And another pack death, this time a small child

Tyler Griffin-Huston

Tyler Griffin-Huston (courtesy Laura Badaker)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why negligence?

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

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

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

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

Don’t leave kids alone big dogs.

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

Socialize your dogs

Bitch RP_DOGS_second

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

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

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

This was not a suitable environment for a child.

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

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

How would this lifestyle affect the dogs?

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

Puppy 2 RP_DOGS_third.jpg

One of the puppies (picture credit Yuba Animal Control)

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

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

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

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

Why dogs attack and kill

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

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

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

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

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

Triggers and causes

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

But let me offer a few potential triggers:

Food

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

Space

RP_DOGS_trailer.jpg

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

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

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

Play

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

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

Noise

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

No previous behavioral issues

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

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

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

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

Can these dogs be fixed

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

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

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

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

Child Protective Services (CPS)

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

Take responsibility

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

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

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

Negligence? Absolutely! Preventable. Absolutely!

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

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

Leighton Oosthuisen

Training Director

Partners Dog Training School

Follow me at @LeightonPhoenix

 

 

One thought on “And another pack death, this time a small child

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