Undoubtedly the most dangerous dog that 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 it displays simple and predictable dominance or pain-related aggression. This would in no way imply that the dog has “Rage Syndrome”. This condition is in fact very rare and is rarely seen. In 28 years of training approximately 700-1000 dogs per year, I have only witnessed a true “Rage Syndrome” about a dozen times. Using these kinds of numbers, one can see just how rare this disorder is. Having stated this fact, this disorder by its very nature is the most dangerous
of all the problems that a trainer or owner can face with a dog.
One such example was a 200 pound Newfoundland brought to us for training ten years ago.
“Samson” had been purchased as a cute, cuddly puppy by a crew member on a ship that specialized in taking church groups and college students for weekend cruises in a local port. The breed had been selected for its reputation as excellent water rescue dogs. Everything was going according to plan on the weekend excursions until Samson was one year old. The owner noticed that on a weekend trip a cheerleader had started cheering for the trip and the dog suddenly became extremely aggressive towards her. Fortunately, the dog had been on a leash and restrained.
The owner had dismissed the incident as a misunderstanding by the dogs towards the girls.
body language and loud voice. He brought the dog to us after the following incident where the dog
after a similar trip, he had walked the gang plank with two girls who caressed him and showed him affection. He explained that the girls’ boyfriends had shown up and as the girls were about to leave, the dog had pounced on one of the girls’ legs with its mouth open and a growl. One of the boyfriends, seeing this, had kicked the dog in the head. The dog then turned and grabbed the groom by the leg dragging him to the ground. The owner explained this by saying that “if I got kicked in the head, I’d bite it too.”
Samson showed up for the consultation wagging his tail and had slobbery kisses for everyone.
He obeyed orders and correction and sought praise and attention. He was very comfortable with himself and showed no signs of shyness or aggression. he was registered
to train and his first ten days were uneventful. Samson willingly learned all the commands from him, 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 as a challenge and a subservient position. Samson was more than willing to undergo the training and relished the praise that came with a job well done.
On the 10th day, the Kennel Techs were cleaning the kennels and moving the dogs around as needed to disinfect them. When they got to Samson’s kennel, one of the girls hurried into her kennel on a leash.
and tied him up to move him to another kennel. He was happily wagging his tail. When she
he got to the clean run where she was going to put him he resisted. She had entered the kennel and turned to him saying “come on boy let’s go” in a high pitched tone of praise. The next thing he knew, he was on top of her. He tossed her to the ground and grabbed her leg dragging her to the rear of her run as he jerked her off. 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 courage to go into the kennel and stick the hose she was washing with up the dog’s nose to get it loose.
He was so focused on his victim that when they released her and he ran for the door to get away, he ran past the girl with the hose and caught her in the door. He grabbed her other leg and pulled her up as she clung to the door. He lifted her face down into the air. The second girl shoved the hose up her nose again, giving them both precious seconds to escape.
The Kennel Tech was taken to the ER where the doctor reported that the injuries to her legs, though severe, were miraculously placed in a place where there would be no permanent damage. This is the worst scenario a coach can face. You can usually judge a dog by the behavior he presents in a consultation as well as the information you get from the client. In this case, the client had explained the assault and, in retrospect, probably withheld some other information.
Unfortunately, hiding information is very 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 endanger personnel.
In another case, we witnessed a woman’s eleven-month-old Doberman attack her right before our eyes. He knocked her to the ground and started biting her around the ribcage area. when we arrived
to her rescue we were bitten several times in the process of saving her. Unfortunately, after the dog was safely crated (after all three of us were bitten nine times), she left saying that her husband would have to make the final decision on what happened to the dog. Instead of taking the dog to a neurologist as we had suggested, she left him with a Doberman rescue group. In this case, the relaxation of her conscience by not euthanizing the dog puts other unsuspecting people at risk.
This is an example of what NOT to do.
The “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. is 2%
that’s the problem. This can happen to any breed of dog. I have seen it to date in a Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Mongrel, the aforementioned Dobermans and Newfoundlands, and about half a dozen Springer Spaniels. Yes, I said Springer Spaniel. This condition is common enough in the breed to be commonly known as “Springer rabies”. Jumpers are more genetically predisposed 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 slowing seizures in the brain. The obvious problem in the case of “Rage Syndrome” is that even one occurrence is too many and therefore dogs diagnosed with this 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 feedback, 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 vet had suggested euthanizing the dog. He said that she would feel more comfortable if we were willing to evaluate the dog and give her a second opinion. In this case we take the dog under observation. It took her about a week to see the normally sweet dog fly into a murderous rage for no apparent reason. The dog would then revert to his normal state with no apparent memory of his actions. Unfortunately, we had to agree with the owner’s vet that the dog should be euthanized.
This condition is also being studied in humans. Almost every condition that can be found in a dog’s brain can be found in a human. These tests may one day explain some criminal behavior in humans. The symptoms of this condition are:
* Unexplained aggression that comes out of nowhere.
*Aggression that appears to be unrelated to dominance.
* A marked change in the dogs eyes, snarling and snarling, lunging.
* The dog seems to stop the behavior as suddenly as it started.
* The dog seems not to remember the previous aggressive behavior.
* Unpredictable moment 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. Don’t hide information!
* Do not put others in danger. If you think your dog has “Rage Syndrome” do not leave it with
kids. Remove him from all situations where he could hurt someone.
* Don’t make excuses for behavior that scares you or others. Being afraid of your dog must be
the first indicator that professional help should be sought for diagnosis and/or treatment.
To learn more about the “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