English Springer Spaniel

English Springer Spaniel Puppies

An Article concerning the so-called "Rage Syndrome"

by Lyn Johnson DVM, Companion Animal Behavior Services

Whenever an English Springer Spaniel displays aggressive behavior, everyone suspects “Springer Rage Syndrome”. Visions of a maniacal dog instantly come to mind, frothing at the mouth, with death as the inevitable conclusion for the dog.

“Rage Syndrome” is an old term, essentially a misnomer that should be dropped from the behavior vocabulary. Rage implies a violent, emotional reaction. While this may apply to sudden outbursts of violence in people, it really doesn’t help us determine why a similar incident occurred in dogs. The records of many dogs previously diagnosed with “Springer Rage Syndrome” were reviewed, and various forms of aggression were actually displayed. As part of my own behavior practice, I frequently evaluate dogs with so-called “Rage Syndrome”. So far, all of these dogs have been diagnosed with another form of aggression, including dominance aggression, fear-related aggression, resource guarding, and territorial behaviors. Dominance aggression was the most common diagnosis, when current diagnostic criteria were applied.

Ilana Riesner DVM, formally of Cornell’s behavior clinic, did most of the groundbreaking research on “Springer rage.” Most of these springers actually showed a severe form of dominance aggression. A careful behavioral history revealed that the “unprovoked” attacks typically occurred in social situations, even though the owners were unable to predict when an attack would occur. One of the unique features of springers with this form of dominance aggression is the lack of warning before the aggression. The “glazed look” noted by owners is actually a very intense stare and dilated pupils. This is caused by sympathetic nervous stimulation, part of the fight or flight response. Whereas most dominant dogs gradually escalate the level of threat in social situations, moving from a stare, to growl, to lip curl, to snap and finally to bite, springers seem to move from stare to full-blown attack, skipping the intermediate stages. These dogs lacked impulse control and over-reacted in situations they perceived as threatening. Pedigree research showed that the most severe cases in springer spaniels could be traced back to a common bloodline. Cornell was very fortunate to be located in the geographic location to work with large numbers of these dogs, with the cooperation of breeders and owners.

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