Features June 2004 Issue

Rage Syndrome in Dogs

Idiopathic aggression is (thankfully) quite rare, but also quite dangerous.

[Updated October 4, 2017]


1. Document your dog’s episodes of unexplainable, explosive aggression so you can describe all the details to a trainer/behaviorist, including all environmental conditions you can think of.

2. Seek the assistance of a qualified, positive dog trainer/behavior consultant. Take your documentation with you on your first visit.

3. Be safe, and be sure others are safe, around your dog.

The term “rage syndrome” conjures up mental images of Cujo, Stephen King’s fictional rabid dog, terrorizing the countryside. If you’re owner of a dog who suffers from it, it’s almost that bad – never knowing when your beloved pal is going to turn, without warning, into a biting, raging canine tornado.

The condition commonly known as rage syndrome is actually more appropriately called “idiopathic aggression.” The definition of idiopathic is: “Of, relating to, or designating a disease having no known cause.” It applies perfectly to this behavior, which has confounded behaviorists for decades. While most other types of aggression can be modified and reduced through desensitization and counter-conditioning, idiopathic aggression often can’t. It is an extremely difficult and heartbreaking condition to deal with.

Canine Aggression

A behavioristís investigation will reveal discernible triggers and warning signs if a dog has a more common form of aggression; not so with idiopathic aggression.

The earmarks of idiopathic aggression include:

• No identifiable trigger stimulus/stimuli

• Intense, explosive aggression

• Onset most commonly reported in dogs 1-3 years old

• Some owners report that their dogs get a glazed, or “possessed” look in their eyes just prior to an idiopathic outburst, or act confused.

• Certain breeds seem more prone to suffer from this condition, including Cocker and Springer Spaniels (hence the once-common terms – Spaniel rage, Cocker rage, and Springer rage), Bernese Mountain Dogs, St. Bernards, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and Lhasa Apsos. This would suggest a likely genetic component to the problem.

The Good News About Rage Syndrome

The good news is that true idiopathic aggression is also a particularly uncommon condition. Discussed and studied widely in the 1970s and ’80s, it captured the imagination of the dog world, and soon every dog with episodes of sudden, explosive aggression was tagged with the unfortunate “rage syndrome” label, especially if it was a spaniel of any type. We have since come to our senses, and now investigate much more carefully before concluding that there is truly “no known cause” for a dog’s aggression.

A thorough exploration of the dog’s behavior history and owner’s observations often can ferret out explainable causes for the aggression. The appropriate diagnosis often turns out to be status-related aggression (once widely known as “dominance aggression”) and/or resource guarding – both of which can also generate very violent, explosive reactions. (See “Eliminate Aggressive Dog Guarding Behaviors,” WDJ September 2001.)

An owner can easily miss her dog’s warning signs prior to a status-related attack, especially if the warning signs have been suppressed by prior physical or verbal punishment. While some dogs’ lists of guardable resources may be limited and precise, with others it can be difficult to identify and recognize a resource that a dog has determined to be valuable and worth guarding. The glazed look reported by some owners may also be their interpretation of the “hard stare” or “freeze” that many dogs give as a warning signal just prior to an attack.

Although the true cause of idiopathic aggression is still not understood, and behaviorists each tend to defend their favorite theories, there is universal agreement that it is a very rare condition, and one that is extremely difficult to treat.

Idiopathic Aggression Theories

A variety of studies and testing over the past 30 years have failed to produce a clear cause or a definitive diagnosis for idiopathic aggression. Behaviorists can’t even agree on what to call it! (See The Evolving Vocabulary of Aggression, below.)

Given the failure to find a specific cause, it is quite possible that there are several different causes for unexplainable aggressive behaviors that are all grouped under the term “idiopathic aggression.” Some dogs in the midst of an episode may foam at the mouth and twitch, which could be an indication of epileptic seizures. The most common appearance of the behavior between 1-3 years of age also coincides with the appearance of most status-related aggression, as well as the development of idiopathic epilepsy, making it even impossible to use age of onset as a differential diagnosis.

Some researchers have found abnormal electroencephalogram readings in some dogs suspected of having idiopathic aggression, but not all such dogs they studied. Other researchers have been unable to reproduce even those inconclusive results.

Another theory is that the behavior is caused by damage to the area of the brain responsible for aggressive behavior. Yet another is that it is actually a manifestation of status-related aggression triggered by very subtle stimuli. Clearly, we just don’t know.

