Bitten & Constant Growling - Please Help!

I'm a foster mom of a 2 yr old Basenji/Shepherd mix (?). With just a split second warning and no apparent trigger, he bit me the other day. This is the second time - he got my husband shortly after we rescued him about about 16 months ago. We immediately met with a well respected trainer who deals with aggressive dogs and followed her instructions to a tee, making sure he knows we're alpha, blah blah so I don't really think that's an issue.

He's always been a little snarly early in the morning and late at night but he'd always stop right away and would be fine like it never happened. But this time he went after me and bit me in four places, even tearing a foot long gash in my shorts. He "only" broke skin in one area but I got some pretty nasty bruises from it. Anyway, I was so shook up I went to my neighbor's house and waited for my husband to come home. About 45 min later we went back in our house and he immediately went nuts. Our poor coonhound happened to be in the line of fire and Joey (our Basenji) went after him too. My husband got him off so he wasn't hurt - physically anyway - and after a huge struggle, finally got him into his crate.

The weird thing is that once he was in his crate he literally growled and bared his teeth until that night when I was finally able to get a sedative for him. Even that didn't totally eliminate it. He'd been growling for nearly 8 hours straight regardless if anyone was in the room with him or not. I even took video of it because I've never seen anything so odd and thought it might help a behaviorist determine what's up. Anyway, the next morning I figured everything would be fine but as soon as I came downstairs he was at it again and was even shaking a little. He kept this up until I got him to the vet that morning. We had to literally carry the crate to the car with him in it because he was acting so vicious.

Since he's been at the vet, he's been nothing but an angel and all his bloodwork came back fine so he's seemingly healthy.

Has anyone seen this kind of behavior? Any thoughts? 😞 Please help!

I am just throwing out what came to mind…isn't there something called Rage Syndrome? I think some breeds like Bernese Mountain Dogs are prone to it and Springer spaniels, I am wondering if it is something like that? I don't know any more about it than the name, and your boy's mood swing lasted for a long time. I would be afraid to take him home, honestly. If they found something physical, a pinched nerve, anything, I would understand a bit, but all that attitude in a big dog would be very frightening to me. You say he is a 'foster', I would have a hard time placing a dog that went off like that for no known reason.
I'm sorry, that must have been very traumatic for all involved.

I've heard of Rage Syndrome but somehow in the mix of everything else like trying to find him a new home by Monday with someone who has time and patience to deal with his issues (yeah, good luck right?), and trying to weed any physical problems, I somehow forgot about it. I'll definitely look into it again. It's just the strangest thing I've ever seen. Having grown up with dogs my whole life and working at a vet clinic for a lot of years, this is definitely a first.

Yes, he is a foster but we had actually decided to adopt him. He really is the sweetest dog with the most bizarre ability to communicate almost like a person. He's just a cool guy so this is absolutely breaking our hearts because we know we can't bring him back in the house and we know we won't be putting him down. My husband would actually be okay with bringing him home which has caused a little tension because like I told him, if I hadn't raised my arm (the worst bite was in the arm pit), he probably would've gotten my neck or face. Scary stuff.

It's so hard to tell whether it behavioral, neurological, physical. But you've given me a spark of hope again with the Rage Syndrome. Who knows, maybe it fits and we can at least having a starting point. See, I'm talking like we're keeping him. I'm so torn. And you're right, we're definitely hurt by the whole thing but I understand it wasn't personal. He had to be scared, hurting or something I don't understand to act that way. Sorry for going on, didn't realize I was going to use this forum as a therapy session. It's been a rough week but we'll figure something out. Thanks a lot for your reply.

There are a few brain diseases and neurological disorders that can cause symptoms like these. Unfortunately, they cannot be diagnosed until after the dog is deceased. We had one doberman that reacted similar. He would be extremely vicous out of the blue, then be back to his sweet self in a matter of minutes. I also had one dog who started taking seizures and would come out of them so vicous we would lock him up as well. After he calmed down he was again back to his sweet self. I'm not saying any of this is the case, just that there are disorders that cannot be diagnosed through bloodwork.

Maybe the vet can give him some medication to help with his rages?
I don't know…just asking.

