March 24, 2011 03:42 PM

With the Middle East topsy-turvy from civil uprisings, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton doesn’t get much time off these days. But when she’s able to squeeze in a personal day, she says she walks off any stress–with her dogs. And the former president, Bill Clinton.

“When I’m home, we go on these walks and we have this old Labrador who has arthritis, and we always try to convince him to come out for a walk,” she told PEOPLE in a March 17 interview in Tunisia, for the new issue of the magazine. “And then we have this toy poodle that we got to keep the Labrador company and to try to get the Labrador to be more energetic. And she’s, like, bouncing all the time. And so we go on these walks and it’s great because the – our Lab, Seamus, sort of starts off kind of like an old man, just kind of very ambling and slow. And Tally, our poodle, is like, jumping up and down and then Seamus gets some energy and off he goes.”

Who knew the Clintons had dogs? The former First Lady and U.S. Senator, who calls Chappaqua, N.Y., home, takes it as a sign of increasing privacy for her and her family that Seamus and Tally came as news to her regular State Department press corps.

“Thankfully, thankfully,” the press has backed off a little on her family life, she says. “I’d love that it even be less so. These jobs are really hard, and if you don’t have time to just really be a private person, you can’t refuel yourself to be able to deal with all of the pressures that come at you during the average day. So for us, it’s great having just the opportunity to go for a walk with our dogs.”

An aide said Clinton got Tally after falling for a neighbor’s toy poodle: “She just kept saying, ‘I want a little dog!’ “

And so Seamus and Tally are among the comforts of home, says Clinton. “It’s just a great release and respite for me.”

For much more from Secretary Clinton and an insider’s look at her high-stakes travel through the Middle East –including a peek inside her carry-on bag–pick up the new issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

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