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White House says Biden's dog to get more training after biting Secret Service agents

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It says here that President Biden's dog is in the doghouse. That's what it says. Commander is a purebred German shepherd who came to the White House as a puppy in 2021. Then late last year, in the span of four months, Commander bit several Secret Service agents, a total of 10 bites in all. The White House says he's getting more training, but is it enough? Commander was not available for an interview, so we've reached out to NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Good morning.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey.

INSKEEP: I guess we should clarify. We haven't asked Commander for an interview. Maybe Commander would talk with us at some point, but...

SHIVARAM: It's possible. We can't rule it out.

INSKEEP: Exactly. Exactly. But how did all this come to light?

SHIVARAM: So there was this conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, and they were tipped off about it. They requested records back in January, went to court to get them, and yesterday, they released about 200 pages of emails and texts between Secret Service agents and officials. Their names were mainly redacted, but what we can see is that there were a few pretty concerning incidents from last October to January where Commander charged at agents, bit them multiple times, and one time, an agent had to go to the hospital because of their injuries. The agency says the bites were treated like workplace injuries and that they take their safety of their agents very seriously. But this was enough of a concern that it was flagged to the head of the Secret Service. So it's no small thing.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I mean, if somebody's going to the hospital, that's a big deal, and it's in the vicinity, at least, to the president. But was the president present for any of these moments?

SHIVARAM: There was one time when Biden himself was there. In December, the president was with other family members, and they took Commander off his leash in the Kennedy Garden. He bit a Secret Service agent twice. And the emails described Biden in the moment as being concerned about the agent. And there was also a time when First Lady Jill Biden was walking Commander and couldn't get control of him, and he ended up charging at an agent.

INSKEEP: Well, what is the White House saying about all this?

SHIVARAM: Well, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, was asked about it yesterday. She pointed to - she pointed out that the White House is not the easiest place for pets to live.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: It is unique, and it is stressful for all of us. So you can imagine what it's like for a family pet.

SHIVARAM: And she says the White House is working on more training, more leash protocols for Commander. I also talked to Bob Brandau. He's a canine behavior expert who has testified in court cases concerning dog bites. And he says animals are extremely sensitive to their surroundings.

BOB BRANDAU: So 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.

SHIVARAM: But that being said, Brandau also says it's a failure on the part of whoever was training Commander that he was able to bite more than one person. And it's likely that he could bite again in the future.

INSKEEP: Deepa, when I first started hearing about this story, my first thought was, wait a minute, isn't this an old story? Didn't I already know this?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. So this has happened before with a different dog. The Bidens had another German shepherd named Major, who no longer lives at the White House. Major was a rescue dog and had a number of incidents where he bit Secret Service agents, as well. And he was sent to live in Delaware in 2021. So with Commander, there's no word on whether his long-term home will be the White House or if he'll be moved elsewhere. But Bob Brandau, that expert you heard before, says it's probably safer if Commander is muzzled and on a leash going forward.

INSKEEP: OK. Deepa, thanks so much.

SHIVARAM: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Deepa Shivaram.

(SOUNDBITE OF TLC SONG, "WATERFALLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.