Without a doubt, the most dangerous dog that a professional handler can find is the dog with “Rabies Syndrome”. First, let me warn the reader not to jump to the conclusion that your dog has “rage syndrome” if he displays simple and predictable dominance or pain-related aggression. This would in no way imply that the dog has “Rabies Syndrome”. In fact, this condition is very rare and rarely seen. In 28 years of training approximately 700-1000 dogs per year, I have only witnessed the true “Anger Syndrome” about 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 the problems that a trainer or owner can face with a dog.
One such example was a 200 pound Newfoundland that we were brought in for training ten years ago.
“Samson” had been bought as a cute, cuddly puppy by a member of a ship’s crew who specialized in taking groups of churches and college students for weekend cruises in a local port. The breed had been selected for their 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 was on a leash and was immobilized.
The owner had dismissed the incident as a misunderstanding by the dogs towards the girls.
body language and strong 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 and cared for him. She explained that the girls ‘boyfriends had turned up and when the girls were leaving, the dog had lunged at one of the girls’ legs with its mouth open and a growl. When one of the grooms saw this, he 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 “if I got kicked in the head I would also bite it.”
Samson showed up at the consultation with a tail wag and slobbery kisses for everyone.
He complied with orders and correction and sought praise and attention. He was very comfortable in his own skin and showed no signs of shyness or aggression. I was registered
to train and his first ten days went by without a hitch. Samson voluntarily learned all of his commands, including the descent command. The down command is usually the one that will be difficult if dominance is a factor, as the dogs will see this as challenging and subordinate position. Samson was more than willing to undergo the training and enjoyed the accolades that came with a job well done.
On the tenth day, the kennel technicians were cleaning the kennels and moving the dogs as needed to disinfect them. When they got to Samson’s kennel, one of the girls entered his kennel on a hurried leash.
and tied him up to transfer him to another kennel. He kept wagging his tail happily. When she
He got to the clean track where she was going to put him, he resisted. She had entered the kennel and turned to him saying “come on boy. Come on” in a high-pitched praise tone. The next thing she knew was on her. He threw her to the ground and grabbed her leg dragging her at the end of the run as he shook 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 courage to go into the kennel and stick the hose she was washing with the dog’s nose so that she would release it.
He was so obsessed with his victim that when she was released and ran to the door to escape, she ran past the hose girl and caught her in the door. He grabbed her by the other leg and pulled as she clung to the door. She was lifted face down in the air. The second girl then pushed the hose down her nose again, giving both of them precious seconds to escape.
Kennel Tech was taken to the emergency room where the doctor reported that the injuries to her legs, while serious, were miraculously placed 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 it exhibits in a query as well as the information you get from the customer. In this case, the client had explained the assault and probably withheld some other information.
Unfortunately, withholding information is very common when a client consults with a coach. The usual excuse for this is that they don’t want to prejudge the trainer against the dog. The unfortunate result of this can endanger staff.
In another case, we witnessed a woman’s eleven-month-old Doberman attack her right in front of our eyes. He threw her to the ground and began biting her in the rib cage area. When we arrived
to her rescue we were bitten several times in the process of saving her. Unfortunately, after the dog was safely boxed (after all three of us were bitten nine times), she walked away saying that her husband would have to make the final determination as to 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, relieving your conscience by not putting the dog down 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. It is 2%
that’s the problem. This can happen in any breed of dog. I’ve seen it in a Labrador Retriever to date: Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, 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 Rage.” Jumpers have a more genetic predisposition towards this condition for some reason than other breeds. 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 decreasing seizures in the brain. The obvious problem in the case of “rabies syndrome” is that even one occurrence is too much, and therefore dogs diagnosed with this condition are usually euthanized. Because the stakes are high, it is recommended to seek at least two opinions before making a diagnosis. The best professional opinion you can get is from a neurologist. Your vet can give you feedback as well as a referral. In the case of a customer with a Springer Spaniel, the owner was honest with us and explained that his vet had suggested that they euthanize the dog. 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 take the dog under observation. It took about a week to see the normally sweet dog fly in a murderous rage for no apparent reason. The dog would then return to its normal state 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 every condition that can be found in a dog’s brain can be found in a human. These tests may one day explain criminal behavior in humans. The symptoms of this condition are:
* Inexplicable aggression that comes out of nowhere.
* Assault that appears to be unrelated to the domain.
* A marked change in the dog’s eyes, growling and growling, lashing out.
* The dog seems to abandon the behavior as suddenly as it appeared.
* The dog does not seem to remember the previous aggressive behavior.
* Unpredictable timing of the assault.
What to do if you think your dog has “rabies syndrome”
* Do not try to diagnose it yourself. Owners are often wrong about the causes of the assault.
* Seek at least two professional opinions (veterinarians and trainers). At least one vet.
* Provide your professional advisers with all the data you can imagine. Don’t withhold information!
* Don’t put others in danger. If you think your dog has “Rabies Syndrome”, don’t leave him with
kids. Get him out of all situations where he might harm someone.
* Don’t make excuses for behaviors that scare you or others. Being afraid of your dog should be
the first indicator that it is necessary to seek professional help for diagnosis and / or treatment.
To learn more about “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