The fact that idiopathic aggression by definition cannot be induced also makes it difficult to study and even try to find answers to the question of cause. Unlike a behavior like resource guarding – which is easy to induce and therefore easy to study in a clinical setting – the very nature of idiopathic aggression dictates that it cannot be reproduced or studied at will.

Rage Syndrome Treatment

Without knowing the cause of idiopathic aggression, treatment is difficult and frequently unsuccessful. The condition is also virtually impossible to manage safely because of the sheer unpredictability of the outbursts. The prognosis, unfortunately, is very poor, and many dogs with true idiopathic aggression must be euthanized, for the safety of surrounding humans.

Don’t despair, however, if someone has told you your dog has “rage syndrome.” First of all, he probably doesn’t. Remember, the condition is extremely rare, and the label still gets applies all too often by uneducated dog folk to canines whose aggressive behaviors are perfectly explainable by a more knowledgeable observer.

Your first step is to find a skilled and positive trainer/behavior consultant who can give you a more educated analysis of your dog’s aggression. A good behavior modification program, applied by a committed owner in consultation with a capable behavior professional can succeed in decreasing and/or resolving many aggression cases, and help you devise appropriate management plans where necessary, to keep family members, friends, and visitors safe.

If your behavior professional also believes that you have a rare case of idiopathic aggression on your hands, then a trip to a veterinary behaviorist is in order. Some dogs will respond to drug therapies for this condition; many will not. Some minor success has been reported with the administration of phenobarbital, but it is unclear as to whether the results are from the sedative effect of the drug, or if there is an actual therapeutic effect.

In many cases of true idiopathic aggression, euthanasia is the only solution. Because the aggressive explosions are truly violent and totally unpredictable, it is neither safe nor fair to expose yourself or other friends and family to the potentially disfiguring, even deadly, results of such an attack. If this is the sad conclusion in the case of your dog, euthanasia is the only humane option. Comfort yourself with the knowledge you have done everything possible for him, hold him close as you say goodbye, and send him gently to a safer place. Then take good care of yourself.

The Evolving Vocabulary of Aggression

Different behaviorists and trainers have used and continue to use different terms for what was once commonly known as “rage syndrome.” The confusion over what to call it is a reflection of how poorly understood the condition is:

Rage syndrome – This once popular term has fallen into disfavor, due to its overuse, misuse, and poor characterization of the actual condition

Idiopathic aggression – Now the most popular term among behaviorists; this name clearly says “we don’t know what it is”

Low-threshold dominance aggression – Favored by those who hold that idiopathic aggression is actually a manifestation of status-related aggression with very subtle triggers

Mental lapse aggression syndrome – Attached to cases diagnosed as a result of certain electroencephalogram readings (low-voltage, fast activity)

Stimulus responsive psychomotor epilepsy – Favored by some who suspect that idiopathic aggression is actually epileptic seizure activity

“Rage syndrome” is not the only aggression term that has undergone a metamorphosis in recent years. Even the way we look at aggression is changing. Where once each “classification” of aggression was seen as very distinct, with its own distinct protocols for treatment, it is becoming more widely recognized that most aggressive behavior is caused by stress or anxiety.

It is now generally accepted by the training and behavior profession that physical punishment should not be used in an attempt to suppress aggressive behavior. Rather, aggressive behavior is best managed by preventing the dog’s exposure to his individual stressors, and modified by creating a structured environment for the dog – through a “Say Please” or “Nothing in Life Is Free” program – and implementing a solid protocol of counter-conditioning and desensitization to reduce or eliminate the dog’s aggressive reaction to those stressors.

We also now recognize that aggressive dogs may behave inappropriately and dangerously as a result of imbalances in brain chemicals, and that the new generation of drugs used in behavior modification work help rebalance those chemicals. This is in stark contrast to older drugs, such as Valium, that simply sedated the dog rather than providing any real therapy. As a result, many behaviorists recommend the use of pharmaceutical intervention sooner, rather than later, in aggression cases.

Here are some of the newer terms now in use to describe various types of aggressive behavior:

Status-related aggression: Once called dominance aggression, a term still widely used. Status-related aggression focuses more on getting the confident highranking dog to behave appropriately regardless of status; old methods of dealing with dominance aggression often focused on trying to reduce the dog’s status, often without success.

Fear-related aggression: Once called submission aggression. A dog who is fearful may display deferent (submissive) behaviors in an attempt to ward off the fearinducing stress. If those signals are ignored and the threat advances – a child, for example, trying to hug a dog who is backing away, ears flattened – aggression can occur.

Possession aggression: Previously referred to as food guarding and now also appropriately called resource guarding, this name change acknowledges that a dog may guard many objects in addition to his food – anything he considers a valuable resource, including but not limited to toys, beds, desirable locations, and proximity to humans.

Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. She is also author of The Power of Positive Dog Training, and Positive Perspectives: Love Your Dog, Train Your Dog.†See “Resources" for more information.

Comments (28)

We got a small dog in March. Everything seemed fine until one night she attacked one of my older dogs out of nowhere. The older dog was on the side of the bed not doing anything & the younger charged from the other side of the bed. We got her away but as soon as we got her away, she charged her again. She ripped her ear open. We kept them apart for a while, now everything is ok until at night, & the older dog is terrified. A few weeks ago, one of my other older dogs was laying down, and she attacked her really bad. She was attacking her, I tried to get them apart & as I was doing it, the other ones jumped in - which has never happened. I finally got them apart & the older dog was very torn up. She had bite marks everywhere. We got her cleaned up & to the vet. For 2 weeks, I slept on the couch with one & the other was in the bedroom with my husband until we could her evaluated by a professional dog trainer. He said she was perfectly good & playful while she was there and he didn't see any issues. After that, we slowly started to have them in the same room but they were never alone together. Everything seemed fine until the middle of the night 2 nights ago. The older dog was in the living room and all of a sudden heard a commotion & she was being attacked again. Thank goodness this time we got to them fast enough & the older dog was just shaken. We now kennel the younger one at night, but she wont stop whining so I have been sleeping in the living room once again to keep them separate. The older dog now shakes when she is around. They are never alone together. We love the younger dog, but we don't know what to do. We don't know if she would be better off where she is the only dog or just not around our dogs. We have a younger dog that they play & she is submissive with her. She hasn't gone after her at all.

Posted by: Holly S. | July 12, 2018 7:26 AM    Report this comment

This article & comments from others has been very helpful. Thank you for this information! I have been the recipient of this kind of behavior from a dear friendsí pitbull.
The dog appears to love me , but after I was petting him & rubbing his back, he suddenly turned on me & growled & snapped at me. His teeth scraped my hand but did not break the skin.
Now, I donít want to touch him anymore.

Posted by: MammaJ | February 17, 2018 9:45 AM    Report this comment


Thought I'd ask here as I'm in need of some advice. My sister has some kind of pit bull cross type dog (I couldn't tell you the exact breed but can find out if it helps).

Today I went to visit her, I went into the garden to have a cigarette and the dog was out there. It was standing in the middle of the path looking kind of dazed just staring into space but was facing me. I called it's name and got no response then as I moved my hand towards it, it just exploded, grabbed my hand and started ripping at it. It's left my hand in a pretty bad way. I'm 32 yo, 6ft 2 and weight 17 stone and it scared the life out of me. Only once my sister came to the sound of me yelling and the dog growling as it pulled at me did it let go. But it did immediately let go.

Now the reason I'm worried is my sister has 2 children under 3 years old. Did I miss something here and frighten the dog, and even if I did that can not be normal safe behaviour.

I'm asking here because it sounds like my sister may be about to blow it off as a one off. To be fair there has only been one other occurrence of it being aggressive (a few weeks ago it bared its teeth and growled a lot at a family going to feed it).

What should I do about this situation? I could not live with myself if something happens, but can also understand that to my sister the dog it family.

Thanks for any advice.

Posted by: tomhog | July 2, 2017 4:06 PM    Report this comment

This article resonates with me. I have an 18 month old toy poodle we raised from 8 weeks so I know there is no prior abuse in her history. From week one she exhibited dominating behavior over my 10 year old gentle female havanese mix. She also took to pooping on people (yes!!!). Everyone but me thought her snarly growly ways were cute because of her size. Not me. I felt unease the first time she bit someone. The flip side is that she is fun, playful, smart, cuddly, demands to be held alot, by lots of family and always wants attention. The scary part is that her sudden bouts of violence come from out of no where. Mine is the hand that feeds her and she has broken my skin twice now. One minute she's sitting in my foot wagging her tail, then she gets this effed up look in her eye, the growls begin and boom. I never ever hit or yell. I raise my voice, puff myself up and ignore her. Nothing works. My family all think she's funny and harmless. More poor elder dog hates her and hides under the bed. She is technically my 21 year old daughters and I can't make her take it seriously. They say, oh she's so bad, she's 8 pounds. Ugh. I'm at my wit's end. And yet I adore this scary ball of trouble.

