How the Bidens Failed Their Dog Major

In the latest episode of GOOD DOGS!, my co-host Carol Borden (founder of Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs and a veteran trainer, particularly of German Shepherds) and I discuss the various ways the President and his wife Jill seemed not to have considered the stress on their dogs of moving into the White House. Just recently their younger German Shepherd, Major — a three-year-old purebred Shepherd adopted from the Delaware Humane Society by the Bidens two years ago — went at a Secret Service agent and bit him, albeit not deeply. It was clearly a disturbing incident for all concerned. Carol and I wanted to discuss what seemed to have happened in this scenario, what could have been done differently, and what all of us can learn about dogs from this unfortunate but preventable occurrence so nothing similar happens with our own pets.

Could the incident have been avoided? Definitely.

The attack on the agent was not an “out of the blue” episode (these sorts of situations rarely are — the dog has usually given prior indications of his state of mind). In Major’s case, apparently, a “storm” had been brewing before the bite. The Bidens had not heeded the warning signs of tension and reactivity their younger German Shepherd had already been exhibiting.

Any dog would be challenged having to adjust to the challenges of White House life after a quiet, familiar home existence — especially locked-down during Covid, where nobody would even have been coming to the house and Joe Biden spent a lot of time in a basement office.  Now that the dog was transferred to the hubbub of the President’s office, in order to help him with the transition Major could have been confined to the residence in the White House. If he was to be in the public spaces, he should have been under the guidance and control of a designated person, optimally on a leash. He should have been trained with knowledge of obedience commands so he could feel certain of what was expected of him.

Biden/Major Blog Major gave Prior Warning — But Did Anybody Pay Attention?

At the White House, Major had given indications that he was unstable and unpredictable around the people coming and going. That’s understandable! It is an environment of constant change and commotion, with people giving off odors and body language indicating their own emotions of stress, intensity, urgency or fear. The dog would have been picking up on this and affected by it. Based on comments from people around the White House, Major had already barked, jumped and lunged at various individuals. Before he went at the Secret Service agent there were clear indicators that he was stressed and unclear about his role in this new setting. Why did no one pick up on his mental state and relieve him of the burden of trying on his own to figure out his ” job” in this new environment?

Natural Protective Behavior from a German Shepherd

Major’s behavior was that of a dog who felt threatened or under a responsibility to defend or protect his territory and/or his humans. He was attempting to figure out his role in the bustling, intense atmosphere of the White House. It had to be confusing without a trusted person at his side to give him guidance, commands, and a sense of purpose. German Shepherds are working dogs, with a strong natural drive to protect and herd. To help manage his natural instincts, Major should have been removed from public situations that made him react with aggressiveness before it escalated as it did

What could the Bidens Have Done Differently?

In our conversation on GOOD DOGS!, Carol speculates about how can we all learn from this. Dogs do their best to communicate with us — it’s our responsibility to pay attention, to know their individual temperaments, and to set them up for success, not failure. Respecting communication from our own dogs means protecting them from situations where they can become labeled as “bad” or a “problem.” We are the ones who should take responsibility for the well-being of our dogs — their emotional as well physical health.

Yay! for Dogs in the White House again!

It’s great to have dogs back in the White House — but how do the dogs feel about it? Major was sent back to the Bidens home in Delaware with his housemate, a 13-year-old Shepherd named Champ. Let’s hope there’s a good dog trainer who can help the Biden family and staff “walk it back” when the dogs return to the White House so there can be mutual understanding of boundaries and limits so that harmony can be restored.

The Bidens need those pooches in their residential space to give them the affection, joy and stress relief dogs give us just by being there for us. Let’s not lose sight of how we need to be there for them, too.

Who is advising the Bidens so poorly!? President Biden just announced that Major is now working with a trainer — but that won’t solve the problem because the dog is being “retrained” in Delaware! The dog needs to be acclimated and trained right at the White House — in the environment that is causing the problem, not back at home where everything had been going fine!

—Tracie Hotchner

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