

Theodore Roosevelt (#26, Republican, 1901–1909) had several dogs while he lived in the White House. Among them was a Bull Terrier named Pete, who was known for his nippy ways. Pete was reportedly TR’s favorite, and the president usually brushed off the dog’s antics as “the nature of the breed.” That changed the day Pete chased the French ambassador down a White House corridor and ripped off the bottom of his pants. The French were not amused, and filed a formal complaint about the incident. Not long after, Pete was sent to live out his life at Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelt family’s New York home.

Warren G. Harding (#29, Republican, 1921–1923) certainly treated his Airedale, Laddie Boy, with high esteem. Harding gave his dog a hand-carved chair to sit on during high-level meetings, like a true member of his cabinet. He also celebrated Laddie Boy’s birthday with a party at the White House that included the neighborhood dogs and a birthday cake made from dog biscuits.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt (#32, Democrat, 1933–1945) famously said, “You can criticize, me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog.” His little dog was a Scottish Terrier named Fala, and what came to be known as the “Fala Speech” is thought to have helped him secure re-election for a fourth term. His defense of the dog did wonders for FDR’s image.

Harry S Truman (#33, Democrat, 1945–1953) made a major PR mistake when he rehomed Feller, a Cocker Spaniel puppy he’d received as an unsolicited Christmas gift from a woman in his home state of Missouri. He gave Feller—also known as the Unwanted Dog—to the White House physician. It’s ironic that Truman did not accept this gift, as he is considered the source of the quote, “You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”

Lyndon B. Johnson ( #36, Democrat, 1963–1969) also suffered some dog-related image damage. Pictures of him holding up his Beagles, Him and Her, by their ears upset many citizens. Though the resulting scandal may not have had major effects on his presidency, many people forever thought his treatment of his pets showed his true character, and not in a good way.

George H. W. Bush (#41, Republican, 1989–1993), brought up his dog Millie, an English Springer Spaniel, in 1992, during his re-election campaign. “My dog Millie knows more about foreign affairs than these two bozos.” (He was referring to his opposition, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.)

photo by geckoam/Flickr

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life