What Is Idiopathic Aggression In Dogs

There are seven main subtypes of dog aggression, and each one is distinct from the others. Understanding the specifics of each instance is essential to treating dog aggressiveness efficiently since each type of aggression calls for a particular kind of care. Dogs frequently display more than one sort of hostility.

The seven main types of canine aggression are listed below, along with a few brief descriptions of each.

The dog adopts an aggressive stance in an effort to get farther away from the trigger (e.g., human, dog, etc.). In other words, the dog adopts a proactive strategy.

Inanimate things may also be the target of this violence (e.g., vacuum cleaners, skateboards, cars in motion, etc.).

In addition to aggressive actions, fear aggression can also coexist with avoidance behaviours (i.e., the dog seeks to flee the trigger).

When exhibiting this sort of aggressiveness, dogs may display minimal indicators of anger outside their “territory.

The canine’s “Territory usually starts within the owner’s house and frequently extends to the land next to the house and beyond.

a form of aggressiveness that is unpredictable because the causes aren’t known or understood. According to the dictionary, the term “idiopathic” refers to any illness or condition that appears suddenly or for which there is no known reason.

Because it involves abrupt, intense outbursts with little to no warning, this kind of violence can be extremely dangerous.

The aggressive tendencies linked to this sort of behaviour are linked to the chase of prey species.

It is a sign when two or more dogs who share a home act aggressively toward one another on a regular basis.

As the number of dogs increases, the likelihood of in-home aggressiveness rises exponentially; four dogs in one family is a typical tipping point.

consists of a collection of aggressive behaviours that the dog has acquired as a result of poor care and management.

Owners or people the dog frequently interacts with are the main targets of aggression.

can seem intimidating to dog owners, but often has a positive prognosis with the right behaviour modification strategy.

Using punitive or aversive methods to treat this kind of aggressiveness is a common error.

seen when dogs act aggressively to keep humans and other dogs away from their food, treats, and other belongings as well as from their owners and other dogs.

Although it may be argued that the dog is afraid of losing a prized resource, which would make the aggression appear to be fear-based in reality,

Distance resource guarding is a subtype of this hostility. In this state, the dog will keep an eye on things from a distance, rush to another dog or human who is close to the resource being defended, and display aggressive behaviour.

Please visit a licenced dog behaviourist if your dog is displaying one of the types of aggressiveness mentioned above. Using inappropriate methods, such as punishing aggressive conduct, frequently leads to long-term problems.

The greatest time to address canine aggressiveness is in its early stages because it nearly invariably gets worse with time.

Can idiopathic canine aggressiveness be treated?

1. Keep track of your dog’s explosive, irrational aggressive outbursts so you can describe them in detail to a trainer or behaviourist, including any possible environmental factors.

2. Enlist the aid of a knowledgeable, kind dog trainer or behaviour expert. On your initial appointment, bring your paperwork with you.

3. Be careful around your dog and make sure everyone else is careful.

The phrase “rage syndrome” makes many think of Cujo, the fictitious rabid dog from Stephen King, destroying the countryside. If your dog has it, it’s almost as unpleasant as not knowing when your cherished friend will suddenly transform into a biting, roaring canine tornado.

It is more accurate to refer to the syndrome that goes by the name of anger syndrome as “idiopathic aggression.” “Of, connected to, or indicating an illness having no known cause,” is how the term “idiopathic” is defined. It fits this conduct, which has baffled behaviourists for years, exactly. Idiopathic aggression frequently cannot be controlled or diminished through desensitisation and counter-conditioning, unlike the majority of other forms of violence. Dealing with this disease is incredibly challenging and heartbreaking.

The earmarks of idiopathic aggression include:

  • No clearly defined trigger stimulus or stimuli
  • explosive, intense hostility
  • Dogs aged 1-3 are most frequently reported to have started.
  • Some owners claim that their dogs exhibit confused behaviour or a possessed appearance in their eyes right before having an idiopathic outburst.
  • Breeds like the Cocker and Springer Spaniels (thus the once popular labels Spaniel fury, Cocker rage, and Springer rage), Bernese Mountain Dogs, St. Bernards, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, and Lhasa Apsos appear to be more susceptible to developing anger syndrome. This would imply that the issue likely has a hereditary component.

