‘Ask Not What the Dog Can Do for You. Ask What You Can Do for the Dog.’

President Joe Biden just moved in, and already in the neighborhood he’s the guy with … that dog.

Major, a 3-year-old rescue from a Delaware shelter and the younger of the first family’s two German shepherds, has been “agitated” at the White House, jumping, barking and “charging,” according to CNN’s reporting. Back toward the beginning of March, Major bit a Secret Service agent. More recently, he “nipped” a National Park Service employee.

The White House has tried to cast the episodes as mostly no big deal — a case of “a sweet dog,” in the president’s words, merely trying to get used to his new, busy and disorienting digs. “Major was surprised by an unfamiliar person and reacted in a way that resulted in a minor injury,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said following the initial incident. “Major is still adjusting to his new surroundings,” Michael LaRosa, first lady Jill Biden’s press secretary, said in the wake of the sans-injury second.

With the exception of the coverage on cable news, the basic parameters of the storyline are probably uncomfortably familiar to many American dog owners who think of their pets as beloved and blameless members of the family, only to suffer the chagrin of watching them misbehave out in public. Of course, when our pound pup lunges at the Amazon man, we don’t have to attempt to explain it from the podium in the Brady Briefing Room. The Bidens do, though — and all politics aside, the dog training world is not overly impressed with what they’re hearing.

A quartet of celebrity and expert dog trainers I talked to told me the response from the first family misses key points about a serious but eminently solvable situation. Jason Cohen, Larry Krohn, Joel Silverman and Cesar Millan — some of whom have written bestselling books and have starred in hit TV shows — are stationed from New York to California and have varying styles and focuses, ranging from easing dogs’ social anxiety to lessening their aggression. But they all agreed on one overarching thing.

As Millan put it?

“It’s not the dog.”

It’s the place and the people around the dog.

And what’s going on with Major needs to get fixed, and it isn’t going to get fixed until what’s going on around Major gets fixed, too.

Here, presented in a sort of chorus, edited and organized for clarity and length, are the most compelling pieces of my conversations with these prominent dog whisperers — their thoughts on Major, on Biden, on Washington and the White House and why Joe and Jill will need to find some time between infrastructure, immigration and gun reform for a little dog work as well.

‘It’s a place full of tension’

Millan: I’m a good listener. And I listen to the animal. I listen to the dog.

Cohen: To blame the dog is not fair. No dog should bite — of course — but we have to understand: They’re not fur babies. They’re apex predators. And we have to respect them for that and understand they don’t always speak to us in the language we understand.

Millan: What Major is saying is that he doesn’t feel safe yet. And if he doesn’t feel safe, he can’t trust. And if he can’t trust, he can’t feel calm.

Krohn: Unfortunately, with that kind of behavior, it’s almost always based out of fear and insecurities, and it runs rampant in the German shepherd breed, especially when it’s not a well-bred dog. And you can’t punish that out of a dog. And you can’t treat that out of a dog. You have to change the mindset of the dog to where they feel comfortable and confident in their own skin and they trust the people around them.

Silverman: We use the word triggers in the dog training world, and triggers — that’s what happens long before the dog will actually bite somebody. It could be sights, sounds, odors — and in this situation, it’s probably sights, sounds and a lot of people.

Millan: They don’t bite because they hate you. They don’t bite because they’re bored. There is an instability or instinctual thing that triggers them to do that.

Silverman: Within that White House, you’ve got a lot of people. And if you’ve got a lot of people there, that is probably what’s getting the dog more reactive.

Millan: It’s a place full of tension.

Krohn: The president — it’s probably the most stressful position on the face of the earth.

Cohen: I voted for [former President Barack] Obama, so I’m not anti-Obama, but his dog had a bite, I remember, too.

Krohn: That behavior is created, whether it’s good or bad, in the environment that the dog lives in. Where it spends its time. The people it spends its time with.

Cohen: With dogs, there’s things we call layers of stress. Entering the White House and all the craziness that happens there, the amount of new people, new life changes — it adds a lot of layers of stress.

Krohn: A move for an average person is extremely stressful. And I do deal with a lot of dogs that have never had issues and they struggle when a move comes about. The whole routine is turned upside down. The whole world is turned upside down for the people — there’s a lot more stress on the people, therefore a lot more stress on the dogs. And German shepherds are always at the top of the breed list for who bites people — always at the top of the list. It’s a herding dog. They’re meant to bite. And when you get one that’s not bred with really solid nerves, they’re very nervy, and they can be very fearful. And a fearful dog is a dog that’s going to bite someone in that situation, more so than a dominant dog, a strong dog. When a dog has a lot of stress and anxiety, the quickest way to make the threat to go away is to react poorly — to bark or growl or bite.

