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Associating with dogs doesn’t just make people happier, healthier, and more relaxed; studies have shown that having a dog by your side also affects the way other people see you. “Dog people” are perceived as friendlier, happier, less tense, and less of a threat to others (unless, of course, the pup in question is a snarling attack dog straining on the end of its leash!). The “popularity effect” may explain one of the well-known therapeutic qualities of dogs—the way they often improve people’s social interactions and serve as an “ice breaker” to ease awkward moments and improve conversation between strangers. It also has a lot to do with the way dogs have been used by American politicians to enhance their public image in the eye of ever-present cameras and reporters. President Harry Truman once said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Only five U.S. presidents have not been dog owners. (Not surprising in our canineloving country, where such a fundamental lack might plant seeds of mistrust among a large segment of voters.) From Franklin Roosevelt’s beloved Scottie dog Fala, to Richard Nixon’s cocker spaniel Checkers, to John F. Kennedy’s fluffy little Pushinka (a gift to the Kennedy family from Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev), dogs have long been part of the presidential image, for better or for worse. During the 1992 presidential campaign, George H.W. Bush once claimed that his spaniel Millie knew more about foreign policy than either of his two rivals, Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

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