Website design By BotEap.comWe’ve all heard of it, but how many really understand what is euphemistically known as Cocker Rage? The term “rage syndrome” was originally used to describe a set of behaviors that occurred in a disproportionate number of golden cocker spaniels. It seemed to manifest itself in single colored and mainly male cockers. Website design By BotEap.comHowever, these assumptions were refuted when it became clear that other races also suffered from this type of affliction. It certainly didn’t help when the likes of Dr Roger Mugford published a statement in the Manchester Guardian and I quote: “Cocker Spaniels are all given to anger and no family with children should have one.” Website design By BotEap.comAmerican and English Cocker Spaniels, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Dobermans, English Bull Terriers, English Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, and St. Bernards have been diagnosed with this problem , but exactly what? What is this phenomenon and is it really a syndrome? Website design By BotEap.comThis type of aggression is presented as an unprovoked attack, usually on family members. Anger syndrome appears to be an exaggerated form of status or dominance aggression, often triggered by people approaching unexpectedly when the dog is dozing. The dog becomes alert and then attacks, biting and savagely lashing out. This may go on for some time, then just as suddenly as it started, it stops. Website design By BotEap.comThe dog often looks confused and may approach the person it attacked in a normal greeting mode, looking submissive and pitying itself. The eyes often change color and harden before the attack, and there is usually no warning or threatening posture before the dog lunges at the person. Website design By BotEap.comThere is a lot of discussion about whether this anger really exists as a syndrome, or whether it is an inherited condition, a form of brain disorder, or even reduced serotonin levels (associated with violence in people). Others have suggested that it may be related to a mild form of epilepsy. Website design By BotEap.comSeveral experts have theorized that “rage syndrome” is a seizure disorder, not a temperament disorder (like dominant aggression). The recent successful treatment of some cases of apparent “rabies” with phenobarbital (an anticonvulsant) may add credence to this evidence. Website design By BotEap.comWhat I recently discovered is that aggression in our English Springer Spaniel is on the rise. I tend to find that this unprovoked aggression is mostly found in small working Springers which are about the same size as large Cockers; certainly in the US they have had an increase in assault cases in Springer. Website design By BotEap.com* Dr. Ilana Reisner, professor of behavioral sciences, has probably done more research on this condition than anyone else. She believes that this is a condition that follows family lines and is associated with reduced serotonin levels and that the condition may be difficult to treat. Distinguish aggression from dominance. Website design By BotEap.comDr. Ilana believes that there is a group of dogs that display extreme, uncontrolled aggression that goes far beyond the “typical” aggressive responses of dominant or territorial dogs. She believes that these outbursts of anger probably occur in many breeds, but that Springers and Cockers are overrepresented among these breeds. Although as you can see in the photo with three of my Springers, they can be very loving and affectionate. Website design By BotEap.comThe term “rage syndrome” is almost certainly used inappropriately to describe aggression that does not fit the reported standard, making the problem seem much more widespread than it really is. Website design By BotEap.com*Dogs that appear to have Anger Syndrome can become aggressive in certain repetitive situations, such as when an owner leans over the dog or tries to move it off the couch or some other repeatable behavior trigger. If this is the case, then it is less likely to be a seizure disorder, which would tend to suggest that the condition may be related to resources, territory, and status, although other tests conducted primarily by Dr. Reisner showed abnormally low amounts of serotonin metabolites in urine and cerebrospinal fluid. Website design By BotEap.comThis suggests that aggression was associated with abnormally low levels of serotonin in the brain. This was consistent with the findings in violent mental patients and inmates. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters, chemicals in the brain that have a calming effect. In most mammals it appears to decrease the amount of aggression associated with dominance. Website design By BotEap.comWhile it doesn’t necessarily change an animal’s social status, higher serotonin levels decrease the likelihood that aggressive displays will be used to maintain social status. Based on these findings, medications that increase serotonin levels have been used to treat dominance aggression in dogs. Apparently, about 50% of dominant aggressive dogs respond to these medications, with a decrease in aggressive manifestations. Website design By BotEap.comDrugs don’t solve the problem, but it has been suggested that they may make it safer and easier for owners to use behavior modification techniques to change the dog’s social status in the home. This indicates that dominance aggression may, at least in some individuals, result from a brain abnormality at the chemical level. Website design By BotEap.comWhen dealing with assault cases directed at humans, you need to consider a number of factors. Website design By BotEap.comThere is another form of aggression, called mental lapse aggression, which has been previously described as “rage syndrome”. Dr. Bonnie Beaver of Texas A&M first described this type of aggression. The cause is unknown, but the EEG brain wave pattern resembles that of a wild animal. It is probably not a seizure