Dog “pack” caused death of Tom Vick

By Leighton Oosthuisen
Dog Behavior Expert
NBC Channel 12 EVB LIVE Dog Consultant
www.Partners Dog Training
Follow on twitter: @LeightonPhoenix
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Written at 6.30 PM MST on Thursday Jan 2, 2014
After two days of speculation, we now have more detail of the attack that killed Thomas Vick.
I was able to talk with Emily Fromelt, Public Information Officer of the Bullhead City Police Department, who researched and offered further details into the events of Saturday.

In my original post, (which to date has had 33,000 views), I was careful to point out that speculation on what dogs were involved, as well as what happened, would not be helpful.
Especially considering the majority of you, my readers, are from the dog world, and are trying to make sense of this.
Extrapolating conclusions on behavior takes careful analysis of the actual incident and the dogs involved.
In my line of work, being behavioral analysis of dogs, I make every effort to obtain as much information as possible.
I will rarely comment on behavior I cannot witness for myself, or at least have detailed information about.
I have learned, the hard way, that a quick response, is often inaccurate.
It is reckless and unethical, and may result in someone being harmed!

Do your homework!

Many people commented on my first post. Thank you! I read and welcome all, even those that respectfully disagreed.

Now we have updated information, on the incident, as well as the dogs involved. This will allow us to draw a more informed conclusion.


(According to the Public Information Office, Bullhead City Police Department)
On Saturday December 28th at 5:45 p.m., paramedics were called to a residence in the 2900 block of La Paloma Drive in Bullhead City for a report of a 64 year old male, Thomas J. Vick, having been badly bitten by his family dog.
According to former Bullhead City Mayor, 65-year-old Diane Rae Vick:
Diane had given their 10-year-old female Cocker Spaniel “Aly” some food in the kitchen.
Their 3-year-old female Australian Shepherd mix “Ginger” then attacked “Aly” over the food.
Then “Dempsey”, their 5-year-old male Boxer, joined in the fight.
He was  followed by their other three dogs: “Dolly”, “Bella” and “Demi” (all 2 year old female boxer/shepherd mixes).
All five dogs attacked “Aly”.
When Thomas Vick tried to break up the dog fight, “Dempsey” lunged at Thomas, attacking him.
All of the other dogs (besides “Aly”) then followed “Dempsey” and attacked Thomas.
Thomas Vick suffered significant bite wounds all over his body.
Preliminary reports indicate that he ultimately died from loss of blood.
Diane Vick suffered bites to her legs from only one dog, “Dempsey”.
She was airlifted for treatment at a Las Vegas, NV hospital.
She has been released from hospital
The Cocker “Aly” died in the dog attack.
The five other dogs are currently being held at the Bullhead City Animal Control Shelter for quarantine procedures.
Diane Vick has signed over her dogs and per owner request, the dogs will be euthanized after the quarantine period.


I was able to obtain photos of the five dogs, taken at Animal Control, where they are being held in quarantine.
(Pictures courtesy of Bullhead City Animal Control Shelter)

The first (Dog 1) is of the Boxer Dempsey, believed to be the dog that initiated the attack on Tom Dempsey.

According to Diane Vick, Dempsey was the only dog that bit her.

Dog 1 (Dempsey) Boxer

Dog 1 (Dempsey) Boxer
Dog 2 involved in the attack

Dog 2 involved in the attack

Dog 3 involved in the attack

Dog 3 involved in the attack


Dog 5 involved in the attack

Dog 5 involved in the attack



You will notice that the incident report refers to a Ginger, a “three year old Female Australian Shepherd” initiating the attack on the Cocker Spaniel.
Other than the boxer, none of the other four dogs were individually identified to me.
However, it appears to me that DOG 2 may be Ginger, the “Australian Shepherd mix.

Aussies come in a couple of different “looks”.

Here is an image of an Australian Shepherd at the Partners Dog Training School.

Australian Shepherd in training

Australian Shepherd in training

And another:


Personally I think this dog may be related to the Australian Cattle Dog, but it is difficult to say just based on the available picture.
(So Aussie people don’t yell at me please – Feel free to offer your opinion on the breed (or mix))
If Ginger is the dog that attacked Aly, and Ginger is a Cattle Dog mix, we could observe the following:

A 3 year old female attacking a 10 year old female.

Females do not fight as often as males. Normally its a male on male thing.

UPDATE: After I wrote this, I had some people question my statement. So let me explain.
I am NOT saying females don’t fight – they do, and often more aggressively than males.
It depends on the setting; females on female fights are more about offspring, or defense.
They can also fight over food or possessions.
Males are more likely to be territorial, related to marking or posturing.
Both males and females can be territorial.
The point here is that we need to study each individual situation before drawing conclusions.

