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Discussion Starter #1
I am really hoping someone can give me some advice. Our 3-year-old springer spaniel has been recently showing signs of aggressiveness. It started several weeks ago, when we were sitting on the couch together, and I absent-mindedly reached over to pet him. He suddenly turned toward me, teeth bared, growling, and snapped at me. I figured I had just startled him out of a sleep and tried to refrain from petting him while he was sleeping, though sometimes I'd forget and he would turn on me again. Then he started doing this when he was awake. My groomer said I should be firm with him, show him who was boss by saying loudly something like, "No, you don't act that way!" And for a while, this method worked and he'd lower his head like he was embarrassed, or lean up against me with that "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that" look. I took him to the vet, who said he doesn't seem to have a mean bone in his body or any apparent physical issues, and advised me to look into behavioral therapy. But his aggression escalated last night, when we were, again, sitting on the couch. All i did was say his name playfully, which used to make him turn toward me and push for pettings, but this time, the teeth-baring and growling started up again. I told him to stop, like always, but instead of calming down, he lunged at me, biting me on my stomach and then on my hand. He drew blood on both bites and my hand ballooned up today (just got back from the urgent care center).

Most of the time, he is a sweet, loving, and obedient boy, but this recent behavior has me and my husband frightened. Does anyone else have experience with this kind of behavior? How did it come out? Is it rage? Please note, he's not guarding any toys or food when these "couch attacks" have occurred. He has exhibited resource guarding aggression in the past, but he would always give up as soon as I'd correct him, which makes this recent aggression and last night's bites all the more baffling.
 

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Welcome! Three things based on your post...

It could be medical. If your vet didn't do a thyroid check or blood work, he is just giving you a general health report. I would probably have those two tests done, minimum, to avoid working on time-consuming training that might not be necessary.

Secondly, harsh corrections like you mention make aggression worse. We have a few stickies on the subject, but basically punishment suppresses behavior but does not modify it, so while you might be suppressing growling when you correct it, the dog still has anxiety, now fears you, and next time the dog will bite you instead of warn you with a growl because you have suppressed the growling. Does that make sense? Definitely stop verbal corrections. ;)

Lastly, dogs resource guard objects and people, not just toys. He may have been RGing the couch itself or someone else if you were not alone. Here is our sticky on it: http://www.dogforum.com/dog-behavior/resource-guarding-causes-prevention-modification-7511/

Personally, I'd start using PR training generally, and not let him sit on the couch if it is RGing. Definitely get to the vet again to rule out a larger issue.
 

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If you haven't already get her fully checked out by the vet, some medical conditions can cause aggression in dogs.

Where did you get him from? Is he from show lines or a back yard breeder, or from a rescue?

Is Springer Rage Syndrome what you mean by rage? Here's an article on it.

English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association
AKC Parent Club of the Breed
"Springer Rage Syndrome"
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.



http://www.essfta.org/health_research/aggression.htm


At the bottom of the article she explains what she means by dominance.


I agree that since the problem seems to happen when he's on the couch you need to not allow him on the couch, also work with behavior modification, and use positive reinforcement only.



Try not confronting him when he's RGing, instead teach him drop it, or leave it. With those two commands he gets a very high value treat for giving up the guarded object or for leaving a object that he may guard alone. He'll learn that letting you have his treasure will result in his getting something even better.



It does sound as if he's RGing his sleeping spot, kind of like it's my spot get out of it, unfortunately it sounds like he's going from miniscule warning to attack at the speed of light.
 
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Could there maybe be a neurological problem? I've heard of springer rage but have never experienced it myself. If your vet didn't seem to answer your question I would get a second opinion and quickly...I'm just concerned that next time your dog may do more damage.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you for your replies.

Seebrown: I was wondering if more testing by the vet was necessary. She just did a general exam and all but ruled out hip displacement. With the punishment, I was trying to follow the pack leader method, though ive had reservations about this method. I wonder if this last time, when I actually got bit, if I was too loud with him. Come to think of it, he has also gotten angry when I've tried to reach underneath him on the couch for a lost object, like my hairbrush, remote, iPad...

Rain: He actually knows drop it and leave it. Sometimes it takes him a few seconds to obey the command, but he always does. I may need to guve hima refresher course with treats again. I hate to keep him off the couch though, for my own selfish reasons :( It used to be a big bonding time for us (though lately, its been more like sitting next to a time bomb), and our second dog, a Beagle mix, likes sleeping on my lap or with his head on my shoulder, and I'd have to make them both stop :( Is there an option B? I just want things back to the way they were. And yes, I was talking about Springer rage, just based on the suddenness of these attacks. It's like he has bipolar disorder or becomes possessed during these fits.

Shadowkins: I was thinking the same thing about a second opinion. This was a new vet...our old one suddenly retired, so I'm not opposed to talking to another vet. My husband griped about the expense, though I say it's cheaper than repeat visits to the doctor if he decides to maul me again.

Wondering if I should try just giving him the couch for the evening and sitting elsewhere to see if he follows me or stays on the couch...
 

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Did you get him from a local breeder?
I knew I forgot a question. I got him from a breeder about 30 minutes away that was on a farm. They said they were a mixture of field and show lines, which worried me at the time, but I really wanted a springer and I hadn't found one via rescue. I did adopt my beagle from a humane society, because I later felt bad for not getting a rescue.
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You could contact the breeder and find out if they have had any with Rage Syndrome. It is genetic so hopefully they would be honest.
I trained a field Springer and though he was wired he was never aggressive.
 

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Nbye, the reason I suggest keeping him off the couch, at least until you figure out what's triggering these attacks whether medical or behavioral, and if behavioral condition him not to react that way, is because the more he repeats the behavior the more ingrained it becomes and the harder it is to counter condition them. It's like it becomes a habit.

