© 2024 WUOT

WUOT
209 Communications Building
1345 Circle Park Drive
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996-0322
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden's dog, Commander, has been biting Secret Service agents

President Biden's dog Commander looks out from the balcony during the 2022 Thanksgiving turkey pardon ceremony. Secret Service records show the dog has bitten a number of agents, raising concerns.
Carolyn Kaster
/
AP
President Biden's dog Commander looks out from the balcony during the 2022 Thanksgiving turkey pardon ceremony. Secret Service records show the dog has bitten a number of agents, raising concerns.

President Biden's dog Commander has found himself in the doghouse after a series of incidents where he bit Secret Service officers on duty at the White House.

The German shepherd bit several Secret Service agents a total of 10 times during the four-month period between October 2022 and January 2023, records show. One incident resulted in an agent getting sent to the hospital for treatment.

Tipped to the incidents, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit to get access to 194 pages of emails and texts where Secret Service agents and officials described aggressive encounters with Commander.

For example, on Oct. 26, Commander charged at an agent while on a walk with first lady Jill Biden.

"The First Lady couldn't regain control of Commander and he continued to circle me. I believe it's only a matter of time before an agent/officer is attacked or bit," an email about a Secret Service official said. The names of most agents and officials were redacted.

Days later, on Nov. 3, Commander bit an officer twice, once on the arm and then when the officer stood up, on the leg. The officer said they had to use a steel cart as a shield from another attack, and they were in pain after the incident.

The next month, the president himself was walking Commander in the Kennedy Garden, where he let the dog off leash. Commander ran to an agent and bit them twice, once on the left forearm and once on the thumb. The emails said Biden "seemed concerned" about the special agent, who continued to work the rest of their shift.

Champ, reclining, and Major, standing, on the White House South Lawn on March 31, 2021. Champ died a few months later at age 13, and Major went to a new home after biting incidents.
Mandel Ngan / AP
/
AP
Champ, reclining, and Major, standing, on the White House South Lawn on March 31, 2021. Champ died a few months later at age 13, and Major went to a new home after biting incidents.

The Bidens had another dog that bit agents, too

The Bidens brought two German shepherds with them when they moved into the White House in 2021: Champ, who died at age 13 that year, and Major, a younger dog adopted from a shelter.

But after a couple of biting incidents — and consultations with experts — Major was sent to a live with family friends of the Bidens, for safety reasons. (Judicial Watch had obtained hundreds of pages of records concerning Major's behavior, as well.)

Commander came to the White House as a puppy in December 2021, a birthday gift from Biden's brother James.

But by the end of the year, Commander's behavior had been brought to the attention of Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle, the emails show.

The Secret Service said in a statement that it takes the safety and security of their employees "extremely seriously."

"For the past several presidential administrations, the Secret Service has navigated how to best operate around family pets and these incidents are no exception," spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement.

Past incidents involving first family pets were also treated as workplace injuries, he said. "While special agents and officers neither care for nor handle the first family's pets, we continuously work with all applicable entities to minimize adverse impacts in an environment that includes pets," he said.

Commander takes a walk outside the West Wing on April 29, 2023.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
/
AP
Commander takes a walk outside the West Wing on April 29, 2023.

The Bidens are trying to work on new protocols for Commander

The Bidens are "working through ways to make this situation better for everyone," said Elizabeth Alexander, communications director for first lady Jill Biden, in a statement

"They have been partnering with the Secret Service and Executive Residence staff on additional leashing protocols and training, as well as establishing designated areas for Commander to run and exercise," Alexander said.

Alexander noted that the White House complex can often be a stressful environment for family pets.

Commander watches from the doorway of the White House as the Bidens board the Marine One helicopter on June 25, 2022.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
/
AP
Commander watches from the doorway of the White House as the Bidens board the Marine One helicopter on June 25, 2022.

Bob Brandau, a canine behavior expert based in Florida, said animals are very sensitive to their environments.

"Just being in that facility in itself is a stressor, all by itself, because of the level of activity, the level of people moving in and out, the level of security protocols, and then all of those areas of the building that are restricted," Brandau told NPR in an interview.

Brandau, who trains dogs and has served as an expert witness in court cases about aggressive dogs, said dogs like Commander can become more comfortable attacking and biting over time.

"There was no apparent intervention that seemed to be working in any way to prevent that behavior from occurring again because the dog had these multiple incidents," said Brandau, who reviewed the Secret Service emails. At this point, Brandau said he thinks it's unlikely there is more that can be done to train Commander.

"If the dog's got a muzzle on him and he's on a leash, he's safer," Brandau said. "This dog could lash out at any time... it's not a question of will this dog bite again, it's who's he going to bite next? And how seriously are those injuries going to become?"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Bidens take Commander for a walk in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on Dec. 28, 2021.
Patrick Semansky / AP
/
AP
The Bidens take Commander for a walk in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on Dec. 28, 2021.

Tags
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.