A younger dog attacking an older dog is more common.
I mentioned in my first blog, before we knew anything, that the fight could have happened over food or a toy.
This turned out to be accurate.

Resource guarding (food) will escalate very quickly into a serious situation.

Food and toys will often trigger fights.
In come cases it is possessive behavior, in others it is a survival instinct.
And then their are dogs that just do it because…


The fact that Cocker Aly was an older dog also probably triggered the other dogs pack drive.
In the animal world the old are considered “weak”, and will often be the target.

We were not given a photo of Aly, the dog that was at the center of attention. She died at the scene.
Here is a picture of ANOTHER Cocker Spaniel for those that don’t know what they look like.

Cocker Spaniel in training

Cocker Spaniel in training (Not the same dog as in the story)



One of the tragic pieces of information that has come to light, is that there were significant injuries to Mr. Tom Vick.

While it appears he ultimately died from loss of blood, the fact is he was attacked by all five dogs.

Dog fights are traumatic, wild, out of control scenes. Yet it appears (from the photos) none of the dogs were injured. This clearly indicates a pack instinct situation, as the dogs were not fighting each other. Rather than were attacking a common “prey”, Mr. Vick. Keep in mind that with the exception of Boxer Dempsey, all the dogs were female. This is also uncommon.

As I write this, I am already hearing people say “that’s not true, my female dog does….”. I understand that there are exceptions to all rules.

But in this case, this was clearly a situation that was unusual to say the least.


One of the factors we always look into is whether dogs are on drug therapy, or in medical distress. This significantly affects behavior, specifically triggers and reactivity. I have asked around, but as of right now have not been able to determine if any of the dogs were on medication.


I have had numerous requests about this subject, and will be addressing the issue in my next blog.
(Please Subscribe so you can remain informed)


Another hot subject is whether the breeds played a part in this situation.

I have evaluated, supervised, trained or worked with more than 30,000 dogs over the past 35 years.
And I can honestly say that behavioral issues are more about breeding, socialization and training, than about breeds.

Sure, certain breeds are more temperamental than others.

Drive, instincts and genetics play a huge part in this, and technically that is “breeding”.

The fact this was not a “pit bull” attack surprised many – in fact early stories referred to the one dog as a pit.

The fact that it was an Australian Shepherd, and a Boxer, that triggered and resulted in someones death just goes to show that any large breed could be a risk if not handled appropriately.

Learning to understand your breed, and your capabilities in handling and raising your dog/s, is as important as the “breed” you buy, breed or adopt.

Learn to recognize territorial behavior. When is your dog marking, and when are they just peeing? (I will post a video on that tomorrow)


I am sure if you asked Diane and Tom Vick a week ago if their dogs could effectively pack together and kill, they would never have believed it.

In five days, when the dogs complete their quarantine, they will be humanely “killed” by being euthanized.

As a friend told me today, at that point Diane Vick will in effect have lost her whole family!

All because she was not educated in resource guarding, the signs and appropriate boundaries.

But before you blame her (and I don’t); look within yourself!

I can tell you from 30 years in this game, ninety-five percent of my students would make the same mistake.

Knowledge is not just power, it’s security

In my next blog I will look at ways to recognize and handle resource guarding.
We will also discuss dog fights, and effective ways to break them up!
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22 thoughts on “Dog “pack” caused death of Tom Vick

      • Thanks for the information. I agree that the greatest lesson that many dog owners need to learn is that they are indeed animals and we need to understand and respect that. As I said before I am a foster Mom for boxers and had owned boxers in the past. Big difference!!! I have learned so much since becoming a foster. You can’t just take for granted that they will behave the way you expect them to. This is indeed a tragic story with a heartbreaking ending for all involved!!!!


  1. A very sad and tragic reminder that ultimately our four legged “family” members are animals and they will rely on their instincts in stressful situations. As responsible owners of any dog we have to be aware of their capabilities. Thank you for providing so much information in such an unbiased manner!


  2. Finally an objective view of the incident. This is not an uncommon situation when you have multiple dogs. I am a dog rescuer and you have to watch their behavior very carefully. It is unfortunate accident on the owners part.


  3. I am far from an expert on dog behavior, but when you have multiple dogs you need to observe at all times how they interact, and learn what sort of triggers bring out negative reactions. You have to remove anything that even hints of becoming a negative trigger. Defusing a bad situation long before it starts is by far the best way to control these situations. Feeding one dog and not the others is a recipe for disaster. It doesn’t matter if they’ve never missed a meal in their lives. Food is survival to a dog. This is a horrible tragedy and the only good that can possibly come from it is for all of us to learn how to prevent these awful situations from happening if at all possible.


