Pet Talk: Let dogs decide elections | VailDaily.com

Pet Talk: Let dogs decide elections

Stephen Sheldon, DVM
Pet Talk

Everyone knows dogs are a great judge of character, and almost everyone also agrees our election process is already in the doghouse. So why not let our canine friends sniff out our next set of politicians?

All kidding aside, dogs have played a big role in politics. When President Barack Obama's family got Bo, it was front-page news for a week. During World War II, I am quite certain Gen. George Patton's reinstatement after striking a war torn soldier was due more to the lovability of his Staffordshire terrier, Willy, and less to do with his military acumen. President Richard Nixon's political career was said to be saved by his "Checkers Speech" in which he proclaimed they were keeping a dog his 6-year-old daughters named Checkers regardless of whether it was an improper gift or not.

But are dogs really a good judge of character, or are people who love dogs merely good characters? As much as I would love to say the former, it appears the latter is truer. According to Animal Behaviorists Daniel Estep, Ph.D. and Suzanne Hetts, Ph.D., "there is no evidence that dogs can discriminate people of good or bad character. These are things … that are not automatically known by dogs. If dogs really were good judges of character, why would they live with really bad people? Even Adolph Hitler had a loyal dog."

What your dog means about you

OK, so it's obvious, we need to be looking at the traits of humans who own dogs. Researcher Allen McConnell, of Miami University, said "pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extroverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than nonowners." Conscientious seems to be a trait I'd like to see in my political representatives.

The breed a person owns can also say a few things about their personality.

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"We go for dogs that are a bit like us, just as we go for a romantic partner who is a bit like us," study researcher Lance Workman, a psychologist at Bath Spa University in the United Kingdom. One recent study polled 1,000 people about themselves and their dogs to see if there were patterns. They concentrated on what psychologists call the "Big Five" personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

The results showed people who own pastoral or utility breeds are very extroverted. Owners of gun dogs such as Labrador retrievers and toy dogs such as Yorkies were the most agreeable. I find it interesting that the most emotionally stable people owned hounds such as beagles or afghans, which are not the smartest dogs in the world (and yes, we can measure intelligence in dogs); it makes sense to me, owning a beagle can test your patience. You want creativity, imagination and openness? Find someone who owns a Chihuahua or Maltese.

Of course, we need to take these kinds of studies with a grain of salt and not generalize people by the breed they own. I doubt a divorce judge would buy into the argument that you left your spouse because you just found out they owned a cocker spaniel before you met them and you read online the cocker owners are adulterous. One thing I can take to the bank: standard poodle owners are funny, intelligent, handsome and humble.

Getting back to politics, however, it would not surprise me in the least if someone told you "I voted for Hellen Back because she owns a cattle dog and her opponent Bill DaPeeple owns a basset hound." Dogs are serious business when it comes to judging people. I am sure I am not the only one who notices politicians and their dogs. Harry Truman said it best: "You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog."

Stephen Sheldon, DVM practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. He can be reached at 970-524-3647, drsteve@gypsumah.com or by visiting the clinic website http://www.gypsumah.com