Dog “pack” caused death of Tom Vick

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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SO WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

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.

BULLHEAD CITY POLICE STATEMENT

(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.
 

PHOTOS OF THE DOGS

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

dog4_Leighton

Dog 5 involved in the attack

Dog 5 involved in the attack

 

NOTES

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:

Aus-Shepherd-in-class_800x900

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…

Age

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)

 

SIGNIFICANT WOUNDS

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.

MEDICAL

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.

BREAKING UP DOG FIGHTS

I have had numerous requests about this subject, and will be addressing the issue in my next blog.
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BREED SPECIFIC ISSUES

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)

RESOURCE GUARDING

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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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.)