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

THE AKC advice for Observing the Trainer

Image

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

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!