"If you want a friend, buy/get a dog” (a dog is well known as “man’s best friend") is a saying that’s been cited in print since at least 1911. U.S. President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) is often credited with saying “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog,” but there is no evidence that he ever said it. “You want a friend in life, get a dog!” is a line in the play Give ‘em hell, Harry (1975).
“If you’re going to stay in this town (Hollywood—ed.) and want a friend, go out and buy yourself a dog” is cited from 1941, but the “Hollywood” version never caught on. The “Washington” version is cited from at least 1985.
The Quote Verifier:
Who said what, where, and when
By Ralph Keyes
New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press
“If you want a friend in Washington, get a DOG.”
Truman Library archivists question the common attribution of this quip to the thirty-third U.S. president. They point out that Truman spent much of his young manhood on a farm, where dogs were helpers more than pets. Harry and his wife, Bess, had no particular fondness for dogs, and gave away the two that were given to them while they lived in the White House.
Verdict: An old saw put in Harry Truman’s mouth.
19 November 1911, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 2, col. 6 classified ad:
IF YOU WANT A FRIEND
Buy a dog.
November 1919, The Expositor and Current Anecdotes, pp. 167-168:
“Want a friend?” reads an advertisement near Greenwich, Conn., “Then buy a dog.”
Weekly Commercial News
v. 68-69 - 1924
The United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co., the originators of the discount for “The Original Burglar Alarm,” have just issued a most interesting booklet on man’s most loyal friend, the dog.
The booklet is illustrated with pictures of the breeds of dogs with quotations from famous authors about “man’s best friend.” It advocates the slogan: “If you want a friend — buy a dog.”
13 September 1925, New Orleans (LA) Times-Picayune, pg. 13:
The dog industry has developed along with the automobile, and now there are few country roads without their signs. “Dogs for Sale,” “Want a Friend? Buy a Dog!” and such.
25 September 1937, Hartford (CT) Courant, pg. 5:
Friendship May Be Had At A Price
Goodsell Advises Those Seeking Friend To Buy a Dog. Then Treat Him Accordingly
By P. Hamilton Goodsell
I...was prompted by a sign at a sales kennel reading: “If you want a friend buy a dog.”
22 January 1941, Dunkirk (NY) Evening Observer, “Harrison in Hollywood” by Paul Harrison, pg. 6, col. 5:
And then there was Frank Fay’s advice to Rene Clair, the newly arrived French director. Said Fay, “If you’re going to stay in this town and want a friend, go out and buy yourself a dog.”
Google News Archive
1 December 1973, Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA), “At Wit’s End” by Erma Bombeck, pg. 5, col. 2:
If you want a friend, buy a dog.
“Give ‘em hell Harry”: reminiscences
By Samuel Gallu
New York, NY: Viking Press
Banks, boy, there’s a bunch of crooks for you. They’re happy to lend you money when you prove you don’t need it. You want a friend in life, get a dog!
Google News Archive
10 September 1975, St, Petersburg (FL) Times, pg. 3D, col. 3:
President Truman once said “If you want a friend, get yourself a dog.”
31 March 1985, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “Whittlesey Roast Overcooked” by William E. Gibson, pg. 2F:
The honored victim was Faith Whittlesey, formerly the highest- ranking woman official at the White House, who was eased out of her job as assistant to the president for public liaison because her strident conservative posturing became too much even for the Reagan administration.
Perhaps the best joke was borrowed from that old quipster Harry Truman who said: “If you want to find a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”
Capitol Offences: Dr. Foth meets Uncle Sam
By Allan Fotheringham
Toronto: Key Porter Books
If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog. — ANONYMOUS
Through the Looking Glass: Washington, DC
Donald J. Devine and Fred Barnes
Donald J. Devine
For four years I was Ronald Reagan’s chief bureaucrat. I was the director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and I ran the U.S. civil service which is responsible for over 2,000,000 employees. I remember when Ronald Reagan first called me in to discuss the appointment. He said, “Don, I’ve got a job for you. I want you to cut government jobs. I want you to reduce overgenerous benefits. And I want you to make government employees work.”
I said, “Thanks, I should make a lot of friends.”
But, I decided to do it and we made some pretty substantial gains. We reduced non-defense civil employment by over 100,000 positions. We saved more than $20 billion in benefits and we did institute performance standards to induce government employees to work more effectively. What was the result? The Washington Post ran my photograph on the cover of its weekly magazine with the headline: “Reagan’s Terrible Swift Sword of the Civil Service.” I was called “combative,” the “Grinch in the Pinstripe Suit,” and, my favorite: “the Rasputin of the Reduction-in-Force.” (I always remembered, however, what Harry Truman used to say about doing a tough job in Washington, “If you need a friend in Washington, buy a dog.")
New York (NY) Times
Published: Sunday, June 7, 1987
Dear Mr. Greenspan,
Last week, after President Reagan announced that you would replace Paul Volcker as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, New York Times reporter Lawrence M. Fisher asked some knowledgeable people what advice they have for you.
SENATOR NANCY KASSEBAUM Republican of Kansas
There are other items, but I don’t want to overload your Apple II before you’ve even been confirmed. I’ll close with some words from Harry Truman: ‘’If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.’’
Safire’s Political Dictionary
By William Safire
New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Late in 2007, lunching with a longtime friend, the former Defense Secretary (Donald Rumsfeld—ed.) recalled the aphorism often attributed to Harry Truman—“If you want a friend in Washington, D.C., get a dog”—an added Rumsfeld’s Corollary: “Better make it a small dog, because it may turn on you also.”
The Solomon Scandals
Truman dog quote mystery: Help for me from ex-Senator, but still no solution
Posted by David Rothman on May 21, 2009
The Solomon Scandals, Truman dog quote
Update: I’ve now traced the quote to a Reagan Administration official, who, however, can’t recall where he heard it. See addendum. – D.R.
For close to a year, I’ve tried to crack a Washington mystery. What’s the origin of the famous Truman quote, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog”?
Reached by phone at his offices at the American Conservative Union, where he is editor of Conservative Battleline, Dr. Devine told me: “I’ve been using that since I was director of the Office of Personnel Management. I don’t know where it comes from. I probably stole it. I’m sure I heard it from someone else.”
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (2) Comments • Tuesday, October 27, 2009 • Permalink
I have two wonderful dogs and they are my best friends. One hates men she is terrified of them, she was a rescue dog. So they are just as much woman’s best friends as they are a mans!!!!
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I am going to save up & buy a boxer puppy. I am gonna treat it nice, be caring, treat it & I won’t let anything happen to it & I will take it everywhere with me. If someone tried to jump me would the dog attack the person? Will me & my boxer dog become best friends?
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