The Good News About Rage Syndrome

The good news is that real idiopathic aggressiveness is a disorder that is extremely rare. It was widely discussed and studied in the 1970s and 1980s, and it caught the attention of the canine community. Soon, any dog who displayed sudden, explosive hostility was labelled with the dreadful condition “anger syndrome label, particularly if the dog was any kind of spaniel. Since then, we’ve come to our senses and are conducting far more thorough investigations before drawing any firm conclusions “violence in dogs has no known cause.

Finding explicable explanations for the aggression frequently requires a detailed investigation of the dog’s behaviour history and the owner’s observations. Status-related aggression, often known as “status anxiety,” is frequently the correct diagnosis “Both resource guarding (dominance aggression) and/or these behaviours can cause extremely violent, explosive reactions. (See “(WDJ, September 2001, “Eliminate Aggressive Dog Guarding Behaviors.”)

A dog’s warning cues before a status-related assault can be readily overlooked by an owner, especially if the warning signs have been silenced by previous physical or verbal punishment. With some dogs, it may be simple to identify and recognise a resource that they have decided is important and worth guarding, but with others, it may be more challenging. The “glazed” expression that some owners have described may possibly be their interpretation of the “hard gaze” or “freeze” that many dogs exhibit immediately before an attack.

Idiopathic aggression is a highly unusual disorder that is particularly challenging to treat, despite the fact that the real reason is still unknown and behaviourists tend to support their preferred hypotheses.

Idiopathic Aggression Theories

Over the past 30 years, several investigations and tests have not succeeded in identifying an obvious cause or a conclusive diagnosis for idiopathic aggressiveness. Even behaviourists disagree on the name for it! (See below for more on The Evolving Vocabulary of Aggression.)

Given the lack of a clear reason, it is entirely plausible that there are multiple alternative explanations for violent actions that go unaccounted for and are collectively referred to as “idiopathic aggressiveness.” Some dogs who are experiencing an episode could twitch and foam at the mouth, which may be a sign of epileptic seizures. It is even impossible to use age of onset as a differential diagnosis because the behavior’s most typical onset window is between 1-3 years of age, which also happens to be the window during which the majority of status-related violence and the onset of idiopathic epilepsy occur.

Some dogs suspected of having idiopathic aggression had aberrant electroencephalogram readings, although not all of these dogs were investigated by researchers. Even those ambiguous results have been impossible for other researchers to duplicate.

Another explanation holds that the injury to the brain region in charge of aggressive conduct is what is to blame for the behaviour. Another is that it actually represents status-related hostility brought on by extremely subtle cues. Obviously, we simply don’t know.

It is challenging to research and even try to find solutions to the source of idiopathic aggression given that it cannot, by definition, be created. Unlike a behaviour like resource guarding, which is simple to elicit and hence simple to examine in a therapeutic setting, idiopathic aggression cannot be readily replicated or investigated.

Rage Syndrome Treatment

Treatment for idiopathic aggressiveness is challenging and sometimes futile without understanding the underlying cause. Due to the extreme unpredictability of the outbursts, the illness is also practically hard to manage properly. Unfortunately, the prognosis is very bad, and many dogs with real idiopathic aggression must be put down for the protection of nearby humans.

If someone has informed you that your dog has “rage syndrome,” don’t lose hope. First off, he most likely doesn’t. Although the disease is incredibly rare, it is nonetheless too frequently given to dogs whose violent tendencies are entirely understandable to a more knowledgeable observer.

Finding a knowledgeable, effective trainer or behaviour consultant who can provide you with a more thorough study of your dog’s hostility should be your first move. In many cases of aggression, a good behaviour modification programme used by a dedicated owner in collaboration with an experienced behaviour specialist can reduce or even end the situation. It can also assist you in creating the necessary management plans to ensure the safety of your loved ones, friends, and guests.

A visit to a veterinary behaviourist is required if your behaviour specialist also thinks that you have an unusual instance of idiopathic aggression on your hands. While many dogs won’t, some will benefit from pharmacological treatments for this illness. Phenobarbital administration has been associated with some modest success, although it is not apparent if these outcomes are a result of the medication’s sedative effects or whether there is a true therapeutic impact.

Euthanasia is the sole option in many instances with genuine idiopathic aggressiveness. It is neither safe nor fair to expose yourself or other friends and family to the possibly disfiguring, even fatal, repercussions of such an attack because the aggressive explosions are genuinely violent and completely unpredictable. Euthanasia is the only compassionate alternative if this is the tragic conclusion in the case of your dog. Hold him close as you say goodbye, and gently send him to a safer place knowing that you have done everything you can for him. So look after yourself well.

