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American Foxhound standing in the park.
©Mary Swift -

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From Washington’s Foxhounds to Obama’s famous Portuguese Water Dogs, presidential dogs are as traditional as baseball and apple pie. Almost all of our presidents have shared the White House with a dog, and often more than one. These presidential dogs became as much a staple of the capitol as the rest of the First Family and “spoke” more than words ever could about the nature of our leaders.

In January 2021, Joe Biden’s two German Shepherd Dogs Champ and Major restored the tradition of presidential pups to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. To celebrate the lives of First Pets, we take a look back at some of the most famous four-legged friends in American history.

George Washington

George Washington, the “Father of Our Nation,” is also the father of American Foxhounds. In 1770, Washington imported a number of hounds from England, and in 1785, the Marquis de Lafayette gave him some French hounds. Washington maintained and carefully bred these hounds, and they became the ancestors of today’s American Foxhound. More than 30 hounds were listed in Washington’s journals, including Sweet Lips, Drunkard, Tipler, and Tipsy. Washington didn’t invent American Foxhounds single-handedly, but he was a key player in the breed’s development.

george washington with foxhounds painting

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson became interested in Briards while serving as minister to France. He purchased a pregnant female, named Buzzy, and started his breeding program. Lafayette also sent Jefferson two more Briards to help protect the sheep at Monticello. There is no record of them living at the White House.

monticello painting

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt owned a Saint Bernard named Rollo, a Pekingese named Manchu (belonging to the President’s daughter Alice), a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Sailor Boy, his son Kermit’s Manchester Terrier called Blackjack, and a Bull Terrier named Pete, who ripped the pants of a French ambassador.

Teddy Roosevelt family portrait with Manchester Terrier

Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover owned a Wire Fox Terrier named Big Boy, a Norwegian Elkhound called Weejie, an Irish Wolfhound named Patrick, and a Belgian Malinois named King Tut.

Herbert Hoover with Belgian Malinois

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier Fala reportedly received more fanmail than many presidents. FDR also had a Bullmastiff named Blaze, two Irish Setters named Jack and Jill, a Bulldog named Pal, an English Setter named Winks, another Scottish Terrier named Meggie, a German Shepherd Dog named Major, and a Great Dane named President, which must have made things confusing in the White House. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt with Fala the Scottish Terrier

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower owned two Scottish Terriers named Caacie and Telek, and a Weimaraner named Heidi.

Dwight D. Eisenhower with Weimeraner

John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy owned a Welsh Terrier named Charlie, an Irish Wolfhound aptly named Wolf, a German Shepherd Dog named Clipper, and an English Cocker Spaniel named Shannon. Jacqueline Kennedy had a Standard Poodle named Gaullie. The family also owned Pushinka, a mixed-breed dog who was a gift from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon owned a Cocker Spaniel named Checkers, a Yorkshire Terrier named Pasha, a Poodle named Vicky, and an Irish Setter named King Timahoe. 

Richard Nixon's dogs in the White House

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford owned a Golden Retriever named Liberty and her puppy, Misty.

Gerald Ford with Golden Retriever

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan owned a Bouvier des Flandres called Lucky, and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Rex. He also had four other dogs that lived on his ranch — a Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, Belgian Sheepdog, and Siberian Husky.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan with Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

George H.W. Bush

George Bush owned an English Springer Spaniel named Millie (the “author” of a dog memoir called “Millie’s Book“) and Ranger, one of Millie’s pups.

George Bush with Millie the English Springer Spaniel and puppies

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton owned a Labrador Retriever named Buddy.

Bill Clinton with Labrador Retriever

George W. Bush

George W. Bush owned an English Springer Spaniel named Spot (daughter to Millie), and two Scottish Terriers named Miss Beazley and Barney. 

Laura and George W. Bush with Scottish Terrier

Barack Obama

Barack Obama welcomed two Portuguese Water Dogs, Bo and Sunny, into his family after his inauguration.

Bo and Sunny the Obama family's Portuguese Water Dogs

Joe Biden

Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, restored the tradition of presidential pets to the White House on Jan. 20, 2021, with their two German Shepherd Dogs: Champ, 12, and Major, 2. Joe Biden promised Jill he would get a dog after the 2008 election if Barack Obama won. Jill Biden then attached pictures of different dogs to the seats of Biden’s campaign plane for him to see. He acquired the puppy from a breeder in Pennsylvania, and he was named Champ (born October 2008) by his granddaughters.

Major (born January 2018) was the first rescue dog to reside in the White House. Champ passed away peacefully at the age of 13 in June 2021, and Major was eventually rehomed. In December 2021, the Bidens welcomed a new GSD puppy named Commander.

Thank you to the Library of Congress and White House websites for many of these wonderful photographs.

Related article: Five Common Questions New Puppy Owners Have
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