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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.