Unpredictable Aggression in Dogs – Rage Syndrome – Neurological Disorder

Unpredictable Aggression in Dogs – Rage Syndrome – Neurological Disorder

Without a doubt, the most dangerous dog a professional trainer can encounter is a dog with “Rage Syndrome”. Let me first caution the reader not to jump to conclusions that your dog has “Rage Syndrome” if he exhibits simple and predictable dominance or pain-related aggression. This in no way means that the dog has “Rage Syndrome”. This condition is actually very rare and rarely occurs. In 28 years of training approximately 700-1000 dogs a year, I have only witnessed true “rage syndrome” about a dozen times. Using these kind of numbers, you can see how rare this disease really is. Given this fact, this disorder is inherently the most dangerous
of all the problems a trainer or owner can face with a dog.

One such example was a 200 pound Newfoundland that was brought to us for training ten years ago.

Samson was purchased as a cute and cuddly puppy by a crew member on a ship that specialized in taking church groups and college kids out for weekend cruises in a local harbor. The breed was chosen because of their reputation as excellent water rescuers. Everything went according to plan during the weekend trips until Samson turned one. The owner noticed that during a weekend trip, a cheerleader started cheering for the trip and the dog suddenly became extremely aggressive towards her. Fortunately 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 another incident where the dog
after such a trip, he had come down on the board with two girls who caressed him and showed him affection. He explained that the girls’ boyfriends showed up and as the girls started to leave, the dog lunged at the feet of one of the girls with its mouth open and growling. One of the boyfriends, seeing this, kicked the dog in the head. Then the dog turned and grabbed the boyfriend by the leg, dragging him to the ground. The owner explained this by saying, “If I got kicked in the head, I would bite it.”

Samson introduced himself to the whirlwind consultation and there were slobbery kisses for everyone.
He obeyed commands and corrections and sought praise and attention. He was comfortable in his own skin and showed no signs of shyness or aggression. He was registered
for training and his first ten days went off without a hitch. Samson willingly learned all his commands, including the dismount 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 submissive position. Samson was more than willing to undergo training and enjoyed the praise that came with a job well done.

On the tenth day, the kennel specialists cleaned the kennels and moved the dogs according to the disinfection requirements. When they reached 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 on happily and wagging his tail. When she
got to the clean move where she was going to put it, he gave up. She had entered the kennel and turned to him saying “come on boy. The next thing she knew, he was on top of her. He knocked her to the ground and grabbed her leg, dragging her to the back of the run as he shook her. The other Kennel Tech reported what appeared to be a grizzly bear attack.

She was screaming and he was shaking her. The other girl had the presence of mind and courage to walk into the kennel and shove the hose she was washing with up the dog’s nose to get him to release it.

He was so locked into his victim that when she was freed 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 other leg and pulled her as she held on to the door. She was lifted in a prone position in the air. The second girl then shoved the hose up his nose again, giving them precious seconds to escape.

Kennel Tech was taken to the emergency room where the doctor reported that her leg injuries, although severe, were miraculously placed in a place where there would be no permanent damage. This is the worst case scenario a coach can face. You can usually judge a dog by the behavior it presents during a consultation, as well as by the information you receive from the client. In this case, the client explained the aggression and probably withheld other information.

Unfortunately, withholding information is a common occurrence when a client consults with a trainer. The usual excuse for this is that they don’t want to bias the trainer against the dog. The unfortunate result of this can be putting personnel at risk.

In another case, we witnessed a woman’s eleven-month-old Doberman attack her in front of us. He knocked her to the ground and started biting her in the chest area. When we came
for her rescue we were bitten several times in the process of rescuing her. Unfortunately after the dog was safely crated (after the three of us had been bitten nine times) she left saying her husband would have to make the final decision what happened to the dog Instead of taking the dog to a neurologist as we suggested, she dropped him off at a Doberman rescue group. In this case, easing their mind by not leaving the dog puts other unsuspecting people at risk.

This is an example of what NOT to do.

“Rage syndrome” is actually an epileptic seizure in the emotional part of the canine brain. Like other forms of epilepsy (motor or behavioral), the dog behaves normally 98% of the time. that’s 2%
this is the problem. This can happen to any breed of dog. So far I have seen it in a labrador retriever. A Golden Retriever, a German Shepherd, a Belgian Malinois, a mixed breed, the aforementioned Doberman and Newfoundland, and about half a dozen Springer Spaniels. Yes, I said Springer Spaniels. This condition is common enough in the breed to be commonly referred to as “Springer’s Rabies”. Springers have a greater genetic predisposition to this condition than other breeds for some reason. Again, I must emphasize 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 reducing seizures in the brain. The obvious problem with Rage Syndrome is that even one occurrence is too many, and therefore dogs diagnosed with the condition are usually euthanized. Because the stakes are so high, it is recommended to seek at least two opinions before making a diagnosis. The best professional opinion you can get is a neurologist. Your vet can give you their 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 vet had recommended that the dog be euthanized. She said she would feel more comfortable if we were willing to evaluate the dog and give her a second opinion. In this case, we took the dog under observation. It took about a week to see the normally sweet dog go into a murderous rage for no apparent reason. The dog would then return to normal, with no apparent memory of its actions. Unfortunately we had to agree with the owners vet that the dog should be euthanized.

This condition is also being 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 some criminal behavior in humans. The symptoms of this condition are:

* Inexplicable aggression that comes out of nowhere.

* Aggression that seems unrelated to dominance.

* Significant change in dogs eyes, snarling and snarling, throwing.

* The dog appears to abandon its behavior as suddenly as it appeared.

* The dog does not seem to remember the previous aggressive behavior.

* Unpredictable time of aggression.

What to do if you think your dog has “Rage Syndrome”

*Do not try to diagnose it yourself. Owners are often mistaken about the causes of aggression.

*Seek at least two professional opinions (veterinarians and trainers) At least one veterinarian.

* Provide your professional advisors with all the facts you can think of. Do not withhold information!

*Don’t put others in danger. If you think your dog has “Rage Syndrome”, don’t put him down

children. Remove him from any situations where he might harm someone.

* Don’t make excuses for behavior that scares you or others. Being afraid of your dog should 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 would recommend you read Dog Training 101 – The Book That Puts You In Control. You can find this book on my website at:

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