Without a doubt, the most dangerous dog a professional trainer can encounter is the dog with “Rage Syndrome”. First, let me caution the reader not to jump to the conclusion that your dog has “Anger Syndrome” if it shows simple and predictable dominance or pain-related aggression. This would in no way mean that the dog has “rage syndrome”. This condition is very rare indeed and is seldom seen. In 28 years of training about 700-1000 dogs a year, I’ve only witnessed true “anger syndrome” about a dozen times. From these kind of numbers one can see how rare this disorder is. Having established this fact, by its very nature this disorder is the most dangerous
of all the problems a trainer or owner can have with a dog.
A case in point was a 200 pound Newfoundland dog that was brought to us for training ten years ago.
“Samson” had been bought as a cute and cuddly pup by a member of the crew of a ship that specialized in taking church groups and students for weekend cruises at a local port. The breed was chosen for their reputation as excellent water rescue dogs. Everything went as planned with the weekend trips until Samson turned one year old. The owner noticed that on a weekend outing, a cheerleader had started cheering on the outing and the dog suddenly became extremely aggressive towards her. Luckily the dog was leashed and buckled up.
The owner had dismissed the incident to the girls as a misunderstanding on the dog side
body language and loud voice. He brought us the dog after the next incident involving the dog
had walked down the catwalk after a similar outing with two girls who were cuddling him and showing him affection. He explained that the girls’ friends had shown up and when the girls were about to leave, the dog had jumped onto one of the girls’ legs, mouth open and a snarl. One of the friends who saw this kicked the dog in the head. The dog then turned and grabbed the friend’s leg and pulled him to the ground. The owner explained this by saying, “If I were kicked in the head, I would bite him too.”
Samson presented himself at the surgery with his tail wagging and drooling kisses for everyone.
He obeyed commands and rebukes, 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
to training and his first ten days went smoothly. 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 that this is a challenge and a subordinate position. Samson was more than willing to put up with the training, and he relished the praise that came with a job well done.
On the tenth day, the kennel technicians cleaned the kennels and moved the dogs as needed to disinfect them. When they arrived at Samson’s kennel, one of the girls entered his kennel with a hasty leash
and dragged him to take him to another kennel. He went along, wagging his tail happily. If you
When she reached the clean barrel where she was going to put him, he balked. She had gone into the kennel and turned to him and said in a high, appreciative tone, “Come on, boy. The next thing she knew he was on top of her. He pushed her to the ground and grabbed her leg, pulling her to the end of the run while shaking her. The other kennel tech reported that it looked like a grizzly bear attack.
She screamed and he shook her. The other girl had the presence of mind and courage to enter the kennel and poke the hose she was washing with the dog’s nose to get him to release it.
He was so fixated on his victim that when she was released and ran to 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 as she grabbed the door. She was lifted into the air. The second girl then shoved the tube back up his nose, giving 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 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 they show in a consultation, as well as the information you get from the client. In this case, the client explained away the aggression and, in hindsight, probably withheld some other information.
Unfortunately, it’s all too common to withhold information when a client consults a trainer. The usual excuse for this is that they don’t want to judge the trainer against the dog. The unfortunate result of this can endanger personnel.
In another case, we witnessed a woman’s 11-month-old Doberman pinscher attacking her in front of our eyes. He threw her to the ground and began biting her rib cage area. when we came
to her rescue We were bitten several times while rescuing her. Unfortunately, after the dog was safely placed in a crate (after the three of us had been bitten nine times) she walked away saying that her husband had to make the final decision as to what happened to the dog. Instead of taking the dog to a neurologist like we suggested, she left him with a Doberman Pinscher rescue group. In this case, reassuring their consciousness by not putting the dog down put other unsuspecting people at risk.
This is an example of what NOT to do.
“Rage Syndrome” is actually an epileptic seizure in the emotional section of the canine brain. Like other forms of epilepsy (motor or behavioral), the dog behaves normally 98% of the time. It’s the 2%
That’s the problem. This can happen to any breed of dog. I’ve seen it in a labrador retriever before. Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Mongrel, 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 rage”. Springers have a greater genetic predisposition to this condition than other breeds for some reason. Again, I must stress that this is extremely rare and therefore you should never assume that just because you have a Springer Spaniel this condition automatically poses 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 apparent problem in the case of “Rage Syndrome” is that even one occurrence is one too many and therefore dogs diagnosed with the condition are generally euthanized. With so much at stake, it is recommended that at least two opinions are obtained before a diagnosis is made. The best professional opinion you can get is from a neurologist. Your veterinarian can give you their opinion as well as a referral. In the case of a customer with a Springer Spaniel, the owner was honest with us and explained that her vet had suggested that the dog be euthanized. She explained that she would feel more comfortable if we were willing to evaluate the dog and give her a second opinion. In this case we recorded the dog under observation. It took about a week for the normally cute dog to go into a murderous rage for no apparent reason. The dog would then return to a normal state with no apparent memory of its actions. Unfortunately we had to agree with the owner’s vet that the dog should be put down.
This condition is also being studied in humans. Almost every condition found in a dog’s brain can also be found in a human. These tests could one day explain some criminal behavior in humans. The symptoms of this condition are:
* Inexplicable aggression that comes out of nowhere.
* Aggression that has nothing to do with dominance.
* A noticeable change in the dog’s eyes, growling and growling, lunging.
* The dog appears to stop the behavior as suddenly as it occurred.
* The dog does not seem to remember the previous aggressive behavior.
* Unpredictable timing 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.
* Get at least two professional opinions (vets and trainers). At least one vet.
* Give your professional advisors all the facts you can think of. Don’t hold back information!
* Do not put others in danger. If you think your dog has “Rage Syndrome,” do not leave him alone
Children. Remove him from all situations where he can harm someone.
* Do not condone behavior that frightens you or others. Being afraid of your dog should be
the first indicator of the need to seek professional help for diagnosis and/or treatment.
For more information on “Anger 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 find this book on my website at: http://www.K-9Companions.com
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