Posted by: Ninij9 | May 10, 2017 1:47 PM    Report this comment

About a year and a half ago I went to the human society with family and we rescued a mix pitbull terrier. He first started attacking my French bulldog for no reason. It got to the point that we had to keep them separately. As the months went by he bit my daughter's hand (2 stiches) and my sons arm. Lady week he jumped on sofa next to our son and for no reason he attacked our son. Our son now has his arm and hand banged due to another bite. The idiopathic aggression now makes total sense.

Posted by: Jorge | February 23, 2017 8:50 PM    Report this comment

I have a two and a half year old pitbull that I have bottle fed from the age of three weeks old he is my world he weighs in at 86 pounds of pure muscle and he's beautiful the last week for no reason at all no warning he woke up and attacked my boyfriend he just woke up with a glaze over his eyes and lunch for his throat my boyfriend's not had to have three surgeries reconstructed bones in his arms both arms and I can't seem to anyone need to tell me why this is happened he's never shown any kind of signs of aggression to me or my boyfriend before why does this happen out of the blue with no warning signs know nothing can anybody help me figure this out

Posted by: Triciamalek@yahoo.com | January 10, 2017 2:41 PM    Report this comment

I have had a cocker spaniel for 6 yrs now and have loved him every minute. However since he was 6 months old he has been aggressive towards everyone. The first bad attack Was towards My sister, he bit off the bottom part of her lip and after surgery and stitches, she fully recovered. After that, I had him castrated Which improved his behaviour but he Was still unpredictable. No matter How many trainers he Was still the same. I learned How to live around him but two weeks ago he attacked me so viciously that My arm needed stitches. I can't do this anymore, I live in constant fear that he will attack me or Anyone else again. There is no earning and once he starts he will not stop until you can run away or fight him off. I finally have Made the horrible decision to put him Down saturday but I feel terrible and guilty and helpless. Reading all of your stories and knowing that other People have gone through the same, comforts me a Little. I love My dog and I have always loved animals but I cannot watch him be angry and miserable all the time and muzzle him up or confine him is not a humane option. It has gotten so bad that he won't even come near me anymore. Thank you all for posting your stories, I know you have all loved your dogs as much as I do and understand the heartbreaking decision that I have made.

Posted by: Annitta183 | October 27, 2016 10:42 PM    Report this comment

I had a found beagle puppy, very loving, sweet and totally unaggressive BUT had a half dozen episodes of rage at about three years of age. It was always waking from sleep and was clearly what is called a 'hypnagogic' state between waking and sleeping. The dog was terrified and enraged at obviously imaginary things. I had several bites and he drew blood. When the state ended the dog had NO memory or consciousness of it - whatever enraged it was a hallucination. Of this I am certain. The last time he was asleep in my bed woke up and went into an absolute rage that lasted about 30 seconds. The dog snarling and biting went for my JUGULAR vein - the vet said that a dog would only do that if it was in absolute terror for its life. The dog did not see me but some hallucination in his glazed eyes. I had to go to the emergency room and they said the bite mark missed my jugular vein by a fraction of an inch. I had to put my beloved friend to sleep the next day. The episodes were not triggered by any 'subtle' behavior. They came when the dog was sleeping or near sleep. They were gone at once totally and the dog was licking and cuddling with me with complete unawareness what had happened.

Posted by: poetcomic | October 27, 2016 12:10 AM    Report this comment

This sounds like our new rescue Westie. He has attacked my husband, my daughter and me. We have another Westie and he has never acted aggressive to her at all. He is not food aggressive or aggressive in any way toward our other Westie! If she acts slightly aggressive he backs off! His aggression has been spontaneous, for no reason! He has a different look prior to his rage. He is so sweet and loving most of the time, and then without any stimulus he will go off! My husband has had severe bites on his hands. We are taking him to the vet for a check to rule out any physical problems. We noticed when we received his records from the rescue vet that he had been on Trazadone four times a day at the vet when he was there! They treated him for atopic dermatitis and neutered him! I love him! Just got to find some help.

Posted by: bglahatte | August 24, 2016 9:24 PM    Report this comment

I rescued a girl GSD whom was going to be put down because of her aggression.
A dog training company in MIAMI took her at 8 weeks and beat her into aggression / protection. I now know she will probably have to be put down she is truly crazy and she does just snap. I am not sure but don't think she will attack me. She has not done that but will and has done that with everyone in the house. It is causing issues with the rest of my pack and all but 1 is a rescue. I am the person she is protecting. But sometimes she goes after my other dogs with the back of her hair standing up. So I can tell she is not playing.
Even though you live in my house, when you come out of your room, or the bath she will go after you. For no reason she does this all of a sudden. This we believe was brought on by the abuse as a puppy - she was never a dog just a weapon. G-D I am heart broken and have to do it soon. Elizabeth

Posted by: Shepherdgrl | August 10, 2016 12:13 PM    Report this comment

I am curious if this can be towards other dogs in the house as well. We recently adopted a gal that after being home for a month decided to randomly start trying to attack our neighbor, my kids, and our dogs. Last night it resulted in a brutal fight between her and my other fur baby. Ending with both their lives. It was horrible and a living noghtmare. Even after the attack was finished she seemed happy and clueless to what had just happened. It breaks my heart and I feel that I failed her. Not to mention that it cost us one of our other four legged family members.

