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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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
Please “Subscribe” to this blog

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