The Evolving Vocabulary of Aggression

What was previously popularly referred to as has been and is still referred to by various behaviourists and trainers under a variety of other names “anger disorder The difficulty in naming it reflects how little is known about the condition:

Syndrome of rage

Due to its overuse, abuse, and inadequate representation of the actual illness, this once-popular word has gone out of favour.

irrational aggression

The phrase that behaviourists today use most frequently states clearly in its name “We’re not sure what it is.

aggressive dominance at low threshold

Favored by those who believe that status-related violence has very mild triggers and manifests as idiopathic aggression

Syndrome of aggressiveness and mental lapse

instances identified as a result of certain electroencephalogram readings (low-voltage, fast activity)

Psychomotor epilepsy that responds to stimulation

some prefer it because they believe that idiopathic hostility is actually epileptic seizure activity

“There are other terms for violence that have evolved recently besides rage syndrome. Even how we view hostility is evolving. where each once “Although the classification of aggression was originally thought to be extremely unique, with its own set of treatment methods, it is now generally accepted that stress and anxiety are the main triggers of most violent conduct.

In order to curb aggressive behaviour, physical punishment should no longer be utilised, according to the training and behaviour profession. Instead, the best way to control aggressive behaviour is to keep the dog from coming into contact with his specific stressors. Aggressive behaviour can also be modified by providing the dog with a structured environment through a “Say Please or “Nothing in Life Is Free programme and by following a sound protocol of counter-conditioning and desensitisation to lessen or eliminate the dog’s aggressive reaction to those stressors.

Additionally, we now understand that the aggressive behaviour of dogs may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, which can be corrected by the new class of medications used in behaviour modification. This is in sharp contrast to earlier medications like Valium, which only sedated the dog without offering any meaningful therapeutic benefits. As a result, many behaviourists advise using medicinal intervention in cases of violence as soon as possible.

Here are a few of the more recent names for various forms of aggressive behaviour that are now in use:

Status-related violence was formerly known as dominance aggression, a phrase that is still frequently used. Older approaches to dealing with dominance aggression frequently concentrated on trying to diminish the dog’s status, sometimes without success. Status-related aggression, on the other hand, focuses more on training the self-assured highranking dog to act appropriately regardless of status.

Aggression motivated by fear was formerly known as submission aggression. A fearful dog may exhibit deferent (submissive) actions in an effort to combat the stress that is causing the anxiety. Ears flattened violence may happen if the signals are disregarded and the threat moves closer—a youngster, for instance, attempting to hug a dog that is backing away.

Possession aggression was formerly known as “food guarding,” but it is now more accurately referred to as “resource guarding,” which recognises that a dog may guard a variety of items in addition to his food—anything he views as a valuable resource, including but not limited to toys, beds, enticing locations, and proximity to humans.

How can you recognise Rage Syndrome in your dog?

  • Avoid being punished. Techniques for confrontational training, such as vocal reprimands and physical corrections, are likely to increase hostility in the present and decrease long-term results.
  • Think about an SSRI. Pathologic aggression is associated with abnormally low serotonin levels, and increasing serotonin is helpful in situations where there are underlying problems with fear, anxiety, and/or impulse control.
  • Avert aggressive triggers. Without changing one’s conduct, one’s reaction to triggers will remain unchanged. Avoiding triggers improves safety and provides a break for the dog’s brain from old response pathways. If required and practical, triggers may be permanently avoided or reintroduced in the context of behaviour adjustment.
  • Locate a local expert in force-free behaviour change. These are dog trainers who specialise in helping dogs modify their attitudes toward difficult situations; they are not primarily concerned with teaching dogs to obey. Examine their credentials to see if they are CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists), CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant), CBCC-KA (Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed), CPDT-KA (Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed), and/or KPA (Karen Pryor Academy).

Any dog and owner who experiences owner-directed violence should take it seriously. It typically takes one of two forms: a genetic condition called Rage Syndrome, or a more frequent diagnosis termed Conflict Aggression.

