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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Jan 2,2013  3.15 PM MST

All FIVE surviving dogs to be euthanized.
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.
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I am writing a response to many questions received by readers, and will post tonight!

Leighton with boxer

Leighton working with a boxer (This is NOT the boxer described in the story)

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.


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.


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.


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!


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


  • 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)


  • Establish boundaries
  • Prevent small dogs from challenging others
  • Avoid resource guarding
  • Address territorial behavior
  • Avoid “Free-for-all” lifestyles


  • Posturing
  • 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

92 thoughts on “FATAL BOXER ATTACK

  1. The article didn’t mention whether all dogs were spayed/neutered. Many irresponsible dog owners don’t spay and neuter there animals which also creates a very hostile environment. I know someone who had all her dogs put to sleep after an intact male white shepherd became interested in her unfixed, in heat female chi and when the in tact male chi intervened, got killed. Dogs fault, not really. Major human error? Absolutely. I work in rottie and pit bull rescue. Many of the problems are at the other end of the leash. Habitually, the same ignorant people bring a 9-12 month old dog to the kill shelters because they don’t train the dog then get another puppy and repeat the process over and over. 10,000 animals a day get euthanized due to the ignorance of people, NOT dogs.


    • I’ve had 2 Rotties. Both were socialized at a young age with other dogs and both were around children. Both were not fixed and I had them at different years. The female was more aggressive because my ex who believed he was an expert boxed and fought with the female when she was a pup. When we got our male, I didn’t allow it. He was more docile then my female was but I also took him to school where he was socialized with small children. I also never left my young child unsupervised with my female until she was much older. I guess my point is that it doesn’t matter what breed the dog is but the dog needs to be trained, socialized and learn respect. I hate when people who have other dogs like little ones allow them to do whatever they want because they think it’s cute. A dog bite is a dog bite regardless of what dog bit.


    • Terry Humerickhouse – I really tried to wrap my brain around the statistics you have referenced. I looked over those statistics very carefully. I HATE THESE STATISTICS. Notice they are all large breed dogs that have the potential to cause serious damage to a human being. There is not ONE dog that I consider to be a small or medium sized breed on that list. Perhaps smaller breeds of dogs are not reported in dog bite statistics as much as larger dogs, They cause less damage and the pet owner most likely takes care of the victim without any report being filed. I agree that EVERY DOG BITES. Whether its due to fear, pain, or other factors. I am a large dog breed owner and I love big dogs. But I also am a dog groomer and have been showing, handling, training, and grooming dogs for approx. 20 years or so. I don’t have a business card but I do have a passion for, and love for, all dogs.
      I think these statistics when read them are interpreted by each individual based on what they have been exposed to over their lifetime. What you get from them is what you read into them.
      Now for dog grooming. If I reported every time I have been bitten by a smaller dog (<40 lbs) I would have my own set of bite statistics. Most recently from a fluffy adorable little bichon Frise. I have also been bit breaking up dog fights in my own household by my own large breed dogs. The difference is that I have been bit (one bite) and I have been mauled (repeatedly bitten) by smaller dogs (i.e. bichon frise).
      I think that there should be a study done with input from dog groomers who have years and years of experience with some of the smaller breeds of dogs.
      The first thing those statistics takes into consideration is the number of fatalities there have been. When is the last time you read anything about a toy poodle or a bichon causing a fatality?
      So let's throw out those statistics entirely.
      For the rest of your statement "I wish there were a nationalized test to become a trainer, right now all you need is a business card." Tisk, tisk, a very unnecessary and unprofessional remark.


  2. Groomed since the 60’s. Cockers were always biters. Chow’s I would no longer do if I could still groom. Came close to death from either a dog or cat, scratch or bite and was told I had to stay away from them. When I did groom we did everything. I only sent one dog home from my shop and it was because he was so terrified I was afraid he would die, and he was only a bath. Every breed has it’s good and bad but some are worse. Owners who don’t know they need to be the leader and think of there pet’s as miniature people are really scary.


  3. Pingback: Breaking up a Dog Fight - Boxer Forum : Boxer Breed Dog Forums

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