‘That’s a red flag’

Silverman: Biden said, “You turn a corner and there’s two people I don’t know at all … and he moves to protect … but he’s a sweet dog … 85 percent of the people there love him. … all he does is lick them and wag his tail.” OK — just reading what they’re saying right there, nobody is looking at this thing from the very beginning as a serious thing, OK? When the dog bites one time, it’s something people need to take a look at. When you have the owner — I don’t care if you’re the president of the United States or you’re just an average dog trainer like myself — if you are answering a question and blowing off an issue about the biting, that’s a problem. That’s a red flag.

Millan: What environment are you bringing your dogs in? It’s your responsibility. It’s not Major’s.

Silverman: He’s going to do it again unless somebody is going to go and train the dog.

Millan: A dog problem is a man-made problem. And because it’s man-made, we can solve it.

Silverman: I’m sure the dog is a cool dog. And I’m sure they’re great owners. They just need to bring in a trainer who can go and work with the dog there and deal with the situation. They just need to find the right person.

Krohn: If I walked into the Oval Office and that dog was in there with the president, and I said, “How are you doing, Mr. President? I’m Larry Krohn,” I’m going to talk to the president, and we’re going to have a conversation, and I’m never going to even acknowledge that that dog is there. That’s going to put that dog at ease, right from the start — whereas if I walk in and I look at that dog and I start staring at it, now I’ll put pressure on that dog. A dog that’s not very confident can’t handle that.

‘Dogs don’t care what your position is’

Silverman: Whoever’s idea it was to send the dog back to Delaware, that’s not really what you want to be doing. The truth is, if I’m not going to come to your house and train that dog in that environment, it’s a waste.

Krohn: If I go to someone’s home, I don’t just take the dog and start doing obedience. I sit down, I spend a few hours talking to the people and observing the dog and its environment, OK? And you can tell a ton immediately by what’s going on. I’ve written about this for years, I’ve talked about it for years, and that stuff is what’s most important, but it’s the thing that’s most overlooked.

Cohen: Everyone involved in the dog’s life needs to be a part of the training to have that consistency that the dog needs and the clarity in the communication.

Krohn: They’re focused too much on the dog and not enough on the surroundings.

Millan: The environment. What energy the environment has. How big the environment is. You have to introduce the dog to the environment first. What are the rules, the boundaries and limitations? No. 2 is the people in the place. They have to learn to practice no touch, no talk, no eye contact. Let the dog come to you, let him smell, let him feel your calm confidence.

Krohn: I work with a lot of very prominent people. And I think a lot of times when you deal with important people, so to say — I work with a lot of country music stars — they expect me to take the dog and give them back the dog. And sometimes they’re taken aback when I tell them, “No, no, no, you’re going to have to do this with me.”

Millan: It’s the human, no matter who that human is. I understand, it’s super powerful to talk about the president, right? But we could talk about the queen. We could talk about Lady Gaga. We can talk about anybody, right? In the dog world, the titles and the name are irrelevant.

Krohn: Dogs don’t care about who you are, what your position is, how big your backyard is or how much money you have. They don’t care.

Silverman: The person walking that dog right now should be a dog trainer.

Cohen: How you handle the leash can cause stress. Is the current person holding the leash comfortable? Because that person’s emotions go right down the leash, too.

Millan: That environment is not a place where people practice calmness.

Krohn: If I’m walking my dogs, my dogs are at my side. We’re relaxed. If a dog comes running out after us, my dogs don’t react. They look to me for the reaction — if I’m OK. And if I continue to move forward, they’re comfortable — because they trust me. They know that I’m going to take care of the situation, but for a dog to be really confident like that, it has to believe three things –it has to believe that you can control that dog in any situation, that you can control yourself in any situation, and that you can control everything around it. That’s not happening right now.

Millan: It’s about teaching humans to be his best energy.

Krohn: The real magic happens with the education of the owners. If we change, they change.

‘They have to live in our crazy human world’

Millan: It’s your responsibility. What matters is that you show your good human side of you. Your respectful side of human. Your calm side. Your trust, respect, love side.

