By: Chas Danner
WHITE HOUSE APR. 12, 2021
President Biden’s three-year-old German shepherd, Major, will be receiving more training following a second biting incident involving a White House worker late last month. Major “will undergo some additional training to help him adjust to life in the White House,” Michael LaRosa, spokesman for First Lady Jill Biden, said in a statement Monday. “The off-site, private training will take place in the Washington, D.C., area, and it is expected to last a few weeks.”
The Bidens’ youngest dog, which they adopted from the Delaware Humane Society, nipped a Secret Service agent’s hand in early March, resulting in what White House officials described as a “minor” injury. After a brief hiatus for Major and the Bidens’ elder German shepherd, 12-year-old Champ, back at the their home in Delaware, the dogs returned to the White House — but Major soon nipped again. This time, it was a National Park Service employee who had been walking him — on a leash, since Major had lost his White House roam-free privileges — on the South Lawn.
Both the president and White House press secretary Jen Psaki have defended Major, with the official White House stance being that the dog has has had difficulty acclimating to his new and very different, stranger-frequented life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Biden has insisted that Major is “sweet” and loved by “85 percent of the people” he meets at the Bidens’ busy new home. Before all this, Major’s only claim to fame was being likely the first-ever shelter dog to take up residence in the White House, as well as a November roughhousing mishap with then-President-elect Biden during which the 78-year-old tripped on a rug and suffered a hairline fracture in his foot.
The pending training camp will be the second time Major has gotten professional help. When he and Champ were sent back to Delaware following Major’s first biting incident, the younger pooch spent some time working with a trainer — but it’s not clear how much of a difference that made (or should have been expected to make), and it obviously didn’t prevent the second nip.
At least one dog psychologist has said he didn’t think Major’s first round of training would be of much use. In a chat with Slate earlier this month, Center of Canine Behavioral Studies founder Nicholas Dodman said that he didn’t feel very comfortable with the methods [Major’s previous dog trainers] were using:
When Major was sent away by the White House [after the first bite], I told my friend, “The biting is going to happen again. That guy can’t have fixed the problem. I don’t like the methods” … I looked at this trainer’s bio, and his qualifications are all in sporting dogs and detention dogs. It’s sort of police, almost army-style. I don’t specifically know what this guy does, but that style of training usually has punitive aspects. I saw in the most recent picture, Major was being reintroduced to the White House with a choke collar on, which I don’t think is right at all.
This is a dog who, through genetics and early lack of good experience, has probably developed mistrust of certain types of people. And German shepherds are the No. 1 biting breed in the country, though they tend not to bite hard. Most of the German shepherds I have seen over the past 30 years have anxious, suspicious dispositions. They’ve already had the bites in two months. If you don’t want to have six bites a year, you can reduce that to one negative encounter — perhaps a lunging or growling — by not turning the dog into a little lamb but just use understanding, controlling, relaxation techniques, desensitization habituation.
Whatever happens next, Major appears to have political allies. Mayor turned Transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg recently expressed his support for Major. In a TMZ interview last week, Buttigieg said he recently met and pet the famous dog during a visit to the White House, and “it went just fine.”
“I know there have been some stories about him, but my interactions with him have been great.”