Is springer spaniels rage an urban myth, or does it really exist as a condition? Dog rage in general is also a term one hears. We do know that ‘mad dog’ harks back to rabies (which is usually fatal to humans), and we hear of ‘mad dogs’ in everyday speech, without any reference to rabies. Let’s be clear that we are not here associating dog rage or springer spaniels rage with rabies.
We are talking here about episodic (occasional) events where some sort of ‘rage’ behaviour occurs in otherwise well-behaved springer spaniels or other dogs. Symptoms might be any or all of:
- Sudden aggression that happens without warning.
- Aggressive behaviour in the absence of other dogs.
- Snarling, growling, attack posture.
- Changes to the eyes (temporary).
This usually happens when there are no obvious external triggers (though there may be exceptions), and the episode stops suddenly. Springer spaniels appear to suffer no after effects, or ill-effects. Their behaviour reverts to normal after the event, which typically lasts a few minutes.
The fact is that any biological organism is subject to disrupted behaviour, and higher mammals (which includes dogs), are included. The more complex the brain, then the more disorders it can be subject to. For the purposes of this discussion, springer spaniels brains (and dog brains in general) are broadly equivalent to ours, and any brain disorders to which we humans are subject are broadly presented in dogs – and therefore springer spaniels.
On balance, expert opinion is that ‘rage syndrome’ in springer spaniels (and other dogs) is caused by an epileptic fit. It is quite rare – typically, only 4 in 10,000 dogs are subject to these fits.
If you suspect that your springer may have this condition, keep the springer away from any children, then get expert advice. Diagnosis requires expert input, and there is evidence that springer spaniels are slightly more pre-disposed to this conditions than dogs in general, though suspect bloodlines are being terminated. In English springer spaniels, the condition is limited to the ‘show’ (US ‘bench’) bloodlines. It is not present in the field line of the breed.
In Welsh springers, the incidence is no different to that in all dogs, but Cocker spaniels have a slightly higher incidence than average.
Treatment for springer spaniels rage (and dog rage) is possible following accurate diagnosis.
If you decide to take the dog to a springer spaniels rescue center, then be sure to tell them that you suspect the dog of having the condition, so that the staff are not endangered.
Just a quick note here about dew claws – a topic which crops up from time to time for springer spaniel owners.
Dew claws grow on the rear of the lower leg and are vestigial ‘thumbs’ left over from ancient genetic lines, originally used for gripping prey. They serve no practical purpose on springer spaniels, though in a few breeds (e.g. the Great Pyreneean) they are considered to be essential. On other breeds, where the dew claw is lower on the paw then they can grow inward (like an ingrowing toenail), giving rise to discomfort, even infection.
When the dog is running around in undergrowth, or a working springer is retrieving, then dew claws can snag and cause the dog injury. That in itself is a good reason for their removal – it is not a cosmetic surgery issue.
American Kennel Club breed standards allow the removal of dew claws for both English springer spaniels and Welsh springer spaniels.
In some countries, removal of dew claws other than from a pup whose eyes are still closed, must be done by a licensed veterinarian under anaesthetic, else the procedure is considered to be mutilation and may even be illegal.
Most breeders will remove dew claws from the new-born pups – the procedure is simple. Any trimming around the dew claws does not then become an issue for the adult springer spaniel grooming process.
This is a large business – or more accurately a group of individual charities, worldwide, which specialise in springer spaniels rescue. That is, they take in springer spaniels, and look after them until a new owner is found, or until the dog has to be destroyed. When you multiply this up across all popular breeds, and add in the ‘all-breed’ rescue centers, then you see the scale of the unwanted dogs problem.
Fortunately, today, fewer dogs are having to be destroyed as a result of lack of resources to keep them. After all they have to be fed (cost) and exercised (staff – sometimes volunteers). Then, occasionally, some require veterinary attention. Most dogs will need to be checked over on arrival, and sometimes calling a veterinarian in would be necessary – and that could result in destruction of the dog. The realities of rescue centers can be very harsh.
The Dog’s Background
The reasons that the dogs end up at the springer spaniels rescue center are myriad, but in the case of the specialised breed rescue centers such as we are discussing here, then they are not usually stray dogs. This is an advantage of you are looking for such a family pet, because the rescue center will usually have some information about the dog’s background and history. In exceptional cases, they may even have pedigree papers available – a real bonus for the new adoptive owner.
The absence of pedigree papers would not be a problem for most adoptive owners, unless they wanted to show the dog or breed from it.
Springer Spaniels Rescue – The Reasons
If the dog has not arrived as a consequence of, say the death of the owner, or being aged and perhaps infirm and no longer properly to exercise the springer, then the reason may be problematical. Perhaps the dog has a behavioural problem, or has proved difficult to train (unusual in the case of springer spaniels). Perhaps the dog is too boisterous for new or very young children, or even barks excessively. These are all reasons for caution if you are looking for a springer, as additional and sometimes, corrective, training may be necessary.
The springer spaniels rescue center will not always know the reason that the dog has been brought in, though behavioural or barking problems would soon have become apparent. However, if the problem is thought to be one that cannot easily be trained out, then the center might have to make a tough decision about the dog’s future. Usually, if there is an obvious social problem with the dog that could be corrected, then the staff would advise prospective owners accordingly.
Getting your next dog from a springer spaniels rescue center has many advantages. For example, house training will probably not be necessary, and that awkward ‘teething’ period would be in the past. However, there are disadvantages too – not least in relation to the reason for the dog being at the center.
Provided that the dog is healthy (and most are), then the basic decision revolves around your family and the dog’s suitability. Often the staff at the springer spaniels rescue center will be able to help you with the decision. They want to see the dog placed in an appropriate home, and not have him or her returned to the center – dogs get disappointed too!
So, that’s what it’s all about. The centers exist as temporary carers for springer spaniels whilst new homes are found for them. A simple concept, which has given many owners great new pets. If you are seriously considering springer spaniels rescue, though, then go in with your eyes open and do look at a few springers before you decide which one you will give a home to.
If you do think that a springer you fancy might be the one for you, then bear in mind that extra training might be necessary. There are plenty of springer spaniel training resources available here on this site.
Here’s a video of a well trained English springer spaniel demonstrating obedience during a dog shop. You’ll note that the tail is docked, and the ‘stocky’ build is indicative of the show (bench) line of the breed (the field line is less stocky, and in my opinion, more agile).
Note the constant use of eye contact to maintain communication.
Springer spaniels are sociable, even with other dogs, and quite level-tempered. They are intelligent and eager to please (‘biddable’) so they are easier to train than some other breeds. The Springer was bred originally as a working dog. An outdoors dog has the genes for running, swimming, and staying active. So, they need exercise, but this makes training them a lot of fun – they keep the owners active too!
They want to get it right although they can be stubborn if trained the wrong way. If you take on a springer spaniel rescue dog, then bear in mind that some re-training may be necessary.
If you have a puppy, though, then it is much easier. Kennel Clubs usually run puppy training classes, and after the basic training – ‘boot camp’ – there are various levels, typically bronze, silver and gold. You and your springer must pass a test so that you can start training at the next level up. The course is straightforward though; different springers have different difficulties with exercises, but the trainers will help you and you dog surmount these hurdles (often literally). And so you and your springer progress from level to level.
Training field dogs is a completely different process – they need to get used to the sound of guns and learn to work in a team with another dog. They are also at a much greater distance fromt their owners, on average, and signalling techniques differ – they may be out of sight in undergrowth, or swimming to retrieve.
Here’s more on field training and exercises.