Cocker Rage Syndrome

Are you worried your pooch is showing signs of Cocker rage syndrome? Or is it simply bad dog behavior? Learn how to tell if your dog is showing signs of this very rare, but very scary, form of canine aggression.

Aggressive Dog Behavior Or Cocker Spaniel Rage?

Cocker rage syndrome is not as common as you may think - in fact, it's quite rare!

Golden cocker spaniels have been known to suffer rage syndrome, but it's extremely rare

Cocker Spaniels are not normally aggressive dogs, but when they do behave badly, their aggressive behaviour is often misdiagnosed as 'Cocker Rage' or 'Sudden Onset Aggression'.

We know that the Cocker Spaniel's temperament is very gentle and loving, but there have been some recorded cases of Cocker rage within the breed.

It's important to understand, however, that Cocker rage is the exception rather than the norm.

When it happens, it's more likely to be seen in males, and in show breed dogs rather than working Cockers and the condition is almost always reported in solid colored dogs (golden/black etc) rather than in parti-colors.

Cocker rage can be described as an unexpected, unexplained aggressive dog behavior; a sudden, vicious attack, for no apparent reason, towards the owner or whoever is near the dog at the time.

Although not clinically proven, some research has shown that rage syndrome may be hereditary, but there have been suggestions that it could also be a form of epilepsy.

If you're worried it's going to happen to your pet, please don't. It really is a very rare condition. However, if it is going to manifest itself, it will do so before your dog becomes an adult, often around 8 months old.

What Are The Symptoms Of Rage Syndrome?

There is a distinct, visible difference between an episode of Cocker rage and a display of dog aggression.

  • An attack of rage syndrome will be very aggressive - savage, in fact - and you probably wouldn't be able to control your dog in this state.
  • The dog will often be sleeping just before an attack is triggered, unprovoked and without warning.
  • The dog's eyes often appear glazed and staring, and the pupils may be dilated.

  • The poor animal will probably be unaware of anything around it and when the attack is over, it will become calm again.

  • Following the attack, the dog may appear disorientated and confused. It may even behave submissively, completely unaware of what has just happened.

Cocker rage offers no pattern of predictable behavior, unlike aggressive dog behavior (such as resource guarding, dominance, etc.) which can be easily re-created.

For example, if you try to remove a bone from, say, a resource guarder (and I strongly recommend you don't try this!) but if you did, you would probably trigger an aggressive reaction from the dog.

You cannot re-create Cocker rage. It just happens.

Serious aggression in dogs is often incorrectly diagnosed as rage syndrome and it sometimes results in the dog being put to sleep when the problem could have been easily resolved with good training.

This is a crying shame.

Reasons for Cocker Rage

Although conclusive scientific evidence has yet to be offered, there are several theories regarding the cause of Cocker rage:

  • Genetics/Make-up: Some believe it's an inherited genetic disorder, whilst others suggest it's a type of epilepsy or a form of schizophrenia.
Cocker spaniel with a beautiful chocolate colored coat
  • Some have suggested that it's the result of casual breeding, particularly from breeders whose first (and sometimes only) priority is money!

    However, there are many conscientious breeders whose aim is to breed puppies with good temperaments; they will not breed from aggressive dogs and certainly not from dogs that have shown signs of Cocker rage.

  • Lack of early socialization is yet another theory put forward. Personally, I believe this sort of aggression is based on fear and is not Cocker rage syndrome. Solid socialization as a puppy would have helped to avoid fear aggression.

  • Low serotonin levels: Serotonin is said to have a calming effect on the brain. (It's interesting to note that many violent criminals have low serotonin levels).

  • Inexperienced owners: In some circles, it's thought that the behavior is caused by the owners themselves, either because they don't understand enough about dog psychology and their relationship (and mutual respect) between owner and pet has broken down.

The bottom line is that there are many theories offered, but no-one really knows for certain what causes rage syndrome.

Diagnosing Cocker Rage Syndrome

If your Cocker Spaniel is showing signs of aggressive dog behavior, it's probably going to be another form of aggression, such as dominance aggression, resource guarding, (guarding toys or food) and territorial related behaviors.

For example, your dog becomes aggressive when someone gets too near his food bowl while he's eating, (dog food aggression), or if he growls when he's asked to get down from the sofa he may be trying to challenge your status.

Or it could simply be down to general bad behavior. 

Sorry for repeating this, but rage is very rare in Cocker Spaniels, however, if you suspect your dog is showing signs of Cocker rage, I strongly recommend you speak to your vet as soon as possible and explain your concerns.

Try to note down all the symptoms and events that lead you to believe your dog has Cocker rage. List everything that happened before, during and after an alleged rage episode to give your vet a better understanding. Even better if you can get it on video, but that's not going to be easy.

He may be able to diagnose it himself, or he may refer you to someone who specializes in animal or canine neurology.

On the positive side, he may confirm that the problem is simply a training issue and recommend a dog behavioral therapist in your local area.

Treatment For Rage Syndrome In Dogs

If it's bad news and your vet confirms your Cocker has sudden onset aggression, it may be possible to treat the condition with medication such as anti-epileptics.

Unfortunately, all dogs respond differently to treatment and medication may ultimately prove ineffective.

Because of the unpredictable nature of this condition, and for the sake of safety, sadly the only other alternative is euthanasia. 

In the meanwhile, careful breeding by responsible Cocker breeders will eventually help to remove this problem from the Cocker Spaniel breed. 

Important note:

Cases of rage syndrome in Cocker Spaniels are extremely rare. The Cocker Spaniel temperament is generally very gentle and loving in nature; they're very biddable dogs and make wonderful pets and companions.

Please don't let this put you off getting a Cocker Spaniel, just make sure you buy from a reputable breeder.

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