Spaniel Rage

Spaniel Rage

On Sunday, I told ya’ll a bit about my heart dog.  I didn’t mention how we used to joke about “Spaniel Rage” when he was this adorable fluffy puppy, even going so far as to call him “Rage” as a bit of a joke from time to time.  Joke.  Haha, so funny.

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When I had Eliot as a puppy, I knew that socialization was extremely important.  Not to be cocky, but I’m pretty dog savvy.  He got interaction from other dogs at the barn, my roommate’s dog, the dog park, and our group training classes I took him to.  Socialization – check!

During his first round of puppy shots, the vet warned me about socialization.  “Make sure you expose him to lots of stuff as a puppy,” she said.  “I had to put down a healthy adult springer last week because he became so aggressive his owner was the only person he wouldn’t attack.”  I shrugged off her warning, because my puppy was awesome and I took him to all the things.

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At around eight months or so, our trips to the dog park were less successful.  All the dogs rushing at the gate when a new dog came in freaked him out.  At first, he got over it really quickly… until he didn’t.  When the dog park became Eliot hiding between my legs and growling if a big dog came too close, I knew it was not worth going anymore.  He still got along great with other dogs in individual settings, so what’s the worry?

At two years old, he had his first seizure.  His entire hind end locked up as if he suddenly broke his back in two.  General alertness left his front for a brief time, and he opened his mouth wide… but his tongue was stuck in his mouth and not moving.  Have you ever seen a dog with its mouth open, but no tongue hanging out?  It’s extremely weird.

I freaked out and called my very good vet for the first available appointment.  He calmly explained to me that a lot of dogs were epileptic, and it was not anything to panic over.  He gave me the option of doing lots of expensive tests, but said they were usually inconclusive for a healthy dog like Eliot.  Since the seizure medication that they give dogs does damage to their liver, the vet suggested I wait until Eliot had more than 1 seizure every two months to medicate.  Otherwise, it was just something to monitor.

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We decided to take his advice, and I contacted his breeder to get some family history.  Oh, turns out Eliot’s father had seizures around that age too… but she decided it was a food allergy and switched to wheat-free food.  Try that!  I did… but every vet I’ve talked to since said this is pretty much BS, but that’s a soap box for a different day.

Around the time the seizures started happening, his dog aggression got worse.  At first it was only some dogs, like my former trainer’s intact male Jack Russel.  We figured they just didn’t get along great, since Eliot would frolic and play with the other dogs at the barn just fine.  I didn’t think much of it.

One day at work (I was lucky enough to take him to work at the time) he completely snapped at a co-worker’s dog.  It was six month old puppy, and they went from interacting fine to not fine in about three seconds.  He chased her and wouldn’t stop biting/snapping/snarling at her, even when she submissively cried and tried to get away.  I grabbed his collar with a big “NO” and forced him down… where he then turned his aggression to me.  A white rage is the best way I can describe it – it was like he had no idea who he was or who I was.  He snarled at me for about ten to twenty seconds until this wave of realization came over him like “what just happened?”  It was then that I stopped joking about “Spaniel Rage”, because I felt like I just witnessed it.

With BT, his best buddy
With BT, his best buddy

For a long time, that was an independent episode. But then we moved to Massachusetts, and he would snarl or snap at my co-workers dogs when we would let them play together.  If strange dogs approached him, he would snarl and snap and try to attack.  I consulted my agility trainer in despair, and her advice was that some dogs just don’t get along with others.  She said to teach him that aggression was not an okay response, and manage him.  So I managed him by keeping him out of situations where I knew trouble would brew.  He was no longer allowed in off leash situations with strange dogs, period.

When we moved to Texas, I did some fostering with the English Springer Spaniel Rescue.  We were careful as to what kind of foster dogs we took and did very slow, careful introductions.  There were some bad moments when he would flip on them like he did my co-workers dog, but really they were few and far in-between.  There was never any damage on either dog, and I chocked it up to resource guarding and transition issues.  We even had a long term foster (6 months) that was an adult male dog, and him and Eliot got along really well. They would sleep together in our bed and though didn’t play, seemed friendly.

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Scooter & Eliot

Almost three years later we had stopped fostering, and decided to adopt Pascale.  Almost immediately the issues escalated.  He “snapped” at her often, leaving tiny puncture wounds or scratches on her face.  I kept thinking, “This is an adjustment.  This will get better.”  Only it didn’t get better.

When he's good, he's very good
When he’s good, he’s very good

Then he bit BT so badly we had to remove her eye.

Last week he growled at me on my way out the door for work, because I pet his head while he was chewing a bone.  His entire life I have pet, cuddled, given and taken away treats/toys/food from him and he’s never once acted agitated.  Last week, he growled.  At me.

So I did what any sensible person would do, and cried for days.

