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:


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.)


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.


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.


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



Wanted! One Thick Skin

“What happened to you” a friend asked me last month. “You were really into blogging, and then one day, gone!

We, in the words of Arnold, “I’m Back!”  

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 10.51.28 PM

And no, it was nothing bad!

Truth is, writing, teaching and helping others are my life. For me teaching is more than just telling someone what to do; or how to do it.

For me the reward comes in seeing results.

In seeing their lives improved.

And in seeing the joy in their faces when they are able to do something.

So what happened?
Simply, the internet happened.
Specifically, people were writing incredibly negative comments on my articles.
Hiding in the shadows, in the anonymity of the internet!

Granted, this was a minority. In most cases, comments were positive, rewarding and motivational.
Don’t get me wrong, I can take criticism. I am by far, my greatest critic.
I just didn’t like the negative.

BUT! As my best friends Justin & Bethanie (@BMattek) would say:

It’s time to put on the big boy panties!

Bethanie (Mattek-Sands) is a pro tennis player on the WTA Tour. She had a tough 2014, but fought her way back and opened 2015 winning two doubles tour events, including the Grand Slam Australian Open. Now that’s a comeback!


So 2015 is going to be all about blogging! No more chilling out and watching life! It’s time to get it on.

And I have some exciting new plans for the year, that will kick ass!


This week, on the prodding of my celebrity blogger friend  I attended a Social Media conference in San Diego!

WOW!  The energy was addictive!

It was like surfing in an ocean of Red Bull!


As a teacher, I love learning. I can bring this knowledge home to my (dog training) team; and it motivates me!  I come away motivated; invigorated and determined.

It’s like filling up with gas!

My brain is full, and I want to drive!

So look forward to a bunch of blogs, some cool info on training, and more pictures and video.


Dog “pack” caused death of Tom Vick

By Leighton Oosthuisen
Dog Behavior Expert
NBC Channel 12 EVB LIVE Dog Consultant
www.Partners Dog Training
Follow on twitter: @LeightonPhoenix
Please “Subscribe” to this blog


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.


(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.


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


Dog 5 involved in the attack
Dog 5 involved in the attack



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:


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…


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)



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.


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.


I have had numerous requests about this subject, and will be addressing the issue in my next blog.
(Please Subscribe so you can remain informed)


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)


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!
Please Subscribe!


Understanding and avoiding this happening to you.

By Leighton Oosthuisen
Dog Behavior Expert
NBC Channel 12 EVB LIVE Dog Consultant
www.Partners Dog Training
Follow on twitter: @LeightonPhoenix
Please “Subscribe” to this blog

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.
Please “Subscribe” 

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.


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.


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.


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!


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 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.


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)


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!


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!


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


  • 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)


  • Establish boundaries
  • Prevent small dogs from challenging others
  • Avoid resource guarding
  • Address territorial behavior
  • Avoid “Free-for-all” lifestyles


  • Posturing
  • Pets in pain or injured
  • Growling or snarling
  • Crouching down, head low and stiff tail
  • Ears erect
  • Aloof behavior


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


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


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


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.


In her blog, as well as in her book, she offers advice on Choosing the Right Trainer.


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! 

Relax and Breath


Sometimes it’s good to take a seat and relax. Breath, calm and quiet.

I’m reminded of what is important in our lives.
Most days I’m going at a frenetic pace, 12-14 hours. And I love it.

But there are times when it’s nice to sit back and watch a little mind at work.

The concentration, the focus, the ability to do it for themselves.

And while this is my own daughter, and clearly I’m biased, she truly is the most beautiful princess.

So relax, breath and enjoy the quiet!