Rage Syndrome. Cocker Rage. Spaniel Rage. We've all heard of it. Every person in the dog park is an expert on it. But is it really "Rage Syndrome"?
Overwhelmingly, the answer to that question is NO. I despair at the ignorance on this subject.
Genuine, professionally diagnosed ie by a vet, not a trainer, Rage Syndrome is NOT a behavioural problem. It is a neurological problem, that no amount of training, discipline or behaviour modification will cure, because the dog is not conscious of it, nor able to control it. In most cases sadly, the only cure is euthanasia. Dogs with Rage Syndrome, attack out of the blue with breathtaking ferocity. It is horrifying to see. If people truly had any idea what real Rage Syndrome looks like, there's no way they would think their Cocker who growls at another dog over his food, has it.
So let’s be clear:
Your dog growling and snapping at you if you try to get him off the sofa is NOT Rage Syndrome.
Your dog growling and snapping at your toddler as they crawl over her, pulling her fur is NOT Rage Syndrome.
Your dog biting your 5-year-old because she pulled his ear and stuck her finger in his eye is NOT Rage Syndrome.
Your dog guarding their food/toys/people is NOT Rage Syndrome.
Your dog being reactive to other dogs, or children is NOT Rage Syndrome.
So, what is it then?
Rage Syndrome is a serious but EXTREMELY rare problem that has been reported not only 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. It has no connection to rabies, for which its name is often mistaken (as the Latin translation stands for "rage"), although rabies might sometimes be an onset of the syndrome. 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.
In English Cocker Spaniels, Rage Syndrome can be more common in solid colours, particularly red, golden or black cockers than in any other colour, and specific lines tend to have a higher occurrence. It is normally found in show Cockers rather than working Cockers, though there have been documented cases in working Cockers. As with any neurological disorder, symptoms can vary, but the most common signs of Rage Syndrome are that shortly prior to an attack, the dog’s eyes glaze over they snap into alert mode, before finally attacking. The dog does not remember or realise what has taken place and often immediately returns to their usual loving self. Symptoms usually start at around seven and a half months of age, but some dogs have showed symptoms as early as three months and as late as two years of age.
It really grinds my gears when I hear the term "Cocker Rage" because I know darn well that that poor dog who has been demonised for simply being a dog, does not have Rage Syndrome. He's just never been shown any guidance or simply refuses to tolerate being pulled, poked and prodded so defends himself the only way he can, usually after repeated warnings are given yet no one intervenes to help him. Next time someone tells you about a Cocker with "Rage Syndrome" walk away. You can't argue with stupid. Trust me, I've tried.