The Biden family is to be commended for rescuing a shelter dog, but “Major” has been involved in breaking the President’s ankle, and bitten people twice on White House grounds. In some jurisdictions and under certain circumstances, that would mean a death sentence. The Bidens already have a older GSD named Champ that they have had for years, and Joe Biden claims he knows how to train them. It is clear enough, though, that due to his infirmity and/or his schedule he is unable to put what he knows, or thinks he knows, to use in socializing Major.

All dogs are in essence wolves in a broad biological sense (familiaris is just a subspecies of canis lupus) but the German shepherd is far more lupine than any other purebred.  The breed only dates from the turn of the last century.  It is a not-so-well-kept secret that the first GSD, Horand von Grafrath, was one-quarter wolf, and wolves were bred into the line at least four times after that. (This was not widely broadcast, as it would seem counterintuitive to use wolves to guard sheep, but it was done for the same reason that Old West gunfighters were often made sheriff or town marshal.)

They were bred not just to herd sheep or cattle, but to protect and defend them, and any other living creature it has been taught to care for:

This it will do, even unto Lincoln’s “last full measure of devotion.”

Like a wolf, it will grow up to become extremely devoted to its “pack,” and to its “wolf pack leader.” Its “wolf pack leader” in turn, must learn to express calm authority. This animal has an intelligence level that is off the charts, and the jaw power of a Rottweiler. It is the Samurai of dog breeds, and like the Samurai of old it is not only fearless, deadly and loyal to a fault, it has a highly developed sense of pride and honor. One should never raise a hand to strike a German shepherd, even with a rolled up newspaper as a puppy. It will not remember the pain (it probably wouldn’t feel it much anyway) but it will remember the insult and humiliation. Humiliate these dogs once too often and you, or someone else, could be the one humiliated; and perhaps end up bleeding profusely. This is not to say you shouldn’t use a slight poke or heel tap to snap the dog out of an undesired focus – this correction method is used by experts such as Cesar Millan, the renowned “dog whisperer.”

Given his breed background, let’s look at life now through Major’s eyes. Torn out of his first home, he is thrown into a shelter. It is likely that in neither place was he given sufficient exercise for this breed (at least an hour a day of hard play) nor walked much to satisfy the roaming instinct inherent in the wolf family (at least 20 minutes over a large territory). It is doubtful he was properly socialized, and he may have been whelped by an unstable mother who was also in a poor environment for such a breed. The Bidens rescue him, but then he is thrown headlong into what must seem like chaos at the White House: “Who is a pack member and who is not…?!  Where is my pack leader…?! What ground should I mark as mine…?! What are the rules around here…?! Help…!!!” No wonder people are getting growled at, charged, and bit.

First ladies tend to run affairs at the White House, so perhaps Jill Biden can step up her game here. She, and only she, should handle Major, at least for a while. The president should not risk another fall – he has trouble enough with stairs – and his schedule is full. Socializing a dog with issues can be almost a full time job. Naturally, the basic commands should be taught, if they have not been already. As Cesar Millan says – exercise, discipline and affection; in that order.

One need not be a fanatic or martinet to handle a GSD. You and your dog are unique, and so is your relationship. Our Attila is a berger blanc Suisse a recent white cousin of the German shepherd and even more lupine. He is aloof and shy with strangers, follows my every movement, and will not let strange men near my wife. I do not make him heel as much as I used to on our walks – I let him sniff, mark, and check things out along the way – but I do not recommend that for most dogs, especially at first.  He has become the alpha-male of our community. The other dogs look up to him, respect him, and accept his correction. I know that comes with responsibilities for us both. He must make his presence known, and be sure the neighborhood is in good order. He obtained that role the old-fashioned way – he earned it. He treats other dogs the way he has been treated; calmly but firmly, and with respect. On the other hand, he does not suffer nonsense gladly. (As with most things, there is an exception. He will put up with anything from his girlfriend Ellie, a cute little white golden-doodle a few doors down the street).

I do not share the politics of Joe Biden – not by a long shot – but I do wish them well in socializing their GSDs, especially Major, in their new surroundings. It is not the first time German shepherds have been in the White House and I hope it will not be the last. As an American, I am proud to have them as “First Doggies.”