Rage Syndrome is characterised by aggressive outbursts that are severe and occasionally erratic in nature. Additionally, these episodes frequently involve strong dramatic reactions to ostensibly unimportant circumstances. Affected dogs frequently shiver, glare, and occasionally bite. The dog’s normally charming disposition is in stark contrast to this acute aggressiveness. Dogs don’t always appear to be entirely cognizant of what has just happened after aggressive outbursts. Although many dogs lack dominant behaviour, underlying neurochemical abnormalities in their brains probably cause occasional mental “misfiring” in these animals.

Owner directed aggression has a more common variation, which is diagnosed as conflict aggression. Dogs with conflict aggression frequently adopt slightly ambiguous body postures (such as having their tails curled while lunging forward) and show warning indications (such as snarling) before biting someone. Episodes of aggression frequently have predictable causes, such as competition for resources, encroachment on the dog’s personal space, or handling or grooming. Dogs with this diagnosis frequently discover that aggression is a useful tactic for ending uneasy situations. These dogs are not domineering, but when there is conflict or discomfort, their emotions are torn.


I’m Ruby. Due to complaints from her owners regarding her hostility, Ruby was taken to the Behavior Service at the Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center.

Three months prior to her visit to the hospital, Ruby was adopted from a local humane society. There was no record of her early years. Additionally, Ruby shares her home with an eight-year-old neutered male Jack Russell Terrier in addition to her two owners, who are both retired adults. Within a few days of adoption, aggressiveness toward the owners was seen; however, antagonism toward the female owner decreased over the two months previous to arriving at the MSU Behavior Service. Unfortunately, the owner’s male behaviour continued to be aggressive.

She was prone to growling, lunging, and snapping at either owner when they petted her back or touched her while she was lying down. When approached while at rest on an elevated resting area, while on the female owner’s lap, or while in the kitchen preparing food, the dog would growl, lunge, and snap only at the male owner. When either owner tried to put the harness on Ruby, it was also stated that she bit them. In every instance of aggressiveness, Ruby is said to have barred her teeth, laid her ears back, and lowered her tail before lunging at the victim. She also ducked after aggressive outbursts.

Ruby was tense, attentive, and receptive when the Behavior Service team first encountered her. With Dr. Marie Hopfensperger, the veterinarian who oversees the hospital’s behaviour services, she was kind but not too friendly. Although she tried to get the attention of both owners, she mostly sat on the female owner’s lap. Ruby’s diagnosis of Conflict Aggression was verified after being examined, speaking with her, and undergoing a battery of tests by Dr. Hopefensperger.

Ruby’s Behavior Modification Plan

Her owners were informed that Ruby’s hostility required lifelong treatment in order to be managed and treated. As a result, they were told to refrain from using punishment because any type of conflict tends to increase aggression both immediately and over time. Additionally, it was advised that they stay away from any circumstances that had in the past led to hostility, with the exception of when performing the specified behaviour change exercises.

In order to control Ruby’s daily behaviour, cues and rewards for compliance were to be used in all contacts, and as necessary, she was to be redirected when there was any evidence of conflict. Dogs with conflict aggression respond best when they are willing to comply; otherwise, they struggle and may become combative. For Ruby’s particular triggers, desensitisation and counter-conditioning (DS/CC) exercises were used. The owners were told to softly touch Ruby’s body in areas where she didn’t react and to reward each touch with a tasty food. These suggestions included easing into handling Ruby’s body parts that did elicit an aggressive response, such as her back or touching her while she was at rest.

The owners were instructed to mimic the action of putting Ruby’s harness on and taking it off while practising DS/CC. They were instructed to demonstrate Ruby’s harness before providing a tasty gift. Then they practised clasping and unclasping the harness while still close to Rudy, rewarding her with a treat after each sound of the clasp. Before giving Rudy the treat, the owners worked on putting the harness on her and fastening it around her chest and shoulders. The male owner was told to perform brief DS/CC sessions where he would get close to Ruby while she was resting on the floor or couch, but not so close that she reacted, and throw her a reward. DS/CC was also used when Ruby was sitting on the female owner’s lap. The difference, though, was that rewards were only given out by the female owner when the male owner drew closer.

Ruby’s Follow-Up

Ruby was no longer displaying signs of aggression when touched on her back or when at rest after six months of at-home management and a low dose of medication (paroxetine 10 mg. per day without any adverse effects reported), and the owners were able to put the harness on and take it off without incident. Both dogs were kept out of the kitchen by a baby gate. Ruby stopped acting aggressively when the male owner approached her, whether she was curled up on the ottoman or the female owner’s lap.