Major's dog trainer signed a NDA - but does it have any teeth?

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Major, the younger of the Bidens two German Shepherds, has behavior issues. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal for a three-year-old rescue dog. Major, however, lives in the White House, and his behavior there is in the spotlight. The dog’s trainer disclosed that he recently signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

The Bidens adopted Champ, the older dog, in 2008 just weeks before Joe Biden became Obama’s vice-president. Major was adopted in 2018 when Joe Biden was planning his presidential campaign. Major has gotten publicity for being the first rescue dog to live in the White House. The cynical side in me thinks that Major was adopted with warm and fuzzy publicity in mind. The Bidens are so great, they rescue dogs. The Democrat Party is the party of identity politics, after all. Major checks off the rescue box. Seriously, though, I’m not here to blame Major. I feel for the poor dog.

Major has two biting infractions on his record now in the span of less than a month. Both of the biting incidents involved people outside of the First Family. Major bit a Secret Service member’s hand and he bit a staffer while out on a walk. Neither bite resulted in serious injury. Both times Major was sent away for further training. There’s been no mention if Joe and Jill Biden have received training on being good dog parents. It sure sounds like they are dropping the ball.

I find it strange that Mark Tobin, the president’s dog trainer, has signed an NDA. Why? What is the White House hiding? Tobin is a former police officer and K-9 coordinator in Delaware. He trained both Biden dogs. When the Washington Post asked questions about the dogs last January, Tobin was happy to speak with the reporter. When asked about Major’s latest indiscretion, Tobin begged off, saying he can’t comment. I can’t find any other reference to a pet handler signing an NDA with any of the former First Families. Didn’t Joe Biden promise to have the most transparent administration ever?

Champ is older and not as active as Major. Champ hasn’t bitten anyone at the White House – but he may have pooped on the floor. One of them did. Anyway, it’s hard to blame Major for bad behavior. He is still young and likely confused about his surroundings, especially with people other than Joe and Jill in charge of them. The dogs likely get passed off to whichever staffer has a moment to take them out or go for a walk. That would be stressful for any dog. It is more stressful for these two dogs since the White House is a place of constant activity and high human traffic. A German Shepherd’s instinct is to protect his owner. If Major bites when he is startled by an unfamiliar person, as the White House press secretary has said, then Major thinks he is doing his job.

We got a glimpse into Major’s spirit last December when he reacted to Joe Biden pulling his tail and chasing him in his home in Delaware. If Joe Biden is dumb enough to exit a shower and pull the dog’s tail, then take off chasing him, Joe’s broken foot wasn’t Major’s fault. Major isn’t the first presidential pet to have an occasional bad moment.

Major is not the only presidential dog to embarrass its owners by acting out. Sunny, one of President Barack Obama’s two Portuguese water dogs, knocked over a two-year-old at a holiday party (the child was not injured). Barney, President George W. Bush’s Scottish terrier, bit a Reuters reporter so hard that he bled and needed a tetanus shot (“Barney was a real jerk,” the president’s daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, later declared).

None of those dogs were as bad as Teddy Roosevelt’s dog Pete, a prolific biter who “chased a South American diplomat up a tree and incidentally chewed two or three policemen who went to the aid of the distinguished foreigner,” according to a 1907 report. Pete reportedly tore the pants off French Ambassador Jules Jusserand, forcing the French government to issue a formal complaint about the dog, who was then rehomed.

After reading all that, Major looks pretty good in comparison, doesn’t he?

It’s probably the stress of too many people around him all the time and not enough time with Joe or Jill. Not all dogs handle being around a lot of people, other than their primary humans, well. Major is said to have been sent away after the second incident for a few weeks of additional training. Maybe he needs a different trainer. I would like to know what brought on someone asking the trainer to sign an NDA, though. Not to put too fine of a point on it but it’s also appropriate to blame Joe and Jill for making the decision to adopt a very young dog shortly before moving into the White House, knowing what an adjustment it would be.

David Strom 4:41 PM on September 26, 2022