Rage Syndrome, also known as Sudden Onset Aggression or (SOA) or Avalanche of Rage Syndrome, is a rare but serious behavioural problem that has been reported most commonly in the English Cocker Spaniel but also in a variety of other dog breeds. It is often misdiagnosed as it can be confused with other forms of aggression. It is thought to be genetic in origin and is inheritable. A variety of treatments are available, but will need to be tailored to the individual needs of the specific dog. The term rage syndrome is attributed to Dr. Roger A. Mugford, an English animal behaviour consultant.
The dog will suddenly act aggressively to anyone nearby, but minutes later will be calm and normal. The dog does not seem to remember or realize what has taken place and may act immediately friendly to the person(s) whom they attacked. Attacks such as these cannot be prevented with training because it is a problem that the dog seemingly cannot consciously control. The attack will happen without apparent cause.
Shortly prior to an attack, their eyes can glaze over and go hard, followed by the dog snapping into alert mode before finally attacking. It appears to an outsider like an exaggerated form of aggression. Often a specific dog can have a certain trigger, such as the unexpected approach of people whilst he or she is sleeping.[unreliable source?]
Dr. Roger A. Mugford, to whom the term is attributed, identified that the problem starts on average at around seven and a half months old in English Springer Spaniels. However some of his research subjects showed signs at as early as three months and as late as two years. He did find however that many dogs displayed their first symptoms on or around one of the five critical learning periods identified in dogs. These occur at six weeks old, 12 weeks old, 24 weeks or six months, one year old and two years old.
Specific breed issues
English Cocker Spaniels
It has been reported that rage syndrome was found to be more common in red, golden/blonde or black cockers than in any other colour and specific lines tend to have a higher occurrence. All solid coloured cockers tend to be at higher risk than their multi-coloured counterparts, with darker colours being most affected. It is most often associated with the show lines of the breed although cases have been found in the working lines as well.[unreliable source?] The colour of the dog may not actually be genetically related, but is more likely to reflect certain bloodlines. Cocker spaniel breeders do not commonly breed solid colours to parti-colours and so the two colour phases tend to be mostly distinct. Previous research in foxes in the 1970s linked particular coat colours with certain extreme behaviours and aggression.
English Springer Spaniels
Although rage syndrome is sometimes called "Springer rage," it is predominantly only the show lines that suffer from this disorder. There have been no reported cases in the purebred field lines of this breed. Springer Spaniels themselves may also have very playful tendencies, which may make them seem to have this disorder. There are some key differences to watch out for, as well as ways to deal with them:
- The dog will have the same eyes and appearance as described, seeming to become alert suddenly or lash out, but there will be no intent by the dog to harm its owner or other humans. It will growl and jump at people threateningly, but will likely only cause scratches or bites as an accident to a human, the dog thinking it was all in play.
- The dog, when lashing out or biting, will not bite down and tear—as a dog in "Rage Syndrome" would—it would simply chew playfully or appear to attack someone by latching onto them with its jaws and forelegs. This behavior is seen in a pack mentality dog, with the dogs playing and mingling freely and roughly.
- Springers as a breed tend to be energetic and playful, and, if "play" is initiated with the dog, it may take up to 20 minutes to fully calm down the dog from its previous state. This can be done simply by ignoring the dog, or holding the dog firmly but not unkindly, and petting or rubbing the dog in the middle back or facial area. DO NOT rub the dogs stomach and chest, as this may cause them to think that you are initiating play further.
- If the dog has entered this state, seeming to be agitated, any rapid movements towards the dog will only prolong this behavior, as the dog will think you are playing along with it. This differs severely from the "Rage Syndrome", as the disorder will cause the dog to be aggressive for a sporadic time period, and stop suddenly. Any action against this dog, as previously described, will cause it to react aggressively, or, once it is out of the fit, will make the dog feel threatened and confused.
- When a Springer enters into this heightened sense of play, it can be one of the most entertaining features of any dog breed. If you are willing to get some scratches and assorted nips and scrapes, then by all means, play with your dog! A word of caution: This dog is in a very agitated but still coherent state, but WILL NOT differentiate between anyone else in the room as being an invalid target for the dogs play and affection. If there are small children in the room, it is unwise to instigate the dogs playful behavior. Also, the term "Bull in a China Shop" holds very heavy meaning here, as the dog will jump onto couches, chairs, people, and other assorted objects to retreat from play temporarily and come charging back in, ready for more attention. It is not uncommon for the dog to use furniture and human appendages to springboard their way into the air and onto you, so be wary of an airborne, furry missile during play, as this moderately sized dog will hit you with a surprising amount of force!
Although the scientific evidence is limited, rage syndrome has been described as an epileptic disorder affecting the emotion-related parts of the dog's brain. There is also some evidence that in at least some cases it is an inheritable genetic disorder. In English Springer Spaniels, the appearance of rage syndrome has been traced back to a winner at the Westminster Kennel Club show who went on to become a top stud. (see Popular sire effect)
Often it can take a veterinarian who specialises in neurology to successfully diagnose rage syndrome and guardians may often not realise the condition's existence, simply believing it to be a training issue, or may confuse it with other forms of aggression. However it can only be thoroughly diagnosed by EEG or genetic testing and these tests can sometimes be inconclusive.[unreliable source?]
Ultimately, selective breeding should remove the issue from affected breeds. However, for a specifically affected dog, then a variety of treatments including antiepileptics have been reported to be effective, but not every treatment works for every dog and in some cases no treatments work, leaving euthanasia as the only solution.
Other breeds in which cases have been reported
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- English Bull Terrier
- Golden Retriever
- Great Dane
- Border Collie
- Chow Chow
- Basset Hound
- German Shepherd
- Chinese Crested
- Labrador Retriever
- Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
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