FATAL BOXER ATTACK

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
blog@partnersdogtraining.com
Follow on twitter: @LeightonPhoenix
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UPDATE
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.

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!

KILLER INSTINCT

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

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.

MEDICAL ISSUES

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)

AGGRESSION CASES

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!

BEING REALISTIC

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

  • Posturing
  • Pets in pain or injured
  • Growling or snarling
  • Crouching down, head low and stiff tail
  • Ears erect
  • Aloof behavior

CONCLUSION

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

THE AKC advice for Observing the Trainer

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Dr. Mary Burch of the American Kennel Club (AKC) offers some advice on selecting a trainer and school by observing a class in action.

Seeing a class in action is a true testimonial!

I completely agree! So much so that for years we have encouraged people to come visit the school and take a tour. Check out the training, and see the dogs.

I would love to respond to the points raised by Dr. Burch.

Observe the instructor’s skill level in teaching humans

Instructors need to be experts in teaching people, not just dogs. Handler training makes up about 80% of the team.

Observe the instructor’s knowledge of dogs.

Partners staff undergo extensive training in general dog knowledge, sports dogs, animal husbandry and behavior modification.

Observe the instructor’s communication style with students—pleasant, reinforcing vs. bossy and sarcastic.

Our training staff are specifically selected and educated in teaching people in a pleasant, non-confrontational and positive manner. Sarcasm has no place in our school.

Observe the Organization of the class. How long on each topic, how many students/dogs?

Our classes are generally 8 to 10 dogs, with two (or more) instructors to a class. Some classes have a ratio of two dogs to a trainer.

Observe the Curriculum—does it teach all you want to learn?

Our curriculums are specifically tailored to the level of class, as well as to ensure all topics are addressed. While we do not pre-publish our class curriculums, you are welcome to discuss them with our staff prior to signing up for class.

Do the dogs look happy, eager to work vs. bored or nervous?

We focus lots of attention on training the dogs to be happy, excited and passionate about class.

Do the human students look happy, eager to work, or frustrated?

Come see for yourself!  Few people ever think our classes are slow.

Is the instruction presented and sequenced so that students and dogs are having success?

Our classes are carefully structured by our Training Director to build on a foundation in baby steps.

Teaching methods—for example, do you spend all the time listening to the instructor talk?

Clearly we love to teach; and some of that involves talking. But we also focus on theory, explanations and practical application of the drills. Instructors will explain, then demonstrate each step. Then the students are encouraged to do the same, and supported if they struggle.

Observe the instructor’s ability to handle any behavior problems or student questions.

Instructors are trained to answer questions and maintain safety. They can also call in an assistant or senior instructor if needed. With 30 years of training behind us, there is not a lot we haven’t covered.

The AKC further suggests: “Observe the instructor’s teaching before signing up for a class. Don’t make the decision about which class you and your puppy or dog will attend based on factors such as the class being the closest one to your home, the cost, or the day of the week the class is held. The instructor you choose will be providing your dog’s basic training and the foundation for all other training that follows. Interviewing the instructor and observing a class before enrolling will ensure that both you and your dog get the training that best meets your needs.”

I could not have said it better myself!

We offer classes most weekday evenings, and on Saturday mornings.

Click here to see the Class Calendar

Click here to see a list of Upcoming Classes

Do we pass the AKC Trainer Test?

AKC CGC logo

THE TEST!

Normally, I hate tests! They stress me out, make me nervous and generally mess up what could be a great day! But I will make an exception, just for you!

Last week I was reading a blog by well-known Animal Behaviorist, Dr. Mary Burch. She is the Director of the AKC CGC program, and has been instrumental in improving the quality of training.

(http://caninegoodcitizen.wordpress.com)

In her blog, as well as in her book, she offers advice on Choosing the Right Trainer.

(http://caninegoodcitizen.wordpress.com/2010/03/30/choosing-the-right-trainer-for-you/)

I decided to put myself, and Partners Dog Training School, to the TEST!

TIP: I added some comments to educate you, and your friends in what else to look for; and what to ask!

Choosing the Right Trainer

1.  How long have you been training dogs?

My answer: About thirty years.

Tip: Ask how much of that time was spent as a professional, full-time trainer, actually making a living from teaching dogs. In my case, 20 years.

2.  What kinds of classes do you teach?

My answer: I teach obedience, protection, agility, dock diving, service dogs, detection dogs and search & rescue.

3.  Have you put any titles on your own dogs?

Yes, French Ring Title, AKC Tracker Dog Title, Schutzhund title, Obedience title, Agility Title, AKC CGC titles.

Tip: Ask if the trainer actually trained the dog from scratch, or did they Title a dog that was purchased as an already Titled dog.

4.  What dog sports do you participate in or have you participated in?

My answer: French Ring, Agility, Dock Diving, Herding, Obedience.

5.  What is your basic philosophy of training?

My answer: I believe in positive reward based training, but with an element of minor compulsion training. By the way, some trainers believe in exclusively training using positive, and others use more compulsion, so this is a complex question. In addition, I will use different techniques on different dogs and in different situations. I almost always chat with clients prior to training, to ensure they are comfortable with my approach and reasoning.

Tip: Ask the trainer if you can observe them teaching a class, or teaching a lesson.

6.  What kind of equipment will we be using in class (e.g., collars, etc).

My answer: We use all types of equipment, from collars to martingales. Generally we try to match the equipment to the situation, and in some cases, we also have to work with what we have.

7.  Do you use food rewards?  Corrections?  If so, can you tell me about these.

My answer: Yes, we use food reward, mostly to build the behavior through motivated repetition. And yes, we do use limited (soft) corrections. As a specialist behavioral school, we are often the point of last resort, and this leads to us having to find solutions to very difficult answers. Many other trainers refer their failures to us, and we are proud of the fact that we succeed in most of these cases.

8.  Are all sizes of dogs together?

My answer: No, we train like-with-like. And each dog has its own kennel, its own crate and its own training session. Dogs need to feel comfortable around other dogs.

9.  Do you know your drop-out rate? How many students graduate from your classes?

My answer: Our drop out rate in the basic (level 1) classes is about 1.5 in 10. In the advanced classes, we have very few drop-outs, as these students have trained with us for a while, and are loyal and committed clients.

10. After the beginning class, do many students go on for additional training?

We are especially proud that more than half, roughly 6 in 10 students, advance on to other classes. Some of these are more advanced, and others are part of our sports program. We specifically developed our agility, dock diving and protection sports facilities to accommodate the needs of our students interested in further training for their families.

Tip: Ask trainers what investment they have in providing sports training for clients. Do they actually work out of a school? Or do they just use a public park?

I have one more TIP to add to this. Ask the trainer to connect on Facebook, and read through the posts. Remember, you are interviewing someone who will in effect be working for you, and its important to know them on a personal basis. My Facebook, as well as that of the school, is open for all to see.

In my next blog, I will look at the questions Dr. Burch asks when observing a class!