Posted by: StormyRain22 | July 8, 2016 8:50 AM    Report this comment

We unfortunately lived through this nightmare with our Chow puppy, whose symptoms began at approximately two months of age. We attributed the little episodes to puppy hormones, growth and development, understandable triggers, although deep in my heart, I knew the actual behavior was not normal. The episodes continued unpredictably, without warning or provocation sporadically, yet this puppy was 99% sweet, obedient, submissive and loving. There were no obvious triggers, the episodes came out of nowhere and were over in a matter of minutes, however the physical damage was becoming more and more vicious, landing myself and my husband in the hospital multiple times with serious injuries. The dog would return to his sweet, loving, obedient self within minutes of an episode, which made it ever more difficult for us. When he reached 16 months, he attacked my husband without warning and I was three feet away when it happened. It was the most horrible, brutal and vicious thing I have ever witnessed in my life. I rushed my husband to the E.E. where he was admitted for two weeks, after emergency surgery, skin graft and plastic surgeries. That was probably the seventh or eighth attack, each one getting progressively worse and more brutal. We consulted with his breeder, several breeder friends, our Vet, their Vets, and a behavorial Vet before concluding that euthanasia was the only answer. Although, I struggled with it and wanted to give him every possible chance, the risks were far too great, and even with precautions, what kind of life quality would he have being continually muzzled, medicated, confined, etc? He would still have to be vetted, groomed, fed, walked, etc. and it just was not feasible-not at all. My husband l almost lost his arm with the last attack- we couldn't live with the guilt had the next attack cost someone their life. We made the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize him on February 17th, 2016 and we still grieve for him and miss him every single day. He was the most amazing, wonderful, sweet and beautiful boy who I saw come into this world, and saw leaving it at all too young an age. It is the worst thing that my husband and I have ever lived through, and I sympathize with anyone who has experienced this nightmare with a pet that they love. Hopefully this information will somehow help another pet owner who is struggling with this problem, as it seems to be more prevalent than in prior years. It is an absolutely devastating and heartbreaking thing to have to go through. We will never be the same and have to live with not only the physical but the emotional scars as well for the rest of our lives.

Posted by: Chow Mom | May 26, 2016 1:08 PM    Report this comment

I'd like to address the comment of BrewerSTL. When it was said that "it's kinda lame to hear about you guys euthanizing your dogs without even giving them a chance".
Please try to be a little more open minded and compassionate and realize that not everyone has unlimited funds to work through multiple diagnoses and try multiple drugs while at the same time keeping a dog that clearly presents a possibly life threatening danger to the owner, family, friends AND children!
You should be ashamed of yourself for making a comment such as this that implies that someone who is concerned enough to be reading up on such issues would have euthanized their best friend with no concern.

Posted by: ProDog777 | April 27, 2016 3:05 PM    Report this comment

Thankyou.. for this. My English bulldog almost 3 turned on over 2 weeks ago. I rescued him 6 months ago. He attacked my sister but we gave him another chance thinking it was her dogs fault. I moved changed my whole life for him and he turned on me. I fought him for 30 mind non stop. I live in an rv. So I was trapped. Several stitches and a broken heart. He was euthamized. I still love and miss him. I know it wasn't his fault whatever monster came out

Posted by: Cubo7 | November 18, 2015 1:20 AM    Report this comment

True rage syndrome manifests in the form of Complex Partial Seizures which occur in the temporal lobe...

They're episodic, repetitive, and usually set to a "seizure pattern". Potassium Bromine put our dog into a controlled remission. So don't lose hope. We cycled through a few adjustments of Phenobarbitol with no luck and still stayed committed to exhausting all options. Thankfully the Potassium Bromide was only the second drug we tried, but there's other AEDs out there and in all likelihood one that will at the very least reduce the seizures.... It's kinda lame to hear about you guys euthanizing your dogs without even giving them a chance...

