And another pack death, this time a small child

Tyler Griffin-Huston

Tyler Griffin-Huston (courtesy Laura Badaker)

Here we go again! Today we hear of another child killed due to the tragic, but negligent, behavior of others.

A nine year old child, Tyler Griffin-Huston, was staying with his sister, twenty four year old Alexandria Griffin-Heady. Tyler was a foster, that had been temporarily left with Alexandria by CPS.

On Sunday afternoon, January 3, 2016, Alexandria left Tyler alone in her trailer, and went off to work. On her return, she found his body, and the dogs, covered in blood.

Two years ago, almost to the day, a group of five dogs attacked and killed Tom Vick, husband of the Mayor of Bullhead City. I wrote a story at that time which went viral, with 50,000 views in two days. Clearly an indication that people find these cases horrific.

I am a competitive target shooter, World Champion and NRA Instructor. In the gun world we talk about “negligent discharges” as compared to “accidental discharge”.

An accident is something that could not be prevented. Negligence is a result of someone screwing up, and is completely preventable. In a word, negligence kills!

This was pure negligence, by CPS, the sister and the system.

I live in the world of dog behavior. My business is evaluating dogs with issues, and devising plans to treat these dogs. We have been doing this for some twenty years, with thousands of dogs. As a dog expert consultant to NBC, specifically Channel 12 EVB LIVE in Phoenix, I always try and look at every case from both sides. We attempt to collect and study the facts available, which may or may not be accurate. Actually, most of the time the facts as presented are inaccurate, either intentionally or just because witnesses have a very poor recollection of what happened.

As a media consultant my ethical responsibility is to take the known facts, and offer try and offer an explanation, that will not only explain what happened, but attempt to prevent this happening in the future.

Most of the time, there are four sides. The first, that of the victim, the second, that of the animal or animals, thirdly, that of the investigating agencies and finally, the fourth side, that of the “experts” who think they know everything. I suppose I am one of them, but I like to believe I base my statements on facts, not emotions.

In cases like this, emotions run high. The media, who are trying to sell papers, blogs, airtime, etc. will often start with the facts, add their own suppositions, and then go to press or air. Sometimes they are so far off, that corrections, or “updates” need to be posted within hours. This is not always their fault, as the “facts” they print are obtained from sources that themselves may be in the dark.

I say this, because at this moment, to the best of my knowledge, the only witness was the little guy, and he is not here to tell us, rest his soul.

So, for now, all we can do is speculate on what happened, based on what little we know.

Why negligence?

  • The child should never have been there.
  • He should never have been left alone.
  • And the sister should never have been given custody.

First, let me say I have no personal connection here. I read the article online Read the full article here

I tracked down some videos of the dogs, taken six months ago, and read the police report and the statement from the Sacramento County’s child protection service (CPS)

When I look at this situations, I am truly filled with a sense of loss. Despite years in the military, law enforcement, search & rescue, etc., I am often in tears when it comes to kids getting hurt. As a father of two, and the profession I chose, I feel it is my responsibility to educate others in an attempt to prevent these tragedies.

Don’t leave kids alone big dogs.

Under no circumstances should a small child be left alone with big dogs. In this case, multiple big dogs. There is just too much risk of things going wrong. And last I checked, you are not allowed to leave a young child alone at home.

Socialize your dogs

Bitch RP_DOGS_second

The female, mother to the two puppies. Photo credit Yuba Animal Control

Socialization of dogs is critical to proper development and a balanced upbringing. But here we have a problem. I have seen about ten minutes of video showing that the sister, Alexandria, had in fact attempted to do so. I am not a fan of the dogs being on the bed, with a litter of puppies, feeding and playing. But at least there was interaction and affection.

I am not sure how long these videos will stay up, but for those that want to see how they behaved about six months ago, here is Video of the dog.
These were posted June 9, 2015. So we can assume the dogs are about 8-9 months old.

This was not a suitable environment for a child.

Clearly, by all accounts, this was not a suitable home. No running toilet, a caregiver that could barely care for herself. According to the aunt, the family had serious misgivings on the capabilities of the sister. Like her brother, she had bounced around, and recently was living in a hotel room with the three dogs. The trailer was hardly a suitable home.

Having said that, I feel sorry for this girl. She was a child herself, and had a messed up family situation. Her mother was an addict, and died from drug related causes. Her father was mentally incapable. So not exactly great role models.

How would this lifestyle affect the dogs?

Personally, I believe there is a substantial connection between how we live, and how our dogs behave. Just as with children, dogs need structure and foundation. A house filled with chaos, with little structure and quite possibly no respect, will often result in dogs being out of control.

Puppy 2 RP_DOGS_third.jpg

One of the puppies (picture credit Yuba Animal Control)

I can hear it now, they were pitbulls. Pitbulls are killers.That’s why they did it. We should get rid of all pitbulls.

I saw one comment that stated, you never her this about golden retrievers.

The truth is that in this case, as with many others, we cannot blame the breed. I have trained hundreds of pits, and the vast majority are awesome dogs. Of course, I have also encountered a few that were mean as hell. But the same can be said for other large breeds. I have said it before; all dogs bite. Some just bite harder.

I would name them, but then all those breed owners would write and tell me how I am being unjust. And I don’t have the time to respond to them, and that is not the point to this story.

