Commander, the Bidens’ German shepherd, has bitten or run at several Secret Service agents, raising concerns among those guarding the Biden family about the dog’s behavior and aggressiveness, according to newly released emails and documents.
Since coming to the White House as a 3-month-old puppy around the same time as the Bidens’ older German shepherd, Major, was given to another home after a several of his own biting incidents, Commander has bitten at least seven people. At other times he has run toward them or barked aggressively.
The dog’s aggressive behavior, covering a four-month period from late 2022 through early 2023, are recorded in a cache of records obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch and first reported by the New York Post.
First lady Jill Biden’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander said in a statement that the first family has responded to Commander’s behavior by implementing “additional leashing protocols and training, as well as establishing designated areas for Commander to run and exercise.”
“The White House complex is a unique and often stressful environment for family pets, and the First Family is working through ways to make this situation better for everyone,” Alexander said. “The President and First Lady are incredibly grateful to the Secret Service and Executive Residence staff for all they do to keep them, their family, and the country safe.”
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the agency “has navigated how to best operate around family pets, and these incidents are no exception. We take the safety and well-being of our employees extremely seriously.”
He added that incidents with White House pets are treated like other workplace injuries that require reporting.
The Office of the First Lady did not immediately answer a question about Commander’s behavior since the additional training and leashing, so it is not clear if there have been further incidents since January. The Secret Service said it does not actively keep track of such encounters.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre echoed the statement from the First Lady’s office. “The White House complex can be unique and very stressful. And that is something I’m sure you all can understand,” she said to laughter from reporters.
In one of the most serious incidents, Commander walked toward a Secret Service agent on Nov. 3, 2022, and, unprovoked, bit the officer on the upper right arm and thigh, leaving wounds that required hospitalization, according to the emails and records. A report later described how the officer used a steel cart to ward off additional attacks and was “in a considerable amount of pain” the next day.
“Sore,” the agent later reported in an email update to a colleague. “Feels like I was in a dog fight lol.”
Within the ranks of Secret Service agents, reactions were mixed about the dog attacks, according to email threads. Some of the agents wrote to each other complaining about the biting, but others shrugged them off as moments of playfulness from a rambunctious pet.
Still, officials wrote in emails that many Secret Service agents expressed concerns about Commander and believed that something needed to be done to control him. Agents raised the issue in meetings, and at one December gathering, nearly every official “spoke up about specific incidents surrounding the First Family’s dog,” a Secret Service inspector wrote.
“What a joke,” a Secret Service officer wrote to an injured colleague. “If it wasn’t [their] dog he would have already been put down — freaking clown needs a muzzle.”
Some of the incidents were relatively minor, according to the written accounts of people who were involved or investigated the encounters.
“After looking at the video and how it was explained it was not a legit bite,” one Secret Service captain wrote of an October 2022 incident when Commander, on his morning walk, jumped onto an officer and put his mouth on the wrist area before letting go. “No skin was broken.”
Secret Service supervisors worried the situation could escalate. “Looks like the dog was being playful but playful can go wrong quickly,” the captain concluded.
Later that month, an agent raised concerns after Commander charged at the officer and circled while “the First Lady couldn’t regain control” of the dog.
“Recently, Commander has been exhibiting extremely aggressive behavior,” the agent wrote. “He would have bit me today if I didn’t step towards him a couple different times.”
In the most recent documented attack, on Jan. 2, Commander squeezed through a slightly open glass door at the Bidens’ Wilmington, Del., house and latched his mouth onto an agent’s back, leaving a bruise. The agent did not seek medical attention.
A supervisor later wrote that the person should be referred to care, and an official asked that Commander be kenneled when officers knock at the Wilmington home door.
“A dog bite should always be checked,” the official wrote. “Easy infection.”
Another officer wrote that they had no issues with Commander the day after that incident. The agent said that Commander was friendly and animated, putting his mouth over the agent’s arm “in a playful way (not biting).”
Brian Hare, the founder of Duke University’s Canine Cognition Center and an evolutionary anthropologist, said it would be difficult to say what contributed to each individual attack but that generally “factors that influence aggression in dogs include temperament, cognition and experiences.”