I'm so sorry you had to go through that with your dogs. I certainly have considered a brain tumor or something like that. It's just too bizarre.

Can I ask you what you did in those cases? In terms of treatment and how you handled it? And I hate to even ask this but did it come down to having to put them down? I don't think I could handle that especially since what Joey has might be treatable.

For what it's worth, I just posted the video I took of him while he was in his crate growling and for lack of a better word, raging. Maybe someone can make some sense of it because it shows him going in and out of it. Mostly snarling but every once in a while he'll lean up against the crate and want to be petted. It's 15 minutes long (since I don't know how to edit it) but if you go just before the middle of it, you can really see him action. SIGH. I'll let you know when it's up - takes awhile after it's posted on youtube.

FYI…...
A RARE SIDE EFFECT OF LYME DISEASE
In a message dated 5/26/04
10:53:45 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
SHOWGSD@... writes:

We recently had a very strange event which I think
we should share around the rescue-community:
Young (~2 years) M Lab-mix, came into our program with
a 'questionable' background; may have been aggressive
toward some children; then again, maybe not.

We kept him for a long while - months of fostering in our premier
foster-home, no problems; placed him carefully, with a single
middle-aged man who adored him. We also, as we do all our dogs, tested
him for Lyme. He had it; we treated it; case closed -- we thought.

Everything went very well after adoption - the star of
his obedience-class, frequent alum-visits to clinics -
for over a year. And truly adored by his adopter.

Then, over 12-mos post-adopt, Mojo became suddenly,
erratically, and seriously aggressive: literally attacked visitors to
his home, people in the vet's waiting room, etc. Terrifying.
Very-sudden. Totally inexplicable. He was returned to us with genuine
heartbreak from a very loving adopter.
Mojo then went to our regular vet and was a totally
different dog: bared-teeth and growls at anyone who
approached his kennel, lunged at other dogs when being
walked, etc. We figured that whatever was happening with him, he had
become un-placeable and started a TDC (Tough Decisions Committee -
something we 'convene' that is open to anyone with an interest in the
dog when we think that euthanasia might be an option).
However, someone at the vet's office said that perhaps
we should test him for Lyme. Huh????????
They had had a regular client of theirs come in recently with similar,
out-of-the blue-aggro, and it turned out that Lyme was the problem -
puzzled them, but seemed to be the case. Okay -- hey, we'll try
anything -- so we had him tested. He was high positive!

Fine, we started treatment while we continued to figure
out what to do with him via the TDC. Almost immediately, however, once
the antibiotics began, the Mojo we knew came back!! He was himself
again - bouncy, happy, a bit neurotic, but not at all aggressive!

The staff at the vets was amazed, but all confirmed this change. We
didn't believe it; vets didn't believe it...BUT a thorough search of
the Internet turned up a number of studies (plus) anecdotal-observati
ons indicating that in some dogs (and some humans!!) the
primary-symptom of their Lyme Disease can be sudden, irrational and
serious aggression.

We've known for a while to check thyroid-levels of dogs
that show aggro that just 'doesn't fit'. Now we've added testing for
Lyme as well. And we have - results not-yet in - another dog, placed
12-mos-plus, returned because of out-of-the-blue aggro... he also
tested high-positive for Lyme!

We've started treatment; we'll be monitoring his response. So - plug
this in to your protocols; worth checking-out. I spent the day today
with Mojo... he truly is just the same dog we placed over a year ago.
(We've let his original adopter know - because he vowed
that it had to be something causing this behavior.
But he cannot take Mojo back because his roommate, one
of the people attacked, won't even consider it.
For the record, there were no skin-breaking contacts in
any of these attacks, but plenty of fear and we consider them as
serious as if they were full-fledged bites.)

We actually have additional insight into this because
one of our volunteers (human) has had Lyme Disease.
Took many months for her to be diagnosed; once she
was, she learned it's a VERY-nasty bug that remains
permanently, waiting for a chance to 'crop-up' again.

