No Comment: High Profile Dog Biting Incidents Bring Baseless Speculation

In high-profile dog-bite cases, recommendations are best left to experts who actually work with the dog.


In recent weeks, there have been (at least) three very high-profile events involving dog bites, causing much discussion and commentary from dog-training and behavior experts, and many concerned (and opinionated) dog owners. Each case made me cringe – not because of what happened, because such incidents happen much more often than they make the news – but because of all the Monday-morning dog-training quarterbacking that goes on after each one.

The best-known event concerned Commander, the 2-year-old German Shepherd Dog belonging to the President of the United States Joe Biden and the First Lady, his wife, Jill Biden. On September 26, CNN reported that Commander had bitten a U.S. Secret Service agent at the White House. Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, it was also learned that Commander had 10 previous bites already on his record when the most recent occurred.

In August, a widely shared social media post by a veterinary technician described an event in which a canine patient attacked the technician and the veterinarian she worked for in Hephzibah, Georgia, as they were about to examine the dog. The veterinarian suffered the most severe bites, with wounds to one hand and one leg that kept her from working for more than a month.

More recently, there was the case of a Border Collie who veered off course in the middle of an agility competition and attacked the judge, who was standing in the middle of the show ring. To the horror of the owner as well as the many competitors watching and waiting for their turn to compete, the Border Collie bit the judge several times deeply in the legs and hands.

Each of these incidents sparked dozens of opinion pieces and essays about should have been done and what should still be done with the bitey dogs. I’ve seen pieces online criticizing the dogs’ training, the equipment that was on the dog at the time of attack, and the wisdom of the mere presence of the dog in the environment where the attack took place. In most of these commentaries, the writer (or speaker, in the case of widely shared videos and podcasts) presumed to know what caused the attack, or what could have – should have – done to prevent it. Most of these commentaries were from people who heard or read about the attack, but some were from people who witnessed the attack (the agility competition had many witnesses).

Whenever there is a high-profile dog-bite case, many dog trainers and journalists see the event as an opportunity to educate the public about dog aggression, dog body language, dog training, dog selection, and so on. And I appreciate the impulse; sometimes, people are the most teachable when there has been a crisis that captures their attention and concern.

But here’s the problem with this tactic: While it may be helpful to try to educate people about dog behavior in general terms, using a newsworthy event as an example, no one who comments about an event like this can possibly discuss the cause or potential prevention of that incident with any certainty. You can ask multiple witnesses to an event – like the one with the Border Collie – and every single person will report having seen something different. People bring their own experience and biases to these reports; they can’t help it. Few, if any, of the Monday Morning dog-training quarterbacks will focus on the same issues: the dog’s stress, its health status, breed or breeding, handling, diet, gear, training methods, environment, reproductive status, performance calendar – you name it! People will have opinions about what the owner did wrong, the breeder did wrong, or about the breed itself. And none of what they say may be accurate.

The only people who can reliably explain what led to the event, and what should be done to prevent another one, are experienced, educated behavior professionals – preferably veterinary behaviorists, or a trainer who has a good rapport with a behavior-savvy veterinarian – who are engaged to study the dog and work with his or her owner. These cases may be complex and multifactorial – or they might be very simple! But only people who actually know and have examined the dog and have interviewed the owner, should attempt to offer explanations or advice regarding that dog.


  1. Thank you for writing this! I’ve read so many social media comments about incidents like these – even from behaviorists I respect but who have not actually worked with the dog or know anything specific about the actual incidents, the circumstances which proceeded them, or prior training. It’s all speculation and innuendo by people trying to boost their egos with Monday morning quarterbacking and accomplishes absolutely nothing.

  2. It brings to mine an episode at a former vet (former because the practice was sold out to Banfield and the vet left to teach out of state). On one particular routine visit the vet in question came into the exam room from the “back” door and was both loud and boisterous. His demeanor clearly impacting the level of excitement in the room and of my pup. When he turned his back for a second she jumped up and nipped him and the way HE carried on AND called her a name was loud enough for the entire office and waiting area to hear. I was horrified, if not insulted. Shocked at HIS behavior as well. Felt like we had a black mark against us. She is a mixed breed and had never done anything like that prior. IMO he should have been a calm and gentle presence. At another visit he had greeted us in the waiting arewhen she was a puppy and began to play in a rough/boisterous fashion with her which I never did. Just to point out that so many factors enter into the full picture and there may be times when those who are “bit” may be a contributing factor. BTW, at that visit we had, it seemed that the reception staff who couldn’t help but hear and beaware were trying to be consoling toward me because I was so upset.

  3. Thank You Nancy for this article. I wholeheartedly agree. We, as bystanders, can never understand what happened or why. And the why may never be known. This is where I condemn social media as everyone, well intentioned or not, will have an opinion that they can voice. As a trainer, I try to hold my tongue because unless I have assessed the dog myself, I can never guess what has caused the issue.

  4. Ramses wasn’t a biter but he was hyper vigilant. I tried the dog park for a few weeks but when we were there he would never play with any of the dogs. Instead he was stand by my side and if any dog or owner came close to us he would give a warning growl. I finally stopped taking him. He was fine on walks and would socialize with dog friends but he was very protective of me. For this reason I didn’t walk him in our neighborhood as there is a lot of traffic and if we passed by some houses there would be a dog that barked and that would make his guarding behavior increase. He simply didn’t enjoy it. The one area we could walk was my parent’s neighborhood. Evening walks with their dog Candy. He knew the route and routine, knew the neighbors, no traffic, no barking dogs. He actually enjoyed it. He had a chance to sniff the p-mail and relax a bit.

    Unless you live with a dog, you can never know exactly what is going on in their head and even then, sometimes you get it wrong. I have mixed feelings about training as I wouldn’t want to train my dog to fail to give warnings as that might lead direct to biting.