  4. How sad. I had 2 female boxers and the pup would every once and a while fight the older one. She was trying to assert her self as the dominant one. However THIS MOM always won in the end. All these dogs look so scared. They have no clue what truly happened. Its sad and strange how they can all be fine sleeping in a hugh heap one minute then going all out war the next. Truly a sad story no matter how you look at it.


  5. I am quite taken back about your comment that females rarely fight other females.

    This is quite contrary to my 26 years in dogs, breeding and training and showing. A female on female fight is FAR more common than you have indicated and it is far more destructive. Two females fighting can and will fight to the death!! and are very destructive on things that get in their way!

    Males usually fight to determine hierarchy in a pack. Once that is established it usually remains unless a younger upcoming male challenges the leader of the pack.
    Females once they have fought will usually continue to fight and many times it is best to remove them from being with each other at all.

    I have 26 years experiences training dogs and I have had up to 11 dogs in my house at one time and respecting the pack dynamics is most important. These are all intact dogs and bitches.

    Having so many dogs you have to control the situation all the time and never put them in the situation of wanting to fight. This also goes for food and how they are fed. They need to understand who is the leader of pack (me) and respect that dynamic, but in being the leader you have to lead them.

    Never put them in the situation to have a reactive situation such as we see here. You always have to be aware of the dynamics going on. You never let up while all are loose together.


  6. Boxers are normally very playful but if a boxer gets into a fight and is pulled from behind like any dog would feel it is being attacked but when they know they are not would stop straight away. I am not saying a boxer could not kill anyone as any breed of dog is capable of doing that I think when you have a few dogs together they need to get on and if for any reason they do not I think they need to be split up or placed in another home. Dogs do get jealous they are just like people and food and toys normally will trigger them off I feel for the peoples family tjhis was a tragic accident that should have never happened


  7. For the most part your conclusions about females is wrong as well as males apparently your experience is based on the written word and not practical experience


    • I clarified what I meant in an update on the blog.
      With regard your statement that my writing is based on what I’ve read, and not experience, I’m sure 30 years and tens of thousands of dogs constitutes experience.
      Oh and I founded and own one of the largest dog training schools in the USA.


  8. As reading your post and recognizing the early signs
    Of pack behavior, which I think is very important as
    when there ar e 3+ dogs in any contained area if a
    Owner, person or other do not recognize pack behavior
    In any breed can be a very dangerous situation, which
    can escalate very quickly. I have noticed, especially in
    Doggie Daycare also, if there is not a well educated
    employee or a person to keep control at all times,
    could quickly lead to a situation as happened to
    Mr Vick. Many dog owners do not think the beloved
    Family pet, or trained dog could be capable of such
    behavior… This is nature, and I have myself seen an
    Increase in “Pack” behavior, especially in doggie daycare!
    If this can happen in a home, it can happen anywhere where
    There are multipule dogs in one contained area. Your findings
    And post is so very true. I have seen the sweetest dog, within
    seconds go into full aggression, to protect a toy, or even
    when another dog enters to daycare. I foresee this in the
    very near future with all the doggie daycare’s on the rise.
    this very true behavior can happen male or female,
    In any breed. Again education of multipule dogs in one
    area is the key. Very sad to see someone lose a life or
    substantial injuries and harm along with legalities.
    I often always try to think, a dog is natural pack animal,
    always beware as they do not think as a human
    would!! I often think people do not remember these
    Are animals and are doing what comes natural!
    And can easily over come a well trained pet and
    It only takes seconds for that situation to escalate!
    Thank you for your post, Hope people will at least
    Be aware it can happen!!


  9. HAH, All this experience on everyone’s part but nobody is admitting that the ONLY dog that matches its description is the boxer. The rest are obviously pit-type dogs with the exception of the shepherd mix which looks nothing like an aussie…ZERO, it’s a german shepherd mix if not full breed. You’re perpetuating the cover-up…good for you.


    • Melinda I purposely posted the photos so that everyone can judge for themselves. So not sure what I am “covering up”.
      While it may be a GSD cross, clearly you have no idea what a German Shepherd looks like, if you think it is a purebred GSD.


  10. I hate to see those babies be put to sleep. They should be put in homes with no children as pairs. Dog packs are instinctual and unfortunately deeply imbedded in all canines for survival. My heart breaks for the cocker spaniel who was attacked as I myself have seen a horrible pack attack of the same detail.


  11. As you say, any type of dog will fight in certain circumstances. I particularly like Boxers but I can remember a case where three killed their female owner when she apparently tripped and fell down.
    Thank you for your detailed explanation and analysis of what took place, as it’s a timely reminder for me and other multiple dog owners of what could so easily happen.


  12. Pingback: And another pack death, this time a small child | LeightonBlog

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