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Unpredictable Aggression In Dogs – Rage Syndrome – A Neurological Disorder
Without a doubt the most dangerous dog that a professional trainer can encounter is the dog with “Rage Syndrome”. Let me first warn the reader not to jump to the conclusion that your dog has “Rage Syndrome” if he exhibits simple and predictable dominance or pain-related aggression. This does not imply that the dog has “Rabie Syndrome”. This condition is in fact very rare and rarely seen. In 28 years of training approximately 700-1000 dogs a year I have only seen true “Rage Syndrome” about a dozen times. Using these types of numbers, you can see how rare this disorder really is. Having stated this fact, this disorder by its nature is the most dangerous
of all the problems a trainer or owner can face with a dog.
A 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 crew member of a ship that specialized in taking church groups and college kids for weekend cruises at a local harbor. . The breed was chosen for its reputation as excellent water rescue dogs. Everything went as planned on the weekend excursions until Samson turned one. The owner noticed that on a weekend trip a cheerleader started accompanying the trip and the dog immediately became very aggressive towards her. Luckily, the dog was on a leash and restrained.
The owner had written off the incident as a misunderstanding on the part of the dogs towards 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, he had walked the gang table with two girls who caressed him and showed him affection. He explained that the girls’ boyfriends had turned up and when the girls were about to leave, the dog lunged at one of the girls’ legs with its mouth open and a growl. One of the boyfriends seeing this had kicked the dog on the head. The dog then turned and grabbed the boyfriend by the leg dragging him to the ground. The owner explained this by saying “if they kicked me in the head, I would bite them too”.
Samson showed up at the consultation with a wagging tail and had slobbery kisses for everyone.
He was commanding and correct and sought praise and attention. He was very comfortable in his own skin and showed no signs of shyness or aggression. It has been verified
for training and his first ten days went without a hitch. Samson willingly learned all his commands, including the down command. The down command is usually one that will be difficult if dominance is a factor as dogs will see this as a challenge and a subordinate position. Samson was more than willing to undergo the training and appreciated the praise that came with a job well done.
On the tenth day, the Kennel Techs cleaned the dogs and moved the dogs as needed to sanitize them. When they get to Samson’s kennel, one of the girls enters his kennel with a hasty leash.
and had him curled up to move him to another kennel. He went happily wagging his tail. When she
he got to the clean run where she was going to put him, he got angry. She had entered the kennel and turned to him saying “Come, look, let’s go” in a high-pitched tone of praise. The next thing I knew he was on top of her. He knocked her to the ground and grabbed her by the leg dragging her to the back of the race while shaking her. The other Kennel Tech said it looked like a Grizzly Bear attack.
She screamed and he shook her. The other girl had the presence of mind and the courage to enter the kennel and stick the manger she was washing with the dogs’ noses to get him free.
He was so fixated on his victim that when she was freed, and ran for the door to escape, he ran right in front of the girl with the hose and caught her at the door. He grabbed her by the other leg and pulled her as she held on to the door. She was lifted prone in the air. The second girl then stuck the hose up her nose again which gave her two precious seconds to escape.
The Kennel Tech was taken to the emergency room where the doctor said that the injuries to his legs, although severe, were miraculously placed in a place where there would be no 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 and the information you get from the client. In this case, the client had explained the aggression and in hindsight probably retained some other information.
Unfortunately, the information network is all too 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 putting staff at risk.
In another case, we saw an eleven-month-old Doberman attack a woman before our eyes. He threw her to the ground and started biting her in the rib cage area. When we arrived
to his rescue we were bitten several times in the process of saving him. Unfortunately, after the dog was safely put in a crate (after the three had been bitten nine times) she left saying that her husband would have to make the final determination of what happened to the dog. Instead of taking the dog to a Neurologist as we had suggested, he left it with a Doberman Rescue group. In this case, the ease of his conscience does not put the dog, putting other unsuspecting people in danger.
This is an example of what not to do.
“Rage Syndrome” is in fact an epileptic seizure in the emotional lobe of the dog’s brain. Like other forms of epilepsy (motor, or behavioral) the dog behaves normally 98% of the time. it’s 2%
this 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, Doberman and Newfoundland mentioned above, and about half a dozen Springer Spaniels. Yes, I said Springer Spaniels. This condition is common enough in the breed to be commonly called “Springer Rage.” Springers have more of a genetic predisposition towards 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 a problem.
Like other forms of epilepsy, this condition can be treated with Phenobarbital which has the effect of decreasing seizures in the heart. 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 usually put down. Because the stake is so high, it is recommended that at least two opinions are sought before making a diagnosis. The best professional opinion you can get is a Neurologist. Your Veterinarian can give you his opinion, as well as a referral. In the case of a client with a Springer Spaniel, the owner was honest with us and explained that his Veterinarian had suggested that the dog be put down. She stated that she would be more comfortable if we were willing to evaluate the dog and give a second opinion. In this case, we took the dog under observation. It took about a week to see the usually sweet dog fly into a murderous rage for no apparent reason. The dog then returns to a normal state with no apparent memory of his actions. Unfortunately we had to compete with the owners Veterinarian that the dog should be euthanized.
This condition is also studied in humans. Almost any condition that can be found in a dog’s brain can be found in a human being. These tests may one day explain criminal behavior in humans. The symptoms of this condition are:
* Unexplained aggression that comes out of nowhere.
* Aggression that seems unrelated to dominance.
* A marked change in the eyes of the dogs, snarling and growling, lunging.
* The dog seems to stop the behavior as soon as it started.
* The dog does not seem to remember the previous aggressive behavior.
* Unpredictable time of aggression.
What to do if you think your dog has “Rabie Syndrome”
* Do not try to diagnose yourself. Owners many times are wrong about the causes of aggression.
* Seek at least two professional opinions (Veterinarians and Trainers) At least one Veterinarian.
* Give your professional advisors all the facts you can think of. Don’t withhold information!
* Do not put others in danger. If you think your dog has “Rage Syndrome” don’t leave it
the children Remove him from all situations where he can hurt someone.
* Don’t make excuses for behavior that scares you or others. The fear of your dog must be
the first indicator that professional help should be sought for diagnosis and/or treatment.
For more information on “Rage Syndrome” as well as other causes of aggression, I suggest you read Dog Training 101-The book that puts you in control. You can find this book on my website at: http://www.K-9Companions.com
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