This is not the end of Eliot’s story, but life now is a work in progress… which I will save for another post.

31 thoughts on “Spaniel Rage

    1. They are great dogs, don’t get me wrong. I have fostered several spaniels and none of them had this issue… so I don’t want to scare anyone away from the breed. But, anything can happen and I do think they are more complicated than some people think. I know I wasn’t prepared for any of these issues when I first got Eliot.

  1. I am so, so sorry that you and Eliot are going through this. My dog is my baby, and while I love my horse to death, I have a different type of love for my dog, and I’m sure you feel the same way. It would be so tough to watch my “baby” go through this. Sending hugs your way and lots of good, zen vibes for Eliot <3

  2. My mom’s BFF had a springer when we were kids. I don’t remember how he was with other dogs, but he bit several people, including my brother, before the owners made a hard decision. The second springer they got was the sweetest dog ever. Sometimes when a dog acts like that, I truly think its a mental issue, rather than something the owner did or didn’t do right. All I can say is good luck in finding a solution that works.

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    SO so hard. I can't even imagine! I'm dog savvy in all the same ways you are (and thus will not waste text with suggestions I know you've already considered!), and thinking about the various potential ways to manage that kind of behavior – while possible – just breaks my heart. I hate that you're going through this – especially after having so many incredible experiences with him up until now!

    I'm sending you and Eliot all the positive vibes I can. <3

  4. Wow, how hard. I have witnessed the rage issues with Cocker Spaniels, too. I have two dogs, and know that some aggression issues are simply not the owner’s fault. My little husky is too intense for her own good, and often triggers aggression in other dogs. She’s not one to back down either. It’s been an interesting road training her extensively to break her concentration on other dogs. It’s working, but if I don’t keep up with it, there’s a relapse.

    This sounds like something chemical with Eliot, not really training related. I wouldn’t beat yourself up about it. You’re doing all the right things, and I can’t imagine how hard that is.

  5. I am so sorry you’re going through this. I know nothing I say will likely make it better but definitely sending happy, calm thoughts to you and Eliot.

  6. One – I’m so sorry to hear about Eliot. I had a mini aussie that ended up having a brain issue where he would randomly attack. I ended up making the painful decision that he was too dangerous and too much of a risk to have around. It was only a matter of time before he lost his shiz and did some damage to someone. If you get to that place with Eliot (NOT saying you will, but just in case) please know that a short, well lived life full of love and being able to be ushered across the Rainbow Bridge in your mom’s arms is sometimes the right answer. And if that’s the answer for you and Eliot, there is ABSOLUTELY NO SHAME in that. Too many people allow things to get so out of hand before making hard decisions. My prayers are with you and Eliot as this kind of stuff is life changing and heartbreaking. My dog Presley was the world’s biggest love with me until he wasn’t. Also, you should know I was a pro dog trainer and have been in the pet industry for over 20 years, so my experience with dogs is vast as are my connections. The decision to end Presley’s life was not one taken lightly or done without exhausting EVERY other avenue and resource.

    Two – OMFG DOG BREEDERS WILL YOU KNOCK IT THE EFF OFF AND STOP BREEDING DOGS WITH BS PROBLEMS!!!!!!! %#$@$@%$(*!!! Seriously, if breeders would pull their dog lovin’ heads out of their butts and breed ONLY dogs with NO medical conditions and NO temperament problems, then these sorts of things would be highly unusual instead of the kind of thing where you find out that you know 10 other dogs with the same problem. I wish we could hold breeders accountable. Maybe if they had the vet and trainer bills to pay for every dog that turns out to have something genetic, they’d stop this madness.

    Sorry for the rant. I do a lot with dog rescues and I have nothing against a well bred dog, but they’re getting harder and harder to come by these days.

    Take care and I hope you have more snuggles with Eliot to come.

  7. Boy do I feel your frustration. Herbie, w ho I socialized religiously from day one, has gotten more and more dog-reactive with age. Between her and Julio, I basically avoid any situation in which they might meet a strange dog. They CAN be introduced to other dogs nicely, but it’s a long, thorough, painstaking process, and I can only do it with people I know well and trust completely. Thankfully, their reactivity is only with other dogs, but it is still a heartbreaking thing to go through, and while it is possible to manage, it causes me SO much stress. I love them both with all my heart, but some days I really wish that I just had a golden retriever or something along those lines. *massive hugs* I am so sorry to hear you’re going through this. He is still an amazing dog and you are still an amazing dog mom <3

  8. What a tough situation to be in, my gran-aunt & uncle always had spaniels like Eliot and we were always warned to give them their space and leave them alone…not easy for dog-loving kids; but seeing as the dog would growl if we looked at it we figured it best to listen to our elders (for a change). To be honest I just assumed it was their dog (I don’t know why it never registered with me that it wasn’t the same dog every time we visited, but I guess if you can’t interact with it you can’t get to know it and then can’t tell the difference later) I hadn’t realised springers were known to be difficult dogs.
    Hope things pick up for you & Eliot, must be tough. My heart goes out to you & I really wish there was something I could do to help in some way!