Cohen: Dogs in general thrive on rules, boundaries and structure, and routine matters. So, a lot of that was uprooted, right? So, no blaming the bites — dogs shouldn’t bite — but a lot of times there are warning signs, avoidance and appeasement signals that you can see and help the dog. A lot of times before a dog will go to a fight response — a snap, a bite, a lunge, a bark — they usually try to get away from a situation. We call that flight. If they can’t get away from a situation — maybe they’re cornered, maybe the leash is tight, maybe people are bending over and reaching too much — they can go to their fight response. So other avoidance and appeasement signals, if the handlers see those, they can help and give them space, advocate for the dog and help them. Dogs also need downtime and rest — they sleep 50 to 80 percent of the day — so do they have a crate or a comfortable place to be put away from everything? And lastly, how much exercise, biologically fulfilling exercise, mental and physical stimulation, are they getting?

Millan: We’re animals, species human; they’re animals, species dog. The difference between them and us is they don’t rationalize. They don’t vote. They don’t say Republicans and Democrats. They don’t have that. They only choose the one that’s the highest level of calmness, confidence, love and joy. That’s the only one who they elect to become pack leader.

Krohn: This isn’t the president’s fault — this isn’t a political thing — and it’s not the dog’s fault. You have to change a dog’s perception of what’s going on around them.

Silverman: A positive can come out of it.

Millan: The president … it’s almost like he carries a happy-go-lucky energy first, you know what I mean? But he did have his battle wounds. As a man, he has his battle wounds. That stays with you. You know what I mean? You go through things and you accomplish things. That requires strength. Every time you accomplish something, that you go through pain, you just did it — you create a strength within yourself. We are old enough to have some battle wounds. The president is old enough to have some battle wounds. The only thing — and this is very typical with dog people, dog lovers — when they see their dog, they get, like, baby talk or happy-go-lucky. So, if he does it too much or too often, I will say, “Sir, let’s switch it. Let’s do more of the calm and confident.”

Cohen: The owners and the people in charge of the dog need to be their leaders, their mentor, their guides, to whatever situation they’re in. Because they have to live in our crazy human world, and we have to help them, guide them, give them what they need.

Millan: Ask not what the dog can do for you. Ask what you can do for the dog.

Elizabeth Ralph and Jasmine Hilton contributed to this report.

,

President Joe Biden just moved in, and already in the neighborhood he’s the guy with … that dog.

Major, a 3-year-old rescue from a Delaware shelter and the younger of the first family’s two German shepherds, has been “agitated” at the White House, jumping, barking and “charging,” according to CNN’s reporting. Back toward the beginning of March, Major bit a Secret Service agent. More recently, he “nipped” a National Park Service employee.

The White House has tried to cast the episodes as mostly no big deal — a case of “a sweet dog,” in the president’s words, merely trying to get used to his new, busy and disorienting digs. “Major was surprised by an unfamiliar person and reacted in a way that resulted in a minor injury,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said following the initial incident. “Major is still adjusting to his new surroundings,” Michael LaRosa, first lady Jill Biden’s press secretary, said in the wake of the sans-injury second.

With the exception of the coverage on cable news, the basic parameters of the storyline are probably uncomfortably familiar to many American dog owners who think of their pets as beloved and blameless members of the family, only to suffer the chagrin of watching them misbehave out in public. Of course, when our pound pup lunges at the Amazon man, we don’t have to attempt to explain it from the podium in the Brady Briefing Room. The Bidens do, though — and all politics aside, the dog training world is not overly impressed with what they’re hearing.

A quartet of celebrity and expert dog trainers I talked to told me the response from the first family misses key points about a serious but eminently solvable situation. Jason Cohen, Larry Krohn, Joel Silverman and Cesar Millan — some of whom have written bestselling books and have starred in hit TV shows — are stationed from New York to California and have varying styles and focuses, ranging from easing dogs’ social anxiety to lessening their aggression. But they all agreed on one overarching thing.

As Millan put it?

“It’s not the dog.”

It’s the place and the people around the dog.

And what’s going on with Major needs to get fixed, and it isn’t going to get fixed until what’s going on around Major gets fixed, too.

Here, presented in a sort of chorus, edited and organized for clarity and length, are the most compelling pieces of my conversations with these prominent dog whisperers — their thoughts on Major, on Biden, on Washington and the White House and why Joe and Jill will need to find some time between infrastructure, immigration and gun reform for a little dog work as well.