I do understand wanting to be able to cuddle him on the couch, what you may be able to to get away with is only let him on the couch when you invite him up, cuddle and pet him for awhile, then order him back off. The only problem with that is he may decide that the couch is still his and decide to attack rather then leave when you order him off.

If you got him from a breeder, please let the person know how he is beginning to act. If s/he's a responsible breeder s/he will at the very least look into the matter.
 
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I'll have to try to find the paperwork for the breeder. Somehow I lost the emails between me and them, but when I bought him, they assured me there were no rage issues in their lines (of course, they could have just told me that to sell a dog). I remember when I was going through the puppy blues (he was a very domineering puppy) and sought their help, they weren't overly helpful. But it does seem like a logical step. He actually growled at me earlier today off the couch, and hid under the end table next to the couch, which I've never seen him do. On the flip side, earlier today he was laying next to me on the couch, half on my lap (as best he can fit), and everything was just fine -- just like the old Charlie. Just so confused by this change.

Not going to lie, Rain, I am scared to try to keep him off the couch. After this bite, I'm afraid to discipline him, which is no good. After this bite, do you think my other animals (three cats and my beagle) are at risk for attacks from Charlie?
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Actually, NOT disciplining him is EXACTLY what you need to do.

If you're scared to try to keep him off the couch, what about limiting access to the couch? Buy or Macgyver up one of those bedguards (like for bunk beds) for the front of it; put large unmovable boxes on top of it; etc.

Assuming this behavior is not medical, you need to be aware that the root of dog aggression is fear. When dogs are scared, there is a fairly standard hierarchy of behavior that they progress upward as they get more and more scared. Growling, for example, precedes air snapping, which precedes mouthing the scary thing, which precedes actually biting now. I say "precedes," but not all dogs display all the signs. (A dog who attacks "without provocation," for example, is a dog who has learned or who has been bred not to display earlier warning signs). As seebrown explained upthread, by punishing your dog when he growled, you have been teaching him NOT to growl first. In addition, punishing him gives him more reason to be wary around you.

Definitely take him to the vet again, but DON'T discipline him. What you can start to do instead of punishing the behavior you don't like, is reward the behavior you *do* like. Any kind of positive reinforcement training you do with him--or heck, even just giving him treats randomly--could help him rebuild the idea that you are 100% a friend, rather than any kind of threat.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Well, I tried switching couches this evening, and he hasn't shown any interest in sitting on it. He keeps sitting with me, cuddling up, pushing for pettings, and now he's playing with our beagle like he always has. I feel like I'm petting a fluffy bomb, but it's nice seeing him acting like his old self.

The training issues are confusing. Some people say follow the Dog Whisperer methods, others say use only positive reinforecement (which he's getting plenty of when he behaves and acts like his old, sweet self). Before these latest incidents, he was pretty well behaved. Not sure what triggered the change...still concerned that it's physical :confused:
 

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Dog Whisperer methods have just been popularized by television shows. A lot of trainers will use a mix of aversives and PR, but aversives are older training methods based on incorrect assumptions about wolf behavior and dog-wolf evolution (i.e. that dogs are really close to wolves in behavior). Newer methods (PR only, or mostly PR) are based on more scientific study that disproved earlier misconceptions. Also because there is a huge chance for fallout with aversives, and aggression is a serious issue, none of our regular members would rec punishment for aggressive behavior. I've posted some links below if you really want to read about it. Personally, I'm guessing it's something medical based on the fact that it's so sudden.

http://www.dogforum.com/dog-training/suppression-modification-shutdown-fallout-4776/
http://www.dogforum.com/dog-training/dominance-dogs-4076/
The Dominance Controversy | Philosophy | Dr. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS
 

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Here is an easy way to decide on a method. If someone is yelling at you what are you going to do? Now if some is talking calm to you what are you going to do? If you are forced to do something how do you feel? When you earn something for doing something how do you feel?

Negative Action=Negative Reaction
Positive Action=Positive Reaction
 

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Discussion Starter #16
So I guess my next question, what should I do when he does start acting this way? Move away and ignore him? I'm trying to make a big deal out of him when he acts like his old self. Also interesting, I noticed today when he started the growling and I would tell him "No! Stop it" he would bare his teeth more, then cuddle up close to me with his head on my lap, looking sad, but it's like he just couldn't help himself. He would still growl, but his body language suggested submission to me. Is it possible this is something he can't control. For the record, I don't yell at him. I try to just use my low register and talk firmly. Only time I yelled is when he chomped down on my hand.
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It's not submission, it's appeasement. Basically when a dog looks guilty, what they are really doing is giving you calming signals and saying "don't hurt me." I would get him a super comfy dog bed & reward him for staying on it & keep calling him off the couches. Every time he growls at you on the couch the behavior is reinforced.
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Do NOT order him not to grow. That's one of the worse things you can do. Growling is his way of warning you that whatever you are doing he doesn't like for whatever reason he has. If you train him to not growl he's going to go from I don't like what she's doing, to bite her because I don't like what she's doing. You'll have trained him that you don't want him to warn you with a growl.


It's hard to tell you how to not get upset enough not to growl since I don't know why he's growling. Do you know what is triggering him?
 

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That's the problem -- I have no idea what is triggering this. He can be sitting with me fine one minute and then randomly get that wild look in his eyes and start up the growling, teeth baring, etc. I called my vet's office yesterday after the bite and they advised me to seek medical attention and said the department of health would likely quarantine him. So far, that hasn't happened. They're closed today, but I'm calling the vet again tomorrow about looking at his thyroid and other internal stuff. Guessing that's the next step before a behaviorist/trainer?
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