Going to the dogs: When do presidents trot out the first pooch?
President Barack Obama and his dog, Bo, in a photo released Friday by the White House.
June 22nd, 2012
06:22 PM ET
2 years ago

Going to the dogs: When do presidents trot out the first pooch?

(CNN) - Does the first dog, Bo, get his biggest headlines during wartime?

A new study, "The Politics of Pets in the White House," suggests that presidents carefully calculate when best to showcase their furry friends–and periods of military conflict tend to be primetime for presidential pets.

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"In times of crisis, the American people want a steady hand at the helm," the study notes. "How else to establish that a president is in charge than seeing the commander-in-chief confidently playing fetch with a four-legged companion in the middle of the afternoon?"

The report, primarily conducted by researchers at George Washington University, appears in the July issue of the publication "Political Science and Politics." While presidents have long had a tradition of pet-keeping, the study finds a few trends in the way the occupier of the Oval Office capitalizes on Man's Best Friend.

President Barack Obama's dog, Bo, has certainly been no stranger to the media. According to the study's analysis of newspapers between 1961 and 2011, the black-and-white Portuguese Water dog has received far more coverage than any other presidential pooch.

The study notes that dogs can make a president or political candidate seem more relatable. Obama, for example, on Thursday drew laughs at a celebrity-studded Manhattan fund-raiser when he joked that he falls fifth in the "hierarchy" at the White House.

"There's Michelle, my mother-in-law, the two girls and Bo," he said. "So that actually makes it six."

Along with periods marred by war, the study concludes that pets also tend to appear more often when a White House is plagued by scandal or controversy.

"What better way to get back in our good graces than for the president to be seen, alone, with only one loyal friend?" the study states. "Who are we to judge the president when the one who knows his soul can forgive him?"

It cites a famous 1998 photograph taken of President Bill Clinton walking his dog, Buddy, alongside his wife and daughter–just one day after the president admitted to having an affair with Monica Lewinsky. The report posits that the photo helped invoke an "image of family unity."

"In time of war, (presidents and their pets) tell the country that they and the rest of the nation are in good hands," the study says. "In times of personal scandal, they convince us that the president is 'only human'."

But when are the pets muzzled, so to speak?

Apparently when the stock market plunges, it's time to bring out the dog cage. The study finds that White House animals tend to take a more low-key profile during economic downturns.

Pets become a "political liability when their frolicking on the White House lawn in hard times might cue the public that not everyone in the country is suffering equally and that being president is not a full-time job," the study says.

In its data analysis, the report finds that during times of high unemployment and high inflation rates, pets made fewer appearances in news reports and photos of their owners.

The study, presented somewhat tongue-in-cheek, is laced with a steady stream of pet clichés ("Throwing a bone to the diversionary war literature...") and concedes some potential flaws in the analysis.
These include the notion that reporters may actually be inclined to increase pet reporting during good economic times or when presidents have high approval ratings. The reports also admits it did not observe similar trends for cats, as it found with dogs.

"In future research, we hope to disentangle these causal linkages by obtaining pet-appearance schedules (through Freedom of Information Act requests)," the report cheekily states.

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Filed under: President Obama • White House
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Myviewis

    Okay, so Bo is the dog Senator Kennedy told Obama he had to keep because, if I remember correctly, all presidents have dogs and Obama did not want a dog? Is this showing of Bo another Obama gimmick? Yes, of course, just like the Latino vote. I have to say Sen. Kennedy had good taste in dogs.

    June 22, 2012 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  2. BTLProd

    In hte Case of Bo, he also gets trotted out when it is time for him to vote in his Illinois district.

    June 22, 2012 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  3. Marie MD

    This is so wrong is so many ways . . . . . "Pets become a "political liability when their frolicking on the White House lawn in hard times might cue the public that not everyone in the country is suffering equally and that being president is not a full-time job," the study says.
    In its data analysis, the report finds that during times of high unemployment and high inflation rates, pets made fewer appearances in news reports and photos of their owners.
    In times of trouble you can talk to your family and friends but ONLY a dog can understand without talking how you feel deep down inside. That's when they sit/lie and stand by you and when just petting them becomes a comfort.
    This study, as most studies, has absolutely no meaning.

    June 22, 2012 09:27 pm at 9:27 pm |
  4. Gurgyl

    The best president, as of pride I am saying!!! God bless him.

    June 22, 2012 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  5. leftisloony

    so which is it?....that its time for obama to bring out the kennel because of the fast and furious scandal and the national security leaks or no frolicking in the lawn because of the lousy economy and no jobs.........things just really aren't going well.......maybe BO knows....why don't we ask him........thanks for some your hard hitting journalism cnn.........why don't you disband your obama apologist squad and actually investigate some of the scandals or economic failings of this administration and become a REAL news outlet......have a nice evening......

    June 22, 2012 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  6. ThinkAgain

    Bo is cute – and I think our President is doing a tremendous job! Keep up the good work, Sir!

    Obama/Biden 2012 = The only sane choice.

    June 22, 2012 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  7. Angel

    Another four years!

    Obama 2012!

    June 23, 2012 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  8. MilitaryAF

    Let the loneliest man in the world enjoy the companionship of his one, ever-loyal companion!

    He deserves THAT MUCH, at least!

    June 23, 2012 03:33 am at 3:33 am |
  9. T'sah From Virginia

    President Obama has ONE loyal friend – Bo – But millions of REAL FRIENDS – his loyal base!!

    Obama 2012 – The Only Trusted Way Forward!

    June 23, 2012 05:47 am at 5:47 am |
  10. John Frary

    This is important. My researches have determined that no petless president has ever been re-relected. Cats can be a liability unless they share the presidential quarters with dogs. Coolidge and TR had the most extensive manageries and won re-election with ease.

    June 23, 2012 07:52 am at 7:52 am |