‘It’s a place full of tension’

Millan: I’m a good listener. And I listen to the animal. I listen to the dog.

Cohen: To blame the dog is not fair. No dog should bite — of course — but we have to understand: They’re not fur babies. They’re apex predators. And we have to respect them for that and understand they don’t always speak to us in the language we understand.

Millan: What Major is saying is that he doesn’t feel safe yet. And if he doesn’t feel safe, he can’t trust. And if he can’t trust, he can’t feel calm.

Krohn: Unfortunately, with that kind of behavior, it’s almost always based out of fear and insecurities, and it runs rampant in the German shepherd breed, especially when it’s not a well-bred dog. And you can’t punish that out of a dog. And you can’t treat that out of a dog. You have to change the mindset of the dog to where they feel comfortable and confident in their own skin and they trust the people around them.

Silverman: We use the word triggers in the dog training world, and triggers — that’s what happens long before the dog will actually bite somebody. It could be sights, sounds, odors — and in this situation, it’s probably sights, sounds and a lot of people.

Millan: They don’t bite because they hate you. They don’t bite because they’re bored. There is an instability or instinctual thing that triggers them to do that.

Silverman: Within that White House, you’ve got a lot of people. And if you’ve got a lot of people there, that is probably what’s getting the dog more reactive.

Millan: It’s a place full of tension.

Krohn: The president — it’s probably the most stressful position on the face of the earth.

Cohen: I voted for [former President Barack] Obama, so I’m not anti-Obama, but his dog had a bite, I remember, too.

Krohn: That behavior is created, whether it’s good or bad, in the environment that the dog lives in. Where it spends its time. The people it spends its time with.

Cohen: With dogs, there’s things we call layers of stress. Entering the White House and all the craziness that happens there, the amount of new people, new life changes — it adds a lot of layers of stress.

Krohn: A move for an average person is extremely stressful. And I do deal with a lot of dogs that have never had issues and they struggle when a move comes about. The whole routine is turned upside down. The whole world is turned upside down for the people — there’s a lot more stress on the people, therefore a lot more stress on the dogs. And German shepherds are always at the top of the breed list for who bites people — always at the top of the list. It’s a herding dog. They’re meant to bite. And when you get one that’s not bred with really solid nerves, they’re very nervy, and they can be very fearful. And a fearful dog is a dog that’s going to bite someone in that situation, more so than a dominant dog, a strong dog. When a dog has a lot of stress and anxiety, the quickest way to make the threat to go away is to react poorly — to bark or growl or bite.

‘That’s a red flag’

Silverman: Biden said, “You turn a corner and there’s two people I don’t know at all … and he moves to protect … but he’s a sweet dog … 85 percent of the people there love him. … all he does is lick them and wag his tail.” OK — just reading what they’re saying right there, nobody is looking at this thing from the very beginning as a serious thing, OK? When the dog bites one time, it’s something people need to take a look at. When you have the owner — I don’t care if you’re the president of the United States or you’re just an average dog trainer like myself — if you are answering a question and blowing off an issue about the biting, that’s a problem. That’s a red flag.

Millan: What environment are you bringing your dogs in? It’s your responsibility. It’s not Major’s.

Silverman: He’s going to do it again unless somebody is going to go and train the dog.

Millan: A dog problem is a man-made problem. And because it’s man-made, we can solve it.

Silverman: I’m sure the dog is a cool dog. And I’m sure they’re great owners. They just need to bring in a trainer who can go and work with the dog there and deal with the situation. They just need to find the right person.

Krohn: If I walked into the Oval Office and that dog was in there with the president, and I said, “How are you doing, Mr. President? I’m Larry Krohn,” I’m going to talk to the president, and we’re going to have a conversation, and I’m never going to even acknowledge that that dog is there. That’s going to put that dog at ease, right from the start — whereas if I walk in and I look at that dog and I start staring at it, now I’ll put pressure on that dog. A dog that’s not very confident can’t handle that.

‘Dogs don’t care what your position is’

Silverman: Whoever’s idea it was to send the dog back to Delaware, that’s not really what you want to be doing. The truth is, if I’m not going to come to your house and train that dog in that environment, it’s a waste.

Krohn: If I go to someone’s home, I don’t just take the dog and start doing obedience. I sit down, I spend a few hours talking to the people and observing the dog and its environment, OK? And you can tell a ton immediately by what’s going on. I’ve written about this for years, I’ve talked about it for years, and that stuff is what’s most important, but it’s the thing that’s most overlooked.

