In early March, there were reports that one of the first dogs, Major Biden, had bitten a security agent who startled him.
Later, a Secret Service official clarified that the nip was "extremely minor," with no broken skin or bleeding, leaving only a small mark on the agent's hand. The 3-year-old rescue German shepherd and his companion, Champ, were temporarily moved to the Bidens' home in Delaware.
This week, Major reportedly bit a National Park Service employee.
Repercussions for a dog bite, even a minor one, can range from a report that goes on the dog's record to a 10-day in-home quarantine period, even for a dog that's up to date on rabies vaccinations. No one wants that.
Fortunately, there are good ways to prevent incidents and help dogs remain cool, calm and collected, whether they're at your house, the White House or anywhere in between.
Major had changed households in January. Even before then, however, his humans were traveling frequently, and change was in the air. Pets are sensitive to the emotions of their humans as well as to what's going on in their environment. Sometimes they respond with fear, anxiety or stress, even if it seems as if they have adjusted.
When pets are facing new situations, set up the environment for success, says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Amy Pike, who practices in Fairfax, Va.
Pets don't need to meet everyone at once or have free access to every part of the home. Whether Chip the cable guy or Janet from Treasury is coming over, it can be best for that first meeting to take place outdoors in a more relaxed setting and then have them go indoors together. Another option is to confine the dog in a comfortable area away from the activity until a more understated introduction can take place.
Ask guests to avoid body language that can seem threatening to pets, such as prolonged eye contact, approaching or reaching toward them.
"There is no need to put your hand out for the dog to smell you," says Debbie Martin, a licensed veterinary technician in Spicewood, Texas, who specializes in behavior. "He can smell you from across the room. Reaching your hand into his space is like a stranger getting too close to you or reaching for you."
Have visitors toss treats instead of handing them to pets.
"Every time they approach one of the dogs or come into a space where the dog is, don't look at them, don't talk to them, just toss them food," Dr. Pike says.
That way, pets associate good things with the visitor. If your pet is nervous or even excited in the presence of strangers, give the treats yourself in the presence of guests. Toss treats when your pet is relaxed, looking at you unprompted or responding to known cues such as sit, spin or shake.
Keep dogs on a leash for a while, even inside your home. That can help protect them from making mistakes in new situations or around unfamiliar people.
If your pet displays unusual behavior — even something that might be attributable to new or exciting circumstances — it's a good idea to have your veterinarian check for underlying causes.
Most important, pets — even those who haven't moved into one of the world's most famous residences — need time to adjust to new surroundings and situations.
"It may take three to six months to acclimatize to a new situation, whether that be Mom going back to work or moving to a new house or apartment, or a new roommate even," Pike says. "Keep their stress level as low as possible for their sake and safety."