Understanding and avoiding this happening to you.
By Leighton Oosthuisen
Dog Behavior Expert
NBC Channel 12 EVB LIVE Dog Consultant
www.Partners Dog Training School.com
Follow on twitter: @LeightonPhoenix
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All FIVE surviving dogs to be euthanized.
Jan 2,2013 3.15 PM MST
It would appear there were six dogs involved in this tragedy, including what is described as a “Shepherd Mix”. We are being told that the survivor, Diane Vick, has instructed that ALL five remaining dogs be euthanized. The cocker spaniel died during or after the fight.
Thomas Vick, the husband fatally wounded, died of blood loss. There is also an unconfirmed report that it was NOT the boxer that caused the fatal wound. I contacted Captain Tad Appleby of the Bullhead City Police Department for clarification. He referred me to the Information Officer, who had no knowledge of the incident, but said she would get back to me. Please “Subscribe”
I am writing a response to many questions received by readers, and will post tonight!
The recent death of high school teacher, Thomas Vick, as a result of breaking up a dog fight, again brings to light the dangers we potentially face with our pets.
Every day I see cases where dog owners fail to recognize the potential risks in behavioral problems. Pet owners have become “pet-buddies”. They see their pets as friends, instead of actively establishing boundaries and enforcing manners.
WHAT WE ARE TOLD HAPPENED
At the time of writing this (12/31/2013), all we know is there was a fight involving up to six dogs. Initial reports stated that at about 5.45pm on Saturday Dec 28, a Cocker spaniel and a Boxer got into a fight, and that four other dogs joined in. All were family pets.
We are told by the police that in the process of trying to break up the fight, Diane Vick was injured. Her husband, Thomas, came to her assistance, and was attacked by the boxer.
Both were taken to Arizona Regional Medical Center, were Tom died. Dianne was airlifted to Las Vegas, where she was in ICU with serious, but not life-threatening injuries. She was 65 and he was 64.
The spaniel died of its wounds, and the other five dogs, including the boxer, survived.
SO WHAT HAPPENED
Right now, we don’t really know. Assuming the information we know came from Dianne, who would have to have been extremely emotional, we need to be cautious drawing conclusions.
Based on my personal experience only, it’s possible the cocker-spaniel was the trigger. Cocker spaniels have one of the highest bite statistics of all breeds. They are known to be aloof, short tempered and dog-aggressive.
In multi-dog households, hierarchies are complex. Its hard enough to read and address simple two dog interactions, never mind six-dog homes.
So when the fight broke out, and the owners intervened, the boxer redirected to the wife, and then the husband. The boxer was being territorial and was asserting his dominance.
In a dogs mind, when you “interfere” with his “assertion” you are interfering, and thus become part of his “assertion”.
Most times, these fights are over quickly, and involve minimal injury.
This was not one of those times.
BREAKING UP A FIGHT
Dogs are pack animals. Nothing you can do about that. It’s genetically imprinted in their DNA.
Pack instinct in this context means when one dog is involved in an incident, others will join in.
It means if you are breaking up a dog fight between two dogs, and you have others around, there is a high likelihood they will join in.
A little known fact, is that the dogs joining in will attack what they perceive as the victim. This again is based on pack drive.
Breaking up a dog-fight ranges from “no big deal” to “extremely dangerous”.
There are multiple variables that determine the severity and outcome.
I remember a time at a dog show, when I broke up a fight between a Chow-chow and a Husky. The Chow was not happy with me pulling him off, and tried to turn and bite me. But I had him firmly by the collar and by the hair on his rump, and he couldn’t reach me. The owner was not happy that I was holding him by the hair, and demanded I put him down and let go his hair. I politely handed him over and he bit her instead.
Dog fights are bad news, and to be avoided at all costs!
There are very few cases of dogs killing other dogs for food. Most deaths are a result of territorial issues. There is a lot of debate in the behavioral world about whether such a thing as “killer instinct” exists in domestic dogs. Most mammals kill to provide food. A few will hunt, and kill, for the thrill. Ironically Orcas, of Shamu fame, are one of them. Domestic cats will also hunt for fun.