When we place Mojo again (TDC unanimously agrees we
should), we're going to explain the background, these
amazing events, and require the adopters test every
6-mos, whether or not he's symptomatic. We have no
idea whether that will work or be sufficient - we're
rather flying blind in this - but it seems rational.
But based on what we know now, its a real possibility:
Lyme can, in a few rare-cases, cause aggression-
aggression that can be reversed.

Permission was granted to cross post this.

I meant to add that this isn't my dog, but I post I just got and wanted to share.

Do you have much experience handling aggressive dogs? Because it sounds like you will need it.

IMO, and of course, probably mine alone, based on the description you have given here, I would euthanize this dog..period. There are very few physical problems that can cause this kind of aggression, and even if one is identified, they are difficult to medically treat.

I don't know what kind of techniques your trainer is using…but I would make SURE that they are not confrontational, as you will make the dogs behavior worse. Even a well respected trainer could be using inappropriate methods when it comes to aggression.

There is no ethical way that you can rehome this dog. If you choose not to euthanize, I think it is your responsibility to manage his behavior and try to improve his aggression. If you rehome him, he will bite the next family too.

Sorry to have such a depressing pov on this subject; I hope you find a solution.

Great article, Sharron! I hadn't heard about aggressive side effect from Lyme disease. Definitely worth looking for every time with aggression!

Sharon, I had actually seen your post on the other site because believe me, I've been doing a LOT of research. I hadn't heard of it before I saw your post but right after, I asked that he be tested for lyme disease. He was and that's not it. His thyroid levels look good. Your post is very important though for people looking for an answer so thank you for cross posting here.

Andrea, no you don't have a depressing pov, just a realistic one. Please understand that the only way I would even consider rehoming Joey is if he went to someone who had loads of experience with aggression and actually knew what they were doing and were kind with their discipline. As far as the training we received, I know there are rum dum trainers out there too. Just because they may have received a certificate means nothing to me but everything she said made sense to us so I trust her opinion. I think the idea of physically restraining a raging dog is ridiculous and dangerous and the thought of being remotely physical in terms of disciplining is unconscionable. We only do positive reinforcement and give instructions and discipline in a calm manner. Not saying we're perfect but I really think we've really stepped up to the challenge. We know we can't treat him the same as our other dogs but it's the only way we could even try to manage him. He's been a huge learning experience and when you have a dog like this you learn awfully quick.

I really think (and yes, maybe I'm being naive here) that he'd absolutely thrive in an environment where he was the only dog and he could be given lots of work to do with a person who knows how to handle aggression. So I've been emailing some trainers to see if they might be interested. I'm eating and breathing this because I'm so freaked out about what's going to happen come Monday. I almost wish we knew he couldn't be rehabilitated because the thought of having to make the ultimate decision is heart wrenching. When do you stop trying to find answers?

@direy01:

I really think (and yes, maybe I'm being naive here) that he'd absolutely thrive in an environment where he was the only dog and he could be given lots of work to do with a person who knows how to handle aggression.

Ah, but that's so hard to find. People who love dogs and know how to handle dogs like this have dogs. And unfortunately, the liability factor with taking a dog like this . . .
It really sounds like something neurological is going on - either disease, siezure, brain tumor or ???

If you're really committed to this dog, I'd find a vet school or try to get Dr Dodman at Tufts for a consult.
http://www.tufts.edu/vet/facpages/dodman_n.html
Or McConnell
http://www.dogsbestfriendtraining.com/index.php
(Seems like she talked about some extreme cases in one of her books, but i don't remember which book.)

As to when to call it quits, well that's a personal discision and I don't think anyone here will second guess you. Honestly, it sounds like the dog is in a LOT of emotional/psychological pain and euthinasia may be the kindest thing to do. Sorry to be such a downer.

@Quercus:

IMO, and of course, probably mine alone, based on the description you have given here, I would euthanize this dog..period. There are very few physical problems that can cause this kind of aggression, and even if one is identified, they are difficult to medically treat.

I don't know what kind of techniques your trainer is using…but I would make SURE that they are not confrontational, as you will make the dogs behavior worse. Even a well respected trainer could be using inappropriate methods when it comes to aggression.

