Why Dogs Have Been So Important to Presidents

A historian’s view of how a pet’s loyalty transforms the White House

Lindsay Chervinsky, Ph.D.
3 min readFeb 20, 2021
Pete Souza for Wikimedia Commons.

Today is #LoveYourPetDay. Also known as every day that ends in “y” in my house. But I’m not alone. Most American presidents have surrounded themselves with dogs and citizens have been fascinated by presidents’ furry friends.

And for good reason! Politics is hard under the best of circumstances, but leading a nation is a nearly impossible task. The decisions, the burdens, and the power make for long, sometimes lonely days. Which is why the unfailing love and loyalty of dogs is so welcome. Similarly, it’s all too easy to see the president as unhuman or simply the office. That’s why Americans love to see presidents and their dogs. It shows that they are still human, that they are capable of love, joy, and humor. Something we all need from time to time.

Here are a few of my favorite examples in U.S. history. Up first, George Washington loved dogs. He named them after Roman and Greek gods (like Vulcan the hound), but he also had fun with the names (like Sweet Lips the spaniel). He even created the American Foxhound breed by breeding French hounds and English hounds.

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The James A. Garfield NPS site shared this amazing picture about Garfield’s Newfoundland, Veto. One of the best dog names ever (and they are an amazing Twitter follow):

Theodore Roosevelt also had a huge pup, Rollo, the Saint Bernard. Roosevelt had a ton of other pets at the White House, really a zoo: parrots, cats, lizards, dogs, horses, cows, etc.

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Park Service

The Coolidges had two beautiful white collies, Prudence Prim and Rob Roy. They were stars. Prudence Prim rocked a bonnet at the Easter Egg Rolls and Rob Roy was featured in Mrs. Coolidge’s First Lady Portrait.

Herbert Hoover wasn’t the most fuzzy character, but the Belgian Malinois King Tut helped voters see him as human. No kidding, King Tut was featured in political ads to warm up Hoover’s political reputation.


I’m not sure this next presidential dog needs introduction. Fala was President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s beloved Scottish Terrier. She was also the only dog featured in a presidential monument on the National Mall.

FDR Presidential Library

Lyndon B. Johnson had several dogs, but his favorite was Yuki, a scraggly mutt they found abandoned at a gas station. They liked to howl together.

LBJ Presidential Library

You know how they say pets look like their owners? I think that no pet has ever better represented their president than Liberty, the Golden Retriever. She just seems to embody the all-American, football-playing Ford.

Notice that these dogs and their presidents span the political spectrum (and are just a few of many, many examples). Love of dogs is something that most of us share, and helps us remember that presidents are human too.