disorder, as these dogs do not respond to anticonvulsants. These dogs show sudden and violent aggression. It can start at any age, but it usually occurs in young adults and gets progressively worse. A careful behavioral history shows absolutely no pattern of predictability. There is no known treatment except euthanasia. It is probably very rare, but can be very difficult to distinguish from a serious case of dominance aggression. In the long run, it is probably not so critical to make the distinction, since euthanasia is the safest course in any case. Website design By BotEap.comSeizures can also cause unprovoked aggressive episodes, but the EEG usually shows seizure spikes, a different pattern than mental lapse aggression. When seizures are suspected as the cause of aggression, the typical medical evaluation for any other type of seizures should be done by the veterinarian. These dogs often do very well on anticonvulsants. Owners must be prepared to deal with the necessary monitoring, as well as the risks involved in having a dog that exhibits aggression during a seizure. Otherwise, they are handled like any other bulldog. Website design By BotEap.comDepending on how you break it down, there are probably 20 different forms of dog aggression. Multiple forms within the same individual may interact together to produce a single biting episode. Without understanding all of these factors, it is extremely difficult to successfully treat an aggressive dog. The “rage syndrome” has been applied to many types of aggression, primarily dominance aggression, mental lapse aggression, and seizure-related aggression. This term should be dropped from our vocabulary when discussing the causes, prognosis, and treatment of aggressive dogs. Website design By BotEap.como Age of onset of aggressive behavior: the younger the dog is at the time of the initial aggression, the worse the prognosis. If a female dog shows early signs of aggression to her owners, she should probably not spay her, as the reduction in progesterone can exacerbate the behavior. Website design By BotEap.como Severity of Aggression – Dogs that display lower levels of aggressive behavior, such as growling, lip curling, and inhibited snapping, will be much easier to deal with than dogs that explode with violent attacks. The depth and ferocity of the bite also has a profound and powerful impact on prognosis, so the chances of successful treatment are slim. Website design By BotEap.como Predict aggression: If owners can predict which situations are most likely to result in aggression, such as guarding objects or a favorite spot, then steps can be taken to prevent those situations. Website design By BotEap.como Duration of aggression: Since there is a learned component to any form of aggressive behavior, it makes sense that the longer the aggression has lasted, the more difficult it will be to convince the dog that the house rules have changed. Like any habit, owner behavior that leads to aggression is also more difficult to change. Website design By BotEap.comI’ve actually only seen two cases where “Rage Syndrome” seemed to be present; both cases were working lines of English Springer Spaniels. Almost all other cases called rage syndrome were complex control behaviors, i.e. dominance, frustration, guarding resources, etc. Website design By BotEap.comIt may be that these are showing up in our working Cockers and Springers due to a shrinking gene pool. Pure breeding inevitably increases genetic problems, because it reduces the gene pool. Some have almost no genetic variation left, therefore it is already almost impossible to select for bad behavioral traits. Website design By BotEap.comI certainly see many Cockers guarding resources and displaying dominant/complex control behavior; also a number of springers that bite without warning deep and hard, but personally I think this does not constitute us classifying it as “rage syndrome” Website design By BotEap.comI think there is more at play here than just labeling it a “syndrome”. strong medical reasons that are untreatable. Website design By BotEap.comI thought I should mention that there is currently a huge shift in the way we view dominant behavior, social status, and aggression. Dominance is certainly a relative term, not a description of a dog’s psyche. Some experts recommend abandoning the dominant/submissive paradigm altogether. I disagree, as that negates the fact that social status is self-evident in our dogs. Website design By BotEap.comTo some extent, I sympathize with those who claim that the word domain should no longer be used, that it is obsolete, obsolete, and irrelevant, but sympathizing does not mean that I agree with their arguments or their logic. Website design By BotEap.comAdvances in scientific studies have shown that our previous knowledge base did not give us the complete picture and was based on studies that were at best incomplete and at worst totally incorrect in their findings. The new wave of positive reinforcement and behavior modification style training is proving to be much more effective and kinder than previously used methods. Website design By BotEap.comThe advent of clicker training has proven to be a revelation to many of today’s behavior and obedience trainers. Fortunately, the style of training that insisted that the dog must be subservient and that training based on rewards or treats is bribery is dying, although there are still places and organizations that believe that it is the only way to train. Current dog training techniques focus on building a relationship of mutual respect and trust. Website design By BotEap.comPlease, let’s not let political correctness and semantics creep into dog behavior or training. Let’s be realistic and look at what we have in front of us; sometimes a joy, other times insistent and I dare to say from time to time “Dominant”. Website design By BotEap.comRegardless, we love them all, even with their weird, complex, and irritating idiosyncrasies.