  9. I am really sorry you guys are dealing with this. What a nightmare. 🙁

    Are you interested in thoughts? I have a question/possible suggestion but obviously you’ve done plenty of thinking and I don’t want/mean to intrude.

  10. So sorry you’re having this issue.

    A good friend of mine adores cocker spaniels – he’s had three of them so far. He has often said he hopes they won’t get “the rage” which I always thought was a joke. Apparently it’s a real thing. I wonder if your situation is even more complex due to the epilepsy?

    My pit mix Sweetpea (dearly departed now) had a long stint of dog aggression which caused me such stress. Our situation was mainly a meeting other dogs on walks problem – having issues inside the home with your other pets is a really tough situation. (((hugs)))

  11. I am really sorry you are going through this. I actually have known many spaniels who were very aggressive and a co worker who was looking for her first dog for her kids – against my advice got one and within two weeks he had bitten her son. I know exactly how are you are feeling, as I have commented before I have been through something similar with my old Catahoula who became very ill and would snap randomly, I think because of his brain tumour.

    Whatever you choose to do just keep in mind that you have given this dog a loving home the best you could, and some times you can’t change an animal as much as you want to. Keep yourself and your animals safe, and I am sending big hugs to you.

  12. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be. I’ve only had a half spaniel before and he was my heart dog. I’ve had a soft spot for spaniels ever since. I hope you are able to find the right answers for you and Eliot.

  13. I am so sorry you’re going through this – our dog can be both dog and child aggressive and we work hard to keep him out of situations where that might occur. I know you’re looking at this from all angles and you’re being such a wonderful mom to Eliot, so I have faith that you’re going to find the answer and be able to help him. In the meantime, many hugs to both of you.

  14. I am also very dog savvy. I think you have a tough road ahead no matter which direction you go. And the growl at *you* is VERY telling as to his mental state. If one of my dogs growled at me, I would know they are somehow off their rocker – because that just.doesn’t.happen. Sometimes it’s good to take some time to really get a wide view about what’s best for everyone and how you’re going to manage it. It just plain sucks, but you know we’re all here to help support you.

  15. I have never heard of spaniel rage before but one of our Huskies we had when I was younger had some similar tendencies and it was really tough. I can only imagine going through this with one of my babies. I hope you are able to find a solution that will bring all of you some peace!

  16. Aw that’s really stressful 🙁 I had a cocker spaniel that had seizures, and she would sometimes get kind of snappy if you snuck up on her, but she was also losing her eye sight and hearing. And she never hurt anyone. I had a brittany spaniel that would grown when he had toys (but never bit us) and never ever got along with stranger dogs. He was fine with the cocker spaniel and the cats, but if we took him out he’d act all happy then when the other dog got close he would growl and try to fight. We just gave up on having him near other dogs. (We never had him as a puppy, he was a rescue, so there wasn’t much to do!) But he never hurt us or another dog his entire life, either.

    I hope you figure out what’s going on (or maybe that’s part 2 of this post?!) Poor eliot is a cute guy!

  17. I am so sorry that you are going through this. It is just so heartbreaking when you feel the situation is out of your control 🙁 It really does sound like you did everything possible to prevent this. My sister had a Spaniel who also had both seizures (no idea if this common in the breed or a coincidence) and aggression issues.

    Hope BT is feeling better and you can find some solutions for Eliot.

  18. My dog Dug has been described many times as the world’s best dog. I too am pretty dog savvy and this dog has been thrown into every kind of doggie social situation imaginable. Yet, he still resource guards with toys. And he grew up in a literal pack of dogs!

    I guess my po

  19. My dog Dug has been described many times as the world’s best dog. I too am pretty dog savvy and this dog has been thrown into every kind of doggie social situation imaginable. Yet, he still resource guards with toys. And he grew up in a literal pack of dogs! At the dog park, if someone comes in and starts playing with toys, we have to leave 🙁

    I guess my point is, sometimes bad things happen with good dogs, and it’s definitely not your fault. We are here for you! No matter what is going on right now, there is so much love between you too, I can feel it coming off the page!! And that’s gotta be worth something.

  20. I’m so sorry you are going through this. I had a dog that over time became aggressive with people. I always blamed myself and felt like a terrible owner. I managed him the best I could but it got worse and did not end well. My thoughts are with you as this had to be a huge stressor for you!

  21. May I ask what ended up happening to your dog? I’m curious because I had to put our spaniel down a week ago because of severe aggression. I’m curious to know what happened to yours.

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