Why dogs attack and kill

There is one common characteristic that is a factor here. Certain breeds, of which the pitbull is one, absolutely have a propensity for becoming highly agitated, working each other up into a frenzy, and causing serious bodily harm.

When this occurs in a group of dogs, we refer to that as pack instinct. The “pack” could consist of dogs of the same breed, as happened here, or different breeds, as happened with Tom Vick. As individuals, the dogs may not be a problem, but as a pack, it’s a different story.

Dogs in pack drive, intent on causing harm, are extremely dangerous.

They get in a zone. Where there is little response, even when well trained. They are literally oblivious to everything around them.

Even an adult would have difficulty in stopping a pack type confrontation. A child would have no chance.

Triggers and causes

At this time, I don’t know if the dogs were fighting amongst each other, or that the young boy was the sole target. We also don’t know what triggered the attack.

But let me offer a few potential triggers:

Food

There may have been food left out, or the child may have attempted to feed the dog or dogs. Or perhaps he was trying to eat himself, and offered a piece to one of the dogs. The puppies were about 8 months old, so could quite possibly have started being possessive over food. Resource guarding is a complex issue, with multiple variables. (By the way, it is also an issue best left to experts to address.)

Space

RP_DOGS_trailer.jpg

The travel trailer where the attack allegedly happened (picture from Sacramento Bee)

Living in a small confined space is totally unsuitable for a big dog. Most dogs need space, or at least need a managed environment. In Europe, many people live in tiny apartments, either crating their dogs or restricting their movement. But every day, many times twice per day, they exercise, run or train their dog at local clubs.

I this case, I imagine the dogs were running free in a tiny trailer, with little or no supervision. While they were young, it most likely wasn’t an issue, but these dogs had outgrown the space.
Dogs change when they grow up. As people do. This is a change we need to understand and accept.

Play

Again, we are speculating as to the cause. But one potential scenario is that this may have started as a game in the trailer. Running, playing, chasing each other. Perhaps they knocked the little guy down. This could trigger an attack on the child, from what I call a victims complex.

Animals sometimes see a small child, or dog, on the ground, as weak, and will attack, as if they are a weak or sickly victim.

Noise

Small children crying, screaming or acting agitated, will sometimes trigger an aggressive response in a dog. My daughter will sometimes scream in an ear-piercing voice when her brother teases or gives her a fright. This instantly triggers my dogs who then jump up excitedly. Of course, my kids are never unsupervised, so we are able to manage this situation. But its possible this child cried or screamed, and that triggered this pack instinct.
Families with newborn babies need to be especially cognizant of this aspect. And certain dogs just do not do well around babies.

No previous behavioral issues

One comment made by the sister is that the dogs had been “perfect” and had shown “no behavioral issues”. Here I have to disagree. In my experience, dogs rarely escalate to this level of behavior overnight. It is a gradual escalation of behavior. So either the sister doesn’t wish to disclose the history, or she was simply incapable of seeing what was happening. Far more likely is that she was simply out of her depth, and did not seek help.

In the brief video of the pitbull (or mix breed) taken at the shelter, and published by the Sacramento Bee, the bitch (female) does appear to be a little insecure. But considering the circumstances, surroundings and the TV camera in her face, that is hardly surprising.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting professional help. Many of these cases are trainable, if caught at a young age. The more established the behavior, the more difficult, and expensive, it is to remedy.

Sadly, in this case, as with all the others, the dogs will be blamed and euthanized. And like all these cases, there will be strong arguments made on both sides. (Please don’t email me about these sides) I see both sides in this.

Can these dogs be fixed

Probably yes. But of course, I don’t know that, as I haven’t seen them. There is a belief once a dog tastes blood, it will always want to kill.

In my opinion, the taste of blood has no effect on whether a dog will bite in the future. What does have an effect, is allowing a dog to repeatedly act inappropriately. It becomes an “established pattern of behavior”.

Many of the dogs that act aggressively do so out of fear, insecurity or both. Most of this is indiscriminate breeding resulting in poor genetics. You cannot change a dogs genetic disposition, but you can manage and influence it.

No, you cannot beat it out of him. It takes a highly structured training program, with daily managed interactions. It takes time, weeks and sometimes months, but it does work.

Child Protective Services (CPS)

I am not going to comment on this aspect. At this time, we don’t know their side. Over the years I have had experiences with CPS – not with my personal kids but with friends and family members. I want to believe they were unaware of the home situation. Time will tell.

Take responsibility

The bottom line, the child should never have been left alone, and the child should probably not have been left with the sister.

But the truth is these scenarios are played out daily across America. Parents leave their kids at home. CPS is overwhelmed with all the cases. And the kids take the brunt of it all.

Every week I meet with people with aggressive dogs. Most of them are looking for solutions and willing to work on the issues. Some need to learn the hard way.

Negligence? Absolutely! Preventable. Absolutely!

For little Tyler Griffin-Huston, let’s hope his death will be a lesson to us all. I cannot imagine the pain he felt. I have seen images of other cases, and trust me, they are horrific. I feel for the family. There is nothing I or we can say that will bring this kid back. They dont care about the reasons, or the blame game. To them, the only thing that matters is his memory.

Finally, this is not just about the three dogs. This is about us taking responsibility for each others safety, and ensuring that kids are protected.

Leighton Oosthuisen

Training Director

Partners Dog Training School

Follow me at @LeightonPhoenix

 

 

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

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.