“Dog bites man” is usually not a headline that turns your head. However, if the dog is owned by the President of the United States and lives in the White House, and the man (or maybe the woman – this detail has yet to be revealed) is an intelligence agent, more attention will be paid.
In a widespread incident, the three-year-old major – the younger of the Biden’s two German shepherds – was frightened by a secret service agent and then bitten into the agent’s hand. According to the White House press secretary, Major “was taken by surprise by an unknown person and reacted in a manner that resulted in minor injury to the person being treated by the White House medical department without requiring further treatment.” Other reports have said the skin wasn’t broken and the agent worked the layer off.
Presidential dogs who misbehave are not new. In the early 1900s, Pete, Teddy Roosevelt’s bull terrier, chased the French ambassador down a White House corridor and tore off the bottom of his pants. A few decades later, Franklin Roosevelt’s German Shepherd, also known as the Major (a former “police dog”), was known for making exceptions to his fellow man, including harassing the maids in cleaning and tearing out the seat of visiting the pants British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. More recently, George W. Bush’s Scottish Terrier, Barney, squeezed the finger of a reporter who was trying to stroke him. (Unlike the French ambassador, who filed a formal complaint, the reporter didn’t hold it against the dog, but he did get a tetanus shot.)
Let’s just say this in advance: dogs bite; It’s one of the ways they communicate. Not good, but you can’t say, “Hey! Back! “Put any dog - the best behaved, socialized, and trained dog you can think of – in a sufficiently stressful situation and that dog is likely to bite. As noted trainer Victoria Stilwell on her Facebook Live Video comment said, “Bites rarely come out of the blue; it’s just that people aren’t very good at reading the signals, or when they do, they don’t respond to those signals.”
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This does not mean that dog bites are okay or inconsequential, or that – especially if the recipient is a child who is eye to eye with the dog – the outcome cannot be tragic. It may be. In this case, as in many similar cases, it was fortunately not the case. Dog owners will have a hard time avoiding the concern, embarrassment, and possibly aggravation that the Bidens likely felt upon hearing what happened.
Stilwell made several other outstanding points in their video response. For example, in their opinion, the incident reflected a “perfect storm of circumstances”: a transition to a new home, many attracting the attention of owners and signaling incorrectly. What is she prescribing? Customize and manage the dogs’ environment, make their lives totally predictable by creating and adhering to a schedule, and restricting their movements to areas where they are comfortable. It’s not about training, it’s about helping the young dog get along better.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper, Leigh Dempsey, trainer for the Delaware Humane Association (DHA), touched on some of the same points, particularly regarding the transition period. She was referring to what she called the “rule of three,” or the emotional development a dog goes through in a new situation. The first three days are a very stressful time when the dog needs to decompress. After three weeks the dog has started to acclimate. and after about three months the dog reaches a point of being comfortable with the environment. Major is roughly in the middle of the third level. (The Bidens adopted Major from DHA in 2018 after promoting him for several months.)
Both dogs are now back in Delaware and are being looked after by family friends. (Champ, the 13-year-old, had no part in the brouhaha but shared – as anyone with siblings has learned – the consequences of Major’s behavior.) However, despite earlier reports to the contrary, they were not banned. You should be there while First Lady Dr. Jill Biden was on a brief tour of military bases. When they return to the White House, they can be assured that new protocols will be put in place and that care will be taken again to help Major settle in.
The Bidens did the right thing in the beginning by moving to their new residence before introducing the dogs to it. With their clear devotion to Champ and Major, we are confident that they will figure out the best next steps – although Dr. Biden may be in charge of the program as her husband has some alligators to wrestle with.