There’s a label which is being given to a small percentage of red coated cocker spaniels. Stating that they are afflicted with a syndrome known as “red cocker rage”. This diagnosis of sorts is based on the fact that the dog in question is a red coated cocker spaniel, and is exhibiting bouts of (from the owners’ perspective) unexplained aggression. Usually this aggression is being directed towards the members of the household in which the dog resides. I’m dubious…
Here’s my issue with the idea of Red Cocker Rage.
I have met some dog owners who believed, or had even been told that their red coated cocker spaniel has red cocker rage. I have met many many more owners of dogs exhibiting exactly the same type of aggression, which are not cocker spaniels, red coated or otherwise. I have also met many red coated cocker spaniels which are not showing any aggressive symptoms. So why are we bought into the idea that there is a specific thing called Red Cocker Rage? Who knows!
With my dog psychology hat on, the unexplained aggression is always explainable. With the exception of the incredibly rare occurrences where the dog’s behaviour has been caused by a physical ailment, e.g. a brain tumour, or severe discomfort in another area of their body which makes them feel highly vulnerable. (This kind of ailment could happen to any dog of any breed.) That aside – dogs are not aggressive for no reason, however it can look to us like they are because we are not understanding the situation in the same way that they are. The classic two reasons that a dog would be aggressive towards its owners are:
- To protect itself when it perceives a potential physical threat.
- To assert itself when feeling ‘challenged’.
Depending on the personality of the dog (absolutely regardless of what breed it is) and how stressed a he/she is, some dogs find it necessary to use force as a way of doing one or both of the above.
Now it might like to you that you are not threating or challenging your dog. However human’s do not naturally interact with dogs in a way which gives them no reason to protect or assert themselves, simply because we understand our interactions with them in a different way to them. Dog’s often find our behaviour confrontational, and they can easily be shown that they are responsible for us – which brings with it a huge amount of stress. Think about how much more reactive we are capable of being if we feel stressed and sense some kind of threat…
It’s a smaller percentage of dogs that use force as a way of dealing with these above 2 scenarios. Many dogs will use other methods, from body language, barking, jumping up, freeze, avoiding eye contact (to name a few) and as these behaviours aren’t as ‘serious’ as aggression, how the dog feels goes unnoticed. Thus lulling us into a full sense of security that our behaviour towards them is okay with them.
If someone has previously had a dog who hasn’t reacted with aggression, then when they take on a dog with a different personality who uses aggression in these situations, it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that the behaviour is unprovoked and the problem is with the dog.
From the dog’s perspective (red cocker or otherwise) the behaviour felt like their only option. With different information from us, they wouldn’t have felt that way.
A dog’s behaviour is as a result of a combination of 3 things:
- The dog’s personality
- Circumstances (historical and current)
- Our behaviour
The 3rd one is the one we can work with, so rather than looking to blame a dog’s breed, or assume that it has a physical problem, let’s start with looking at what part we have to play in their behaviour. It won’t be obvious. I have been working with people with dog behaviour problems including aggression for over 11 years now and I would say 90% of the time owners are unaware of what they are doing to contribute to their dog’s aggressive behaviour before I explain it all to them.