June 15th, 2012
07:14 AM ET
10 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 for 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 (11 Responses)
  1. Free Man in the Republic of texas

    When do presidents trot out the first pooch?

    When un-employment is 8.2% with the best of spin.

    When growth in GDP is less than 2%

    When each working tax-payer who still has a job owes $136,000
    to pay off the 5 TRILLION in NEW DEBT for nonexistent GREEN "jobs"

    June 15, 2012 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
  2. Fair is Fair

    Earth-shattering news.

    June 15, 2012 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  3. Ed1

    Couldn't wait to get to the end of this outstanding piece of news I see an award for this writer.

    Really you can't find anything to write about now the news goes to the dogs.

    June 15, 2012 09:10 am at 9:10 am |
  4. Obama 2012 - BEND Forward America, NOT a third term of BUSH's years of FAILURE

    This is news because Rmoney has not fabricated any lies today.

    “There is something so grotesquely hypocritical about the Romney campaign. We’re not going to beat Barack Obama with someone who owns Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts. Mitt Romney should know that we aren’t that stupid and he isn’t that clever. To have his campaign take on a lifetime of lies, frankly I do find infuriating. I think it is one of the most dishonest things I’ve seen in politics.” – Newt Gingrich (01/26/12)

    June 15, 2012 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  5. Man's Best Friend

    This article contradicts itself. It said Obama's dog Bo has had more media coverage than any other presiential dog since 1961. It further states that presidents know to pull out the "dog cage" when the economy is bad.

    The economy has been in the tank for the last 3 years!

    June 15, 2012 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  6. Dieter Zerressen

    Come on, no mention of Mitt Romney's dog being transported on the roof of his car? Sort of a visual for the American worker: transported (to another country in fact) on the roof of the car while the family rides in style and comfort on the inside.

    June 15, 2012 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  7. DIANA

    If Romney wins, will he be showing his dog to the public on top of his car? I love the quote – "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog".

    Totally out of story – read Soldier Dogs. It's one of the best books about what our four legged friends and their human comanions do over there.

    June 15, 2012 09:48 am at 9:48 am |
  8. enuff

    When there is a family trip where the dog is included strapped the the roof of the car... "wish you were here" printed along the bottom.

    June 15, 2012 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  9. Core republican Values

    If you're Mitt, you will never be able to trot out the "first pooch" because he came off the roof of the car somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike.

    June 15, 2012 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  10. Sydnium S. Washington, EC, HOTD

    LBJ makes beagle bark by ear pulling.

    June 15, 2012 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  11. non issue

    Even Bo the dog has more personality than Robmey.

    June 15, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |