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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What did You Not Understand About …..?

STACK Ludwig run past wall

Have you ever been to the doctor, and not taken the meds they prescribe?
Have you been told to slow down, but yet you still drive fast!

I have days when I tell students: “Don’t do this; do that”.

And then I watch them do exactly the opposite.

Let me give you an example. Ms. Smith (yes, you guessed it, not her real name) comes to me and says her dog potty’s in her house.

I suggest she crates the dog, until she is able to take it outside to go potty, and then either crates the dog again; or keeps it on leash.

Two days later I get an email – “my dog peed in the house when I was out”

So what part of “Crate your Dog Did You Not Understand”?

Let me be clear; I love my students; almost as much as I love their dogs!
(Shhhh, don’t tell them I love the dog more)

So I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but:

If you hire me to train your dog – well, actually train you; then why don’t you listen to what I say.

As a professional trainer my job is to teach, and I love teaching. So in effect, you are great job security! But if you want results, then listen to what you are being taught to do.

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As a side note; if you have ever been to my classes, you will find I spend quite a bit of time explaining why you need to do something, as opposed to just telling you to do something.My philosophy is that if I can teach you to UNDERSTAND, the likelihood of you following my direction is higher.

THE AKC advice for Observing the Trainer

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Dr. Mary Burch of the American Kennel Club (AKC) offers some advice on selecting a trainer and school by observing a class in action.

Seeing a class in action is a true testimonial!

I completely agree! So much so that for years we have encouraged people to come visit the school and take a tour. Check out the training, and see the dogs.

I would love to respond to the points raised by Dr. Burch.

Observe the instructor’s skill level in teaching humans

Instructors need to be experts in teaching people, not just dogs. Handler training makes up about 80% of the team.

Observe the instructor’s knowledge of dogs.

Partners staff undergo extensive training in general dog knowledge, sports dogs, animal husbandry and behavior modification.

Observe the instructor’s communication style with students—pleasant, reinforcing vs. bossy and sarcastic.

Our training staff are specifically selected and educated in teaching people in a pleasant, non-confrontational and positive manner. Sarcasm has no place in our school.

Observe the Organization of the class. How long on each topic, how many students/dogs?

Our classes are generally 8 to 10 dogs, with two (or more) instructors to a class. Some classes have a ratio of two dogs to a trainer.

Observe the Curriculum—does it teach all you want to learn?

Our curriculums are specifically tailored to the level of class, as well as to ensure all topics are addressed. While we do not pre-publish our class curriculums, you are welcome to discuss them with our staff prior to signing up for class.

Do the dogs look happy, eager to work vs. bored or nervous?

We focus lots of attention on training the dogs to be happy, excited and passionate about class.

Do the human students look happy, eager to work, or frustrated?

Come see for yourself!  Few people ever think our classes are slow.

Is the instruction presented and sequenced so that students and dogs are having success?

Our classes are carefully structured by our Training Director to build on a foundation in baby steps.

Teaching methods—for example, do you spend all the time listening to the instructor talk?

Clearly we love to teach; and some of that involves talking. But we also focus on theory, explanations and practical application of the drills. Instructors will explain, then demonstrate each step. Then the students are encouraged to do the same, and supported if they struggle.

Observe the instructor’s ability to handle any behavior problems or student questions.

Instructors are trained to answer questions and maintain safety. They can also call in an assistant or senior instructor if needed. With 30 years of training behind us, there is not a lot we haven’t covered.

The AKC further suggests: “Observe the instructor’s teaching before signing up for a class. Don’t make the decision about which class you and your puppy or dog will attend based on factors such as the class being the closest one to your home, the cost, or the day of the week the class is held. The instructor you choose will be providing your dog’s basic training and the foundation for all other training that follows. Interviewing the instructor and observing a class before enrolling will ensure that both you and your dog get the training that best meets your needs.”

I could not have said it better myself!

We offer classes most weekday evenings, and on Saturday mornings.

Click here to see the Class Calendar

Click here to see a list of Upcoming Classes

Look at Me

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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!

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!