Posted by: BrewerSTL | October 31, 2015 2:54 PM    Report this comment

We adopted a dog who is completely sweet and happy with me. A 19lb Jack Russell/Poodle mix who dances on his back the moment he sees me. But with my husband and mother (who lives with us), he is a "Jeckl/Hyde" personality if I am "in the room with them". He is friendly and lets them pet him and then in an instant he FLIPS into a Cujo mode. He charges them and backs off. He will bang his teeth into their shins and back off. Snarling and snapping up at their hands. As quick as I can I will get his attention and he immediately stops. If they leave the room (in & out of back door or garage door), he will charge them the second they come back into the house. Now...if I am NOT at home with them, he is aggressive all the way around. The only thing that snaps him out of is it a squirt bottle. That will stop him and he will become submissive. Has anyone else had a dog like this? What do we do to stop it?

Posted by: VanRandwyk | August 27, 2015 3:20 PM    Report this comment

I have a GSD just 3 years old. Last summer he was diagnosed with EPI (Pancreas Insufficiency), he lost 18 pounds in weight over 3 months. My Vet is excellent and together we have built his weight back up and he is stable on his daily enzymes. He went into kennels last November for 3 weeks and when we picked him up he had apparently growled threateningly at one of the kennel assistants. I also noticed he seemed quite hyper and growled when he got into the car for the trip home.
Since then I have had several incidents where he has 'turned on me' for no reason. A particularly bad one in January, first thing in the morning, he turned over onto his back for a tummy rub, I bent over to tickle his chests and he flipped. Just went into a rage. I managed to back into the kitchen and closed the door until he calmed down, which took a minute or two, after that he was back to normal, wagged his tail and wanted breakfast. I didn't have a clue what just happened so took him in for a Vet check. My Vet said he was perfectly healthy, maybe his rear leg was a little stiff and could be hurting him so she gave me Carprodyl and told me to rest him for a couple of weeks.
Since then I have had 2 more incidents, the last one on Sunday when he came to me for a paw tickle and before I even got to touch him he went crazy, growling, hackles raised and this time he advanced towards me in a very threatening way. I was left in no doubt that he wasn't just complaining, he viewed me as a threat and wanted to attack.
It was all over in a minute or two and he was back to being a normal happy dog. I was baffled and started more google research and just happened to stumble on Spaniel rage. I read that these incidents will become more frequent and there is no cure? Yesterday I emailed my lovely Vet and sent her the links to the relevant web sites, there is even a page on Wikipedia about it.
Reading all these posts made me realise I am not on my own and that this problem is not just about Spaniels any more. I am now treading very carefully with my dog, trying not to put myself in a position when he might attack, I don't want to be on the receiving end of an angry 85 pound GSD. With all he has gone through in the past year with EPI it is really heartbreaking that we now have this issue.

Posted by: Apache | April 14, 2015 2:43 AM    Report this comment

It is with a heavy heart that I am writing this. I had my 3 y/o Golden Retriever euthanized last night due to canine rage syndrome. I adopted him at 1 y/o and watched his rage developed into a dangerous spontaneous situation. I tried 5 HTP for serotonin increase in his brain which seemed to help with his everyday life but anything out of the ordinary from friends visiting to getting a bath would cycle him into Cujo....unpredictable and dangerous. This is a horrible thing to go through. 95 per cent of the time he was a typical Golden.....loved food and playing. He was such a good dog. Thank you for this article. It helps me to know that there was no other choice.

Posted by: Pamela B | April 11, 2015 6:21 AM    Report this comment

Hi. Posting through desperation after a sleepless night, my male 6yr old Chihuahua has rage problems, I finally looked it up and have come across this rage syndrome, and I think my dog definitely has this, my dog can be a lovely loving dog but then, for no reason whatsoever he changes, his whole face changes,his eyes glaze over, change colour and almost turn red and bulge ,he can't be reasoned with in any way or calmed down,I. Never thought a Chihuahua could be scary but this is no normal temper, it's like he's possessed! he used to attack and bite if we made any attempt to control him, the only way we have managed to stop the attack is by ignoring him an walking away an leaving him alone till he becomes normal again,the last four nights he has started doing it at night,,in bed as much as every half hour as soon as he's dozed off he jumps up an snaps ,he looks dazed then starts to doze and does it again,his day time rages have been going on for a couple of years, this night time attacking has just started, anyone got any advice,I won't have him put to sleep as he's never attacked whilst out on walks and he has not turned on strangers, x

Posted by: Cazza. p | January 24, 2015 7:29 AM    Report this comment

I remember reading this article when my dog was about 18 months old. He would occasionally wake from a deep sleep and leap into the air snapping and snarling. This would happen even when he was in a dog bed on the couch completely alone. I told myself it was some kind of nightmare. Then on occasion he would go from playing with the other dogs to a fight that I had to break up. I told myself that can happen. Then I was visiting a friend and he turned and attacked me. I crated him and he screamed and attacked the crate for almost two hours.

