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

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! 

Dealing with Aggression

Aggressive-GSD

Dog Aggression is truly one of those areas where extreme caution is a must.

While aggressive behavior is not common, recognizing the cues (signs) will allow you to be a safer handler, and will allow the dog to learn to understand how to behave more appropriately.

A quick note in case I haven’t made this clear! Serious aggression, where dogs have caused injury, is best left to experts with experience in recognizing, evaluating and treating aggressive behavior.

Types of Aggression

I believe there are multiple types of aggression that can be categorized as follows:

  •  Genetic Aggression – A behavioral trait, normally a result of improper breeding, that the dog has inherited from its parents
  • Learned Behavior – Something the dog has learned to do during its life
  • Breed Specific: A behavior trait based on the breeding characteristics of the dog
  • Medically related – A behavior triggered by pain or as a result of medical problems such as neurological or biological issues

How We Evaluate Aggressive Dogs

We evaluate aggression through interviews, observation, staging and analysis.

We may introduce the canine to situations so that we can observe triggers. As with life, there are pros & cons to this. While we would like to observe first hand the behavior; by staging and triggering the response, we are in effect building and by extension, condoning the behavior.

We will also evaluate what level of response from us is needed to change the behavior; and what level of resistance is displayed.

What NOT to Do

  • Do not TRY what you see on TV. TV shows are edited versions of reality, and there is a lot they don’t show or tell you.
  • Do NOT read something ONLINE and assume it is FACT. Despite what people think, many online experts have little real world experience. We refer to them as “keyboard experts”
  • And my favorite, avoid the “Friends & Family” advice – They are filled with landmines with long-lasting consequences.

Triggers

Most cases of aggression are triggered by am action, exposure or an external factor. Triggers could be as little as another dog running past, a child moving towards a food bowl or toy, or by the owner themselves. Sometimes there are multiple triggers, making the cause even more difficult to determine. Remember that the trigger is not the cause of the problem. Rather it is a symptom of a larger issue.

What About Forceful Corrections

Having been in this business for some 30 years, I have seen and heard every approach to training. I have even been a part of most, including some of the “force” methods, and the truth is despite many people saying they don’t work, the truth is, some of them do work.

Here is the problem. In many dogs with aggression issues, using force to subdue force will trigger even more resistance. And if you are successful in achieving submission, you cannot transition this training to a new or different handler.

You are better off building trust, through repetition, calming and consistency.

It is a slower approach, but over the long-term, is more effective.

How we Train

We use a positive reward based approach with the dog. Basically we trade something good for a good behavior. This could include food, a toy or ball or even affection. All dogs respond differently, and we closely evaluate each individual case to determine the best possible result.

We strictly structure the dogs entire day. No freedom to run and play, unless it’s earned. We have found that most dogs that are acting aggressively have been allowed to develop this behavior through a lack of rules. Yes, this is often the owners fault, but that’s okay, that’s what we are here to help with.

We use crate training, numerous daily training sessions, and food-reward based pattern conditioning. Clearly, this is something only done while the dog is staying with us. And yes, it takes time to create a whole new set of manners in their life.

Build positive patterns in the dogs daily life; starting off at the most basic level.

Think of it from the dogs “basic necessity” point-of-view. First, we eat; then we sleep, then we play!

Build on the positive, in small steps, each building on the previous one.

Avoid confrontational training.  Recognize when to back off a little, and quit each session when you are ahead.

Rome was not built in a day! Be patient, consistent and remain in control of your emotions at all times!

Finally

It’s important to note that what makes an experienced trainer is, well experience! He (or she) has learned to evaluate and respond to behavior and in so doing, find the most successful approach. There is no one way to train; you need to know what to do in many different and varied situations.

(By the way, I will soon publish “One Way to Train?” which looks at what technique trainers use to remedy issues.)