Cohen: Everyone involved in the dog’s life needs to be a part of the training to have that consistency that the dog needs and the clarity in the communication.

Krohn: They’re focused too much on the dog and not enough on the surroundings.

Millan: The environment. What energy the environment has. How big the environment is. You have to introduce the dog to the environment first. What are the rules, the boundaries and limitations? No. 2 is the people in the place. They have to learn to practice no touch, no talk, no eye contact. Let the dog come to you, let him smell, let him feel your calm confidence.

Krohn: I work with a lot of very prominent people. And I think a lot of times when you deal with important people, so to say — I work with a lot of country music stars — they expect me to take the dog and give them back the dog. And sometimes they’re taken aback when I tell them, “No, no, no, you’re going to have to do this with me.”

Millan: It’s the human, no matter who that human is. I understand, it’s super powerful to talk about the president, right? But we could talk about the queen. We could talk about Lady Gaga. We can talk about anybody, right? In the dog world, the titles and the name are irrelevant.

Krohn: Dogs don’t care about who you are, what your position is, how big your backyard is or how much money you have. They don’t care.

Silverman: The person walking that dog right now should be a dog trainer.

Cohen: How you handle the leash can cause stress. Is the current person holding the leash comfortable? Because that person’s emotions go right down the leash, too.

Millan: That environment is not a place where people practice calmness.

Krohn: If I’m walking my dogs, my dogs are at my side. We’re relaxed. If a dog comes running out after us, my dogs don’t react. They look to me for the reaction — if I’m OK. And if I continue to move forward, they’re comfortable — because they trust me. They know that I’m going to take care of the situation, but for a dog to be really confident like that, it has to believe three things –it has to believe that you can control that dog in any situation, that you can control yourself in any situation, and that you can control everything around it. That’s not happening right now.

Millan: It’s about teaching humans to be his best energy.

Krohn: The real magic happens with the education of the owners. If we change, they change.

‘They have to live in our crazy human world’

Millan: It’s your responsibility. What matters is that you show your good human side of you. Your respectful side of human. Your calm side. Your trust, respect, love side.

Cohen: Dogs in general thrive on rules, boundaries and structure, and routine matters. So, a lot of that was uprooted, right? So, no blaming the bites — dogs shouldn’t bite — but a lot of times there are warning signs, avoidance and appeasement signals that you can see and help the dog. A lot of times before a dog will go to a fight response — a snap, a bite, a lunge, a bark — they usually try to get away from a situation. We call that flight. If they can’t get away from a situation — maybe they’re cornered, maybe the leash is tight, maybe people are bending over and reaching too much — they can go to their fight response. So other avoidance and appeasement signals, if the handlers see those, they can help and give them space, advocate for the dog and help them. Dogs also need downtime and rest — they sleep 50 to 80 percent of the day — so do they have a crate or a comfortable place to be put away from everything? And lastly, how much exercise, biologically fulfilling exercise, mental and physical stimulation, are they getting?

Millan: We’re animals, species human; they’re animals, species dog. The difference between them and us is they don’t rationalize. They don’t vote. They don’t say Republicans and Democrats. They don’t have that. They only choose the one that’s the highest level of calmness, confidence, love and joy. That’s the only one who they elect to become pack leader.

Krohn: This isn’t the president’s fault — this isn’t a political thing — and it’s not the dog’s fault. You have to change a dog’s perception of what’s going on around them.

Silverman: A positive can come out of it.

Millan: The president … it’s almost like he carries a happy-go-lucky energy first, you know what I mean? But he did have his battle wounds. As a man, he has his battle wounds. That stays with you. You know what I mean? You go through things and you accomplish things. That requires strength. Every time you accomplish something, that you go through pain, you just did it — you create a strength within yourself. We are old enough to have some battle wounds. The president is old enough to have some battle wounds. The only thing — and this is very typical with dog people, dog lovers — when they see their dog, they get, like, baby talk or happy-go-lucky. So, if he does it too much or too often, I will say, “Sir, let’s switch it. Let’s do more of the calm and confident.”

Cohen: The owners and the people in charge of the dog need to be their leaders, their mentor, their guides, to whatever situation they’re in. Because they have to live in our crazy human world, and we have to help them, guide them, give them what they need.

Millan: Ask not what the dog can do for you. Ask what you can do for the dog.

Elizabeth Ralph and Jasmine Hilton contributed to this report.

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