At that point I sought help. He had other health issues so I looked into his meds. I did a full blood and thyroid panel. I went to a holistic vet as well. I went to a behavioral vet. He continued to have odd aggressive bouts. He was also a resource guarder, so I put it all down to resource guarding. However, I worked on that issue very successfully with a clicker and he really improved. The training had no impact on the rages.

The behavioral vet put him on meds and had me keep a journal. I noted that he had some other odd behaviors. Some days he would be terrified of the back yard. Other days he would trot out without an issue. He would occasionally walk around the outside of a room almost hugging the walls. Then several minutes later, go right through the center.

Then one day, I had him out in the front yard on a leash and he turned on me and went after my leg. There was no growl no snarl or anything. He was just intent on my leg. I could hold him back and try to talk to him. When I did this, my arm would get closer than my leg. He had no interest in my arm. He just stared blankly and pulled toward my leg. When I would try to walk again, my arm would move closer to my body and he would lunge for the leg. He was a little dog and the attack looked so bad that a man driving by in a pickup jumped out to "help" me. I sent him away.

My little guy was a sweet and social dog. He loved his companion dogs. However, after that incident, I knew he could accidentally kill one of the other dogs and he wouldn't even realize what had happened. I could have kept him confined away from other dogs and people. But I would have robbed him of his quality of life. I honestly think the man who jumped out of the pickup would have kicked or shot my dog to end the attack. If something like this happened again, I could not guarantee my little one a safe and peaceful passage. I was so lucky to have an amazing vet. I did some clicker work in the office on his last visit and he passed on with treats raining from the sky.

Not every dog that is aggressive has idiopathic aggression. I now have a very reactive dog. He can lung snarl growl and snap when he reacts to things. However, I can predict what will cause him to react and I can work with him on his issues. I have to admit his first growl sent shivers through my spine. It is a slow process, but there is something about bringing this boy through his issues that is helping me heal from my loss.

Posted by: aglmutts | August 15, 2014 10:35 AM    Report this comment

I have a year old cocker spaniel/pit mix. She does have some aggression problems. While walking her at a park one evening, she seemed to be enjoying herself;Tail waging. Then suddenly she spots this old couple walking together. She immediately shakes her collar, runs up and bites the old man on the leg. Prior to the attack, her hair didn't even raise up.. All that happened was a prick of the ears and a full on attack. After she bit him, she ran back to me and curled into a ball, peed herself and cried.
About 6 months later I have her tied up in my apartment back yard to use the bathroom. Our neighbors come out to smoke and she starts barking. As soon as they turn to run inside, she breaks the post and bites one of the ladies, then runs back to me, crying. It's like she blacks out for a moment and looses hersel. I'm not sure what to do with her.
She also Suckle sand kneeds on stuffed animals for comfort.

Posted by: Mrsaprilk | August 5, 2014 11:10 PM    Report this comment

I have never heard the term "rage syndrome" before but I believe that I had a Boston Terrier with this syndrome. First of all, we have always owned Bostons and still have two. He is the only Boston that we have owned that went from sweet to vicious in the blink of an eye. In fact, every Boston we have ever had were complete lovesponges. He was much loved as a puppy and adult, however, he eventually bit all three of my sons in the face requiring emergency room repair by a plastic surgeon and then he bit me in the face requiring 45 stitches in the chin, lip and inside of the mouth. He was MY dog. We talked about putting him down after the first son was bit but chalked it up to a freak accident, then the second freak accident and then the third son was bit and we knew it was our only option. After making that decision, I bent down to kiss him on our bed and I was bit. The next day, I took him to put him down. I loved my guy, Tucker, and still do to this day 16 years later. Something happened to him that defies explanation. We lived in constant fear of him biting one of our sons' friends. It was the only option and we made excuses when we should not have. It was a horrible way to live not knowing when he would strike again. We have been blessed with many dogs and I can't imagine life without them but sometimes tough decisions have to be made. My empathy is with anyone going through this and sympathy with anyone having to deal with the loss of a beloved pet. After the loss of Tuck, my husband brought home an amazing Boston puppy that I named Angus. Angus was with me for 15 years and I just lost him last October. He healed me and so I still feel the exquisite loss of both of them.

