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.

 

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Look at Me

Image

Every parent has said this a few times!

“Look At Me!”

It is one of the most common phrases we use when trying to get someones’ attention.

For some, it even brings up emotional reactions. Like those when your mother would call you by your full name.

But the truth is, it is simply a way of getting the other person to pay attention to what you are saying. And this is the point of this blog.

If I call my dog, and he (or she) ignores me, this is disrespectful. And without respect, it’s very difficult to establish boundaries.

Last night I was teaching a puppy class, and working with a young handler Crystal. Crystal had a small breed, and was trying to get her dog, Pluto, to listen to her. Except  Pluto was more concerned about the other dogs, people, smells, kids, shopping bags, etc. You guessed it, anything except Mom.

Part of the problem here is that the dog is also insecure, and becomes defensive whenever anyone is close by.

So the situation develops like this:

Dog looks around. Mom stresses out.
Dog sees “danger”. Mom stresses more.
Dog becomes defensive. Mom stresses more.
Dog growls at “threat”. Mom tries to calm dog.
Dog tries to pull away from mom. Mom stresses more.
Dog runs behind mom. Mom cannot see dog.
Dog growls at “threat” again.
Mom leaves with dog.

This is not a good thing. Lets look at the issue:

  • First, mom is stressed beyond breaking point. (Have you ever felt that with your dog?)
  • Second, dog thinks everyone is out to get him.

Can we blame mom? After all, she is trying to control her dog. Or is this the dogs fault?

Actually the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Mom needs help, and Pluto needs to trust Mom.

I believe that 80% of dog owners need education in understanding their dogs.

Pluto is struggling with insecurity based defense. He sees a threat in everything. He is scared, and his way of dealing with this is to display aggression.

Crystal needs to take control and be a parent. That means Pluto needs to learn to trust that mom will protect him; but also that mom is the leader. He needs to pay more attention to her and less to his surroundings.

This is where “Look at me” comes in.

Teach your dog to focus on you, by building the behavior using food or treats.

  • Step 1: Start by using their meal. At dinner time, instead of giving them a bowl of food, take a piece of kibble, tell your dog to SIT and give them the piece of kibble. Wait a few seconds and repeat. Do it until you have given them at least a dozen kibbles.
  • Step 2: Hold the next kibble to your face, and wait for your dog to look at you. The instant they make eye contact, say YESSS! and give them the kibble. Do this at least a dozen times.
  • Step 3: Take the kibble, hold it to your face, step backwards and say WATCH. You dog should follow and will probably sit. If not, be patient! Lure them by offering the kibble, then bring it back to your face. When they come to you, sit, look up and make eye contact, say YESSS! and give them the treat. (Instead of WATCH, you can also use the command, LOOK or FOCUS.)

Marking the Behavior: When the dog does the right behavior, and we say YESSS, we call this “Marking”. (Your dog “hit the mark”).

I am told I have to issue a warning here. If your dog tries to bite you; if they jump at your face, then clearly you need professional help. (Your dog could use some help as well) Contact me! (Seriously, did I need to tell you that?)

Well done!

You have now taught your dog to “Look at Me”.

This is the first step to teaching them to focus on you and not on other environmental issues.
A dog that focusses on his owner is learning respect, obedience and control.

Have fun!

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.)

Avoiding life-threatening Bloat

Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever

What is Bloat

Bloat is a life-threatening condition which affects most breeds. It has an extremely high mortality rate, and can occur in any dog, at any age.  Simply stated it is when the stomach distends with gas and fluid (this swelling is called bloating), and then twists (turns), trapping the fluid and gas in the stomach.

It is also known as Gastric Volvulus or Gastric Torsion.

There are lots of theories on what triggers bloat. Some say it is all about genetics, and has nothing to do with food, exercise or stress. I have seen dogs bloat with no outside triggers, and I have seen dogs bloat as a result of feeding, exercise, training, stress and a combination of all of the above.

Things you can do to Avoid Bloat

✔ Never feed your dog within 2 hours prior AND especially after exercise, work or training

✔ Control food amounts

✔ Feed two meals a day

✔ Moisten your dogs food

✔ Do not free-feed food (leave it out all the time).

✔ If you have multiple dogs, feed them separately to discourage competition.

✔ Feed in crates.

✔ This allows them to have a “safe” environment to eat peacefully without worrying about protecting their food.

✔ Control water amounts before and after exercise and eating. We suggest about ten seconds of drinking.

✔ Give smaller amounts spread over time to discourage “gulping” and swallowing excessive air.

✔ Wait to give water until at least 1 hour after eating.

✔ Allow free water access all other times.

✔ Put small amount of plain yogurt on your dog’s kibble to encourage “friendly” bacterial growth for proper digestion, or use supplemental acidophilus.

✔ Keep on hand the number of the closest 24-hour emergency Veterinary care.