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Unpredictable Aggression In Dogs – Rage Syndrome – A Neurological Disorder
Without a doubt the most dangerous dog a professional trainer can encounter is the dog with “Rage Syndrome”. Let me first caution the reader not to jump to the conclusion that your dog has “Rage Syndrome” if he is showing simple and predictable dominance or pain related aggression. This in no way would imply that the dog has “Rage Syndrome”. This condition is in fact very rare and seldom seen. In 28 years of training approximately 700-1000 dogs per year I have only witnessed true “Rage Syndrome” around a dozen times. Using these kinds of numbers one can see how truly rare this disorder is. Having stated this fact, this disorder by its’ very nature, is the most dangerous
of all issues a trainer or owner may face with a dog.
One case in point was a 200 pound Newfoundland that was brought to us for training ten years ago.
“Samson” had been purchased as a cute and cuddly puppy by a member of the crew of a ship that specialized in taking out church groups and college kids for weekend cruises in a local harbor. The breed had been selected for their reputation as excellent water rescue dogs. Everything was going along as planned on the weekend excursions until Samson turned one year of age. The owner noticed that on one weekend trip a cheerleader had begun to start a cheer on the trip and the dog suddenly became extremely aggressive toward her. Luckily the dog had been on a leash and restrained.
The owner had written the incident off as a misunderstanding on the dogs part toward the girls
body language and loud voice. He brought the dog to us after the next incident in which the dog
after a similar trip, had walked down the gang plank with two girls who were petting him and showing him affection. He explained that the girls boyfriends had shown up and when the girls went to leave the dog had lunged toward one of the girls legs with an open mouth and a growl. One of the boyfriends seeing this had kicked the dog in the head. The dog then turned and grabbed the boyfriend by the leg dragging him to the ground. The owner explained this away saying “if I was kicked in the head I would bite him too.”
Samson presented at the consultation with a wagging tail and had slobbery kisses for everyone.
He was compliant to command and correction and sought praise and attention. He was very comfortable in his own skin and showed no signs of shyness or aggression. He was checked in
for training and his first ten days went off without a hitch. Samson willingly learned all of his commands including the down command. The down command is usually the one that will be difficult if dominance is a factor as dogs will see this is a challenge and a subordinate position. Samson was more than willing to submit himself to training and he relished the praise that came with a job well done.
On the tenth day the Kennel Techs were cleaning the kennels and moving the dogs as required to sanitize. When they got to Samson’s kennel one of the girls entered his kennel with a hasty leash
and looped him to move him to another kennel. He went along happily wagging his tail. When she
got to the clean run where she was going to put him he balked. She had walked into the kennel and turned to him saying “come on boy. lets go” in a high pitched praising tone. The next thing she knew he was on her. He knocked her to the ground and grabbed her by the leg dragging her to the back of the run while shaking her. The other Kennel Tech reported that it looked like a Grizzly Bear attack.
She was screaming and he was shaking her. The other girl had the presence of mind and the bravery to enter the kennel and stick the hose she was washing with up the dogs nose to get him to release.
He was so fixated on his victim that when she was released, and ran for the door to escape, he ran right past the girl with the hose and caught her at the gate. He grabbed her by the other leg and pulled as she held on to the door. She was lifted prone into the air. The second girl then shoved the hose up his nose again which gave them both precious seconds to escape.
The Kennel Tech was taken to the emergency room where the doctor reported that the injuries to her legs although severe were miraculously placed in a location where there would not be any permanent damage. This is the worst scenario a trainer can face. Normally you can judge a dog by the behavior it presents in a consultation as well as the information you obtain from the client. In this case the client had explained away the aggression and in hind sight probably withheld some other information.
Unfortunately withholding information is all to common when a client consults with a trainer. The usual excuse for this is that they don’t want to prejudice the trainer against the dog. The unfortunate result of this can be placing the staff in danger.
In yet another case, we witnessed a woman’s eleven month old Doberman attack her in front of our eyes. He knocked her to the ground and began biting her down her rib cage area. When we came
to her rescue we were bitten several times in the process of saving her. Unfortunately after the dog was safely put in a crate (after the three of us had been bitten nine times) she left saying that her husband would have to make the final determination on what happened to the dog. Rather than taking the dog to a Neurologist as we had suggested, she left him with a Doberman Rescue group. In this case the easing of their conscious by not putting the dog down, put other unsuspecting people at risk.
This is an example of what NOT to do.
“Rage Syndrome” is in fact an epileptic seizure in the emotional lobe of the dogs brain. Like other forms of epilepsy (motor, or behavioral) the dog behaves normally 98% of the time. It is the 2%
that is the problem. This can happen in any breed of dog. I have seen it to date in a Labrador Retriever.Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Mixed Breed,the aforementioned Doberman and Newfoundland, and about a half dozen Springer Spaniels. Yes, I said Springer Spaniels. This condition is common enough in the breed to be commonly referred to as “Springer Rage”. Springers have more of a genetic predisposition toward this condition for some reason than other breeds. Again, I must stress that this is extremely rare and therefore just because you have a Springer Spaniel you should never assume that this condition will automatically be an issue.
Like other forms of epilepsy this condition can be treated with Phenobarbital which has the effect of lessening the seizures in the brain. The obvious problem in the case of “Rage Syndrome” is that even one occurrence is one too many, and therefore dogs diagnosed with this condition are generally put down. Because the stakes are so high it is recommended that at least two opinions are sought before a diagnosis is made. The best professional opinion you can obtain is a Neurologist. Your Veterinarian can give you his or her opinion, as well as a referral. In the case of one client with a Springer Spaniel, the owner was honest with us and explained that her Veterinarian had suggested that the dog be put down. She stated that she would be more comfortable if we would be willing to evaluate the dog and give her a second opinion. In this case we took the dog in under observation. It took about a week to see the normally sweet dog fly into a murderous rage for no apparent reason. The dog would then go back into a normal state without apparent memory of his actions. Unfortunately we had to concur with the owners Veterinarian that the dog should be euthanized.
This condition is also being studied in humans. Almost every condition that can be found in the brain of a dog can be found in a human being. These tests may some day explain some criminal behavior in humans. The symptoms of this condition are:
* Unexplainable aggression that comes out of nowhere.
* Aggression that seems unrelated to dominance.
* A marked change in the dogs eyes, snarling and growling, lunging.
* The dog seems to abandon the behavior as suddenly as it came on.
* The dog seems not to recall the previous aggressive behavior.
* Unpredictable timing of the aggression.
What to do if you think your dog has “Rage Syndrome”
*Do not try to diagnose it yourself. Owners many times are wrong about the causes of aggression.
*Do seek at least two professional opinions (Veterinarians and Trainers) At least one Veterinarian.
*Do give your professional advisors all of the facts that you can think of. Do not withhold information!
*Do not put others in danger. If you think your dog has “Rage Syndrome” do not leave him with
children. Remove him from all situations where he can do harm to anyone.
* Do not make excuses for behavior that frightens you or others. Being afraid of your dog should be
the first indicator that professional help needs to be sought for diagnosis and/or treatment.
For more information on “Rage Syndrome” as well as other causes of aggression I would suggest that you read Dog Training 101-The Book That Puts You In Control. You can locate this book on my website at: http://www.K-9Companions.com
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