Posted by: Jarheadmom | July 2, 2014 2:58 PM    Report this comment

It is great to read these comments and to know I am not crazy nor alone with this "crazed rage syndrone." I have a 10 yr. old black female toy poodle named Onyx. For the past year or so, she has lashed out my other two "teacups" and my wife and I. She has not hurt the other dogs, but she has bitten me and my wife during the attacks. It appears that she wakes up out of a sleep, and charges whom ever is in her path. Our vet has checked her over from head to tail and can't find anything wrong. The rage lasts for a few minutes and her eyes just get a crazed look and the teeth come out. I am afraid that she would harm the other two dogs, so I have begun to crate her when left alone. Now to add to these episodes, she is having episodes of losing her balance and flopping on the floor for a minute. After a few minutes, she is back to normal balance and running with the others. She has had 3 episodes of this in the last 12 hrs. I'm afraid the time has come to put her to sleep forever before she kills the 3 lb teacup I paid big bucks for.

Posted by: RTalbotJr | May 25, 2014 12:17 PM    Report this comment

It is the first time that I find an answer to what has been plaguing me for years, or at least I think it is the only answer I will ever have. Seven years ago, my small female beagle Autumn, 3 yrs old, lunged and tore my daughters face... It was a horrible rip. We were in our bedroom, she went to kiss her and without warning , she snapped. There was no growling, no prior movement, probably those crazy eyes.
Needless to say , it was over for Autumn . She had been acting strange for a while, we had just moved, but probably out of ignorance and some denial , we just didn't see it. ( although she had tried to bite my daughter previously). I did take her to my vet for some basic evaluation then to a naturopath/chiropractor. They found nothing. I had a dog trainer friend , we talked about some issues but because her behavior was so random, we didn't know how to address it. It really could not be provoked. At the time I had a pack of 4 dogs , and there definitely was some of the " pack dominance " in her , but nothing out of the normal pack issues.
Seven years later, and many more dogs in my household, I still feel like it was my fault and that I just missed . I keep thinking I could have saved her. My daughter thankfully recovered and has no fear of any kind . I can't say the same for myself. I am always cautious of my dogs around people and every year I remember that day ,the horrible bite, her being brought away and her euthanasia alone several days later. I empathize with those who are going through this now.

Posted by: suzanna b | February 19, 2014 4:44 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for this tender and sensitive article. It was the first article I read that helped me to realize that this problem with my dog is not my fault. I got him as a puppy and took him to training, take him to work with me and basically can't think of any reason that he becomes so aggressive without any warning! I love my 7 year old Springer Spaniel so much and the thought of loosing him is horrible. However, I am allowing myself to see that I have made excuses for him and that he is dangerous....not all the time, but when he has one of his "spells" look out! He has bitten and I know it is only a matter of time when he does again. I have to let him go. Heartbreaking.

Posted by: janetsmithpeterson | April 7, 2013 3:13 PM    Report this comment

I wonder if any of these problems are brought on my vaccinations. - especially rabies. Some experts talk about "vaccinosis"

Posted by: La Trenda - Puddins Training Tips | February 18, 2013 11:57 PM    Report this comment

We too have tried all measures with our 14# Silky Terrier, Rocky. He is ten years old and for the last 6-7 years he has been and angel 90% of the time. The other ten percent of the time he seems to be a killer. numerous times he has gone from a comparative calm or sleep state to a raging vicious biter. He has attacked me, my wife, and all three of my sons( teen and adult.)
A behaviorist wanted to "dope" him up but I said why have a dog that just lies there? Many of our bites have probably required emergency room care but our pride or embarrassment led us to self treatment of the wounds.
Every definition I have found of "rage" syndrome seems to fit Rocky's behavior to a T.
We love this poor little guy but is his life any better than the one we live when we are around the dog. We are all crying our eyes out over our plans for euthanizing Rocky, but we all feel guilt wondering if we did something wrong during his upbringing.
Now that he's displayed the same behavior in front of visitors we too have that tough decision all but made for us.

Posted by: wcwynar | January 21, 2013 10:40 AM    Report this comment

THis was a terrific article on a scarey disorder..
I would like to purchase several copies to bring to my
vet & to keep on hand...I think any one who works with dogs
should be aware of the disorder...

Unfortunately it sounds so much like what has been going on with
my dog foir the past 5 yrs...and last night she bite me very badly..

I guess its decision time..

Thank you for this timely article,
Is there a way to download it?

Johanna Wertz

Posted by: johanna | August 3, 2011 4:38 PM    Report this comment

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