There is no ethical way that you can rehome this dog. If you choose not to euthanize, I think it is your responsibility to manage his behavior and try to improve his aggression. If you rehome him, he will bite the next family too.

Sorry to have such a depressing pov on this subject; I hope you find a solution.

I agree. Several years ago I had a similar situation with a rescue. I worked at a vet clinic when a stray hit by car lab mix was brought in. He was about a year old, skittish, and would growl at people from his cage. He had a broken hip among other injuries so it was hard to distinguish how much of the behavior was due to the pain. Another vet tech and I were able to build some trust with him and so my parents agreed to adopt him and work with him.

I don't know how your guy is with strangers but Homer, the stray, never trusted strangers but he bonded with my family. At first we had no problems with him. He was never aggressive with those of us he trusted until a few months later. Over the course of the next year he became progressively worse. He finally got to the point where he would turn on us all of the sudden. Things finally came to a head when my grandmother was visiting the house one day. Homer knew my grandparents very well. They "babysat" him at their house while my parents worked and had bonded with him more than anyone else. Homer was in the den by himself when my grandmother walked in the room. He jumped up with his hair standing up, and was growling and bearing his teeth at her until he had her cornered against the wall. My grandmother was able to move sideways against the wall till she could reach the door and get out.

After this, we called our vet who (again) consulted with a veterinarian who specialized in behavior. Based on the history, she felt like it was a serious fear based aggression and that it was doubtful that rehabilitation would be succesful. So we talked about it at home and decided to euthanize him. We knew that we couldn't risk him hurting someone one day. Even if we kept him in our yard or house all the time there was always a chance that he might get out by accident some how and that could have been very dangerous for our neighbors, their children or any other stranger he might encounter. It was one of the most difficult decisions anyone of us have ever made. I had to call the vet to set it up because my mom was so devastated about it.

I am so sorry because I do understand how you feel. Just from my experience I think that unprovoked aggression is very serious. I would try to help him as much as I could but if you ever get to the point where your afraid or uneasy of his behavior (especially when he strikes out unprovoked) than euthanasia is the right thing to do. In our case, it was the kindest thing to do for Homer. We don't know what happened to him before he came to us but he had obviously been pretty traumatized. That being said, I have heard of some success with aggression using clomipromine (i think thats how you spell it), an anti-depressant. I would NOT rehome him. First, the rehoming process is stressful and that could escalate his aggression. Second, if he ended up seriously hurting his new fosterers/owners than not only would you feel awful but there could be some legal consequences because you were aware of his behavior.

It is never easy whatever you decide. I'll be thinking about you guys.

The more I read everyone's posts the more delusional I think I am in thinking we can rehome him.

Agilebasenji, you're absolutely right. People who deal with this stuff obviously have their own dogs and probably aren't going to want to introduce an off balance (that sounds so much better that sounds than crazy) dog to the mix. But thanks for the links. I'm a die hard so I'll definitely check them out.

Quercus, what an awful story but how good of you to do that for your parents because that had to be agonizing. Unfortunately, I'm sure a lot of us on these message boards can relate.

I think we know how this is going to turn out but I just can't face it. However, the last thing I want is for him to be in pain - or anyone else get hurt - so as hard as it will be if it comes to that, we'll do the right thing.

Thanks so much for everyone's support and taking the time to tell me your stories. It's helped a lot and I appreciate it more than you know.

In both cases the dogs were put down. The Doberman was not mine, but a friend's. It became so unpredictable and finally went after the owner's husband. Much like what happened here. I am not saying this is what is wrong, only that it seems soooo familiar. They did do an autopsy on the dog and this was when it was discovered that there were actual holes in the brain matter. With the other dog, I took him to the vet and asked the vet to put him down, the vet asked if he could try to find a home for him with people who specialize in these cases (at the time I was seven months pregnant and could not take any chances with this dog). I said if he could then fine, but asked him to hold him for a few days before he did. The vet called me a few days later, apologizing profusely for not believing me. He said the dog was so wound up and out of control on a normal basis that he had to put him down because he was not neuroligally correct. I'm so sorry that this is happening to you.

Many years ago I rescued a chow that was locked in a gargage, never had much attention and