Without a doubt, the most dangerous dog that a professional trainer can encounter is the dog with “rabies syndrome”. Let me first caution the reader not to jump to the conclusion that your dog has “rabies syndrome” if he is showing simple, predictable dominance or pain-related aggression. This would in no way imply that the dog is suffering from “rabies syndrome”. This condition is actually very rare and rarely seen. In 28 years of training around 700 to 1000 dogs per year, I have only witnessed true “rabies syndrome” about ten times. Using these types of numbers one can see how rare this disorder really 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 have with a dog.
A typical example is a 200-pound Newfoundland brought to us for training ten years ago.
“Samson” had been purchased as a cute and cuddly puppy by a member of the crew of a ship specializing in taking church groups and college kids out for weekend cruises at a local port. The breed had been selected for its reputation as excellent water rescue dogs. Everything went according to plan on the weekend trips until Samson was a year old. The owner noticed that on a weekend 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 called the incident a misunderstanding on the part of the dogs towards the girls
body language and loud voice. He brought the dog to us after the next incident in which the dog
after a similar trip, had come down the gang board with two girls caressing him and showing him affection. He explained that the girls’ boyfriends showed up and when the girls went to leave the dog rushed to one of the girl’s legs with an open mouth and a growl. One of the boyfriends seeing this kicked the dog in the head. The dog then turned and grabbed the boyfriend by the leg, dragging him to the ground. The owner explained this by saying “if I was hit on the head I would bite him too”.
Samson showed up for the consultation with a wagging tail and slobbering kisses for everyone.
He was consistent with command and correction and sought praise and attention. He was very comfortable in his skin and showed no sign of shyness or aggression. It was recorded
for training and his first ten days went off without a hitch. Samson gladly 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 it as a challenge and a subordinate position. Samson was more than willing to submit to the training and he appreciated the praise that came with a job well done.
On the tenth day, the breeding technicians cleaned the kennels and moved the dogs as needed to disinfect them. When they got to Samson’s kennel, one of the girls entered his kennel with a rushed leash
and looped him around to move him to another kennel. He walked happily, wagging his tail. When she
arrived at the clean track where she was going to put him, he stepped back. She had walked into the kennel and turned to him, saying “come on boy. Let go” in a shrill tone of praise. The next thing she knew was on her. He threw her to the ground and grabbed her by the leg, dragging her to the bottom of the race while shaking 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 walk into the kennel and stick the hose she was washing with the dog’s nose to get it released.
He was so obsessed with his victim that when she was released and ran for the door to escape, he ran right past the girl with the pipe and grabbed her at the door. He grabbed her by the other leg and pulled as she clung to the door. She was lifted up lying in the air. The second girl then pushed the pipe into her nose again, which gave them precious seconds to escape.
Kennel Tech was taken to the emergency room where the doctor reported that the injuries to his legs, although severe, had been miraculously placed in a place where there would be no permanent damage. This is the worst case scenario a coach can face. Normally, you can judge a dog by the behavior it exhibits during a consultation as well as by the information you get from the client. In this case, the client had explained the assault and, in hindsight, had probably withheld other information.
Unfortunately, withholding information is quite common when a client is consulting a trainer. The usual excuse for this is that they don’t want to harm the trainer against the dog. The unfortunate result of this can put staff at risk.
In yet another case, we saw an eleven month old woman’s Doberman attack her in front of our eyes. He threw her to the ground and started biting her in the area of her rib cage. When we came
to her rescue, we have been bitten several times saving her. Unfortunately, after the dog was taken to the safety of a crate (after we were bitten three times nine times), she walked away saying that her husband should make the final decision on what happened to the dog. Rather than taking the dog to a neurologist as we had suggested, she left him with a Doberman rescue party. In this case, relieving their conscience by not putting the dog to the ground endangers other unsuspecting people.
This is an example of what NOT to do.
“Rabies syndrome” is actually an epileptic fit in the emotional lobe of the dog’s brain. Like other forms of epilepsy (motor or behavioral), dogs behave normally 98% of the time. This is the 2%
This is the problem. It can happen in any breed of dog. I have seen him to this day in a Labrador Retriever: Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Mixed Breed, the aforementioned Doberman and Newfoundland, and about a half 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 more of a genetic predisposition to this condition for some reason than other breeds. Again, I must point out 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 works to reduce seizures in the brain. The obvious problem with “rabies syndrome” is that even one occurrence is one too many, and as a result, dogs diagnosed with this condition are usually put down. With the stakes being so high, it is recommended that you seek at least two opinions before making a diagnosis. The best professional advice you can get is from a neurologist. Your veterinarian can give you his opinion, as well as a reference. In the case of a client with a Springer Spaniel, the owner was honest with us and explained that his vet suggested that the dog be slaughtered. She said she would be more comfortable if we agreed to assess the dog and give him a second opinion. In this case, we took the dog for observation. It took about a week to see the normally gentle dog fly in 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 owners vet that the dog needed to be euthanized.
This condition is also being studied in humans. Almost all of the conditions that can be found in a dog’s brain can be found in a human. These tests may one day explain certain criminal behavior in humans. The symptoms of this condition are:
* An inexplicable aggression that comes out of nowhere.
* Aggression that does not appear to be related to domination.
* A marked change in the dog’s eyes, growls and growls, rushing.
* The dog appears to give up the behavior as suddenly as it happened.
* The dog does not seem to remember the previous aggressive behavior.
* Unpredictable moment of aggression.
What to do if you think your dog has “rabies syndrome”
* Do not try to diagnose it yourself. Homeowners are often mistaken about the causes of the assault.
* Seek 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 hide the information!
* Don’t put others in danger. If you think your dog has ‘rabies syndrome’, don’t leave him with it.
children. Keep it away from all situations where it can harm anyone.
* Do not look for excuses for behavior that scares you or frightens 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 “rabies syndrome” as well as other causes of aggression, I suggest you read Dog Training 101-The Book That Puts In Control. You can find this book on my website at: http://www.K-9Companions.com