Animals that hunt, kill through asphyxiation, or choking their prey to death.
When a dog attacks another, they attempt to bite the neck to asphyxiate the other dog. The other injuries are considered collateral damage. The more experienced a dog at fighting, the better they are able to reach and bite the neck. Certain breeds are more effective than others. I don’t want to get breed specific here, not because its not important to a factual behavioral discussion, but because I don’t want to quoted out of context. Suffice to say, some breeds with a high bite statistic, such as the Cocker Spaniel, don’t cause serious injuries as they are just not that effective. Same with the Chihuahua. Other breeds gain more attention, just because they are more efficient. Having said that, we must also consider the environment the dog was raised in, as this plays a huge role in how they behave.
Boxers are generally not a breed associated with serious attacks on humans. That being said, they were developed as a fighting breed, and are quite capable of inflicting serious wounds. They are also known for being territorial with other dogs, and some will attack dogs when territorially threatened. I see about a dozen dogs every year for aggression related issues, but most respond well to behavioral training. What is unusual is for a boxer to kill a human. I am not personally aware of this happening involving a boxer.
Of course, this situation could have happened, and has happened, with any large breed of dog.
Again, at this time we are unsure as to what the cause of death was. (Loss of blood, head trauma, heart attack?) It’s also possible the other dogs participated, which may have contributed to his death.
There is no evidence that the dog or dogs were on medication, but there has been an increased use of medication in the treatment of behavioral problems. The problem is that many people do not stick with the correct dosages, or with the correct schedule, and this leads to erratic behavior.(I am currently writing a paper on the use of medications to address behavior, and will publish this in January 2014)
At Partners Dog Training School, we regularly deal with aggression cases. We consider anything involving multi-dog households, children and aggressive dogs to be high-risk situations.
Most trainers will not take on cases involving aggression. First, they are complex. Second, clients are often hesitant to reveal history and third there is liability involved.
I am stunned at least once a month, the last time just yesterday, at the lackadaisical attitude a few pet owners have. If your dog is dog-aggressive; you have four dogs at home and a new born baby, but you don’t want to follow up with training, you have a problem!
CAN ALL DOGS BE TRAINED
My general philosophy is that most dogs are trainable, given the right approach and guidelines. Unfortunately, this is not always true.
Despite what some “no-kill shelters” will tell you, when dealing with extreme aggression cases, there are sometimes no answers.
A responsible and ethical trainer will tell you that. The term “all dogs are trainable” is simply not true!
My staff and I always tell people:
- we can evaluate the situation,
- we can determine triggers
- we can come up with a game plan
This plan will include:
- Establish a foundation.
- Establishing boundaries
- Teach appropriate behaviors
- Supervised Follow-up.
What we cannot do:
- Change your dogs personality
- Force you to follow-up on what we tell you
- Move into your house
SO WHAT CAUSES THIS KIND OF THING
- Poor breeding
Inappropriate breeding and socializing of puppies can lead to territorial behavior, insecurity and aggression.
- Lack of respect
Dogs that disrespect owners will be more territorial and unlikely to respect boundaries in the home
- Little or no foundation
Homes with poor foundations, minimal training and lots of dogs often experience sparing between siblings (dogs)
TIPS ON AVOIDING PROBLEM SITUATIONS
- Establish boundaries
- Prevent small dogs from challenging others
- Avoid resource guarding
- Address territorial behavior
- Avoid “Free-for-all” lifestyles
SIGNS OF DANGER
- Pets in pain or injured
- Growling or snarling
- Crouching down, head low and stiff tail
- Ears erect
- Aloof behavior
Any time someone is seriously injured or, as in this case, killed, I feel a loss!
I became a trainer to help dogs and people. I wish there was something that could have been done to help this couple, and the dogs.
As we close this year, incidents like these should motivate us even more to protect those around us, and to ensure that our dogs are appropriately trained and respected.
Please “Subscribe” – I will be posting more specific advice on breaking up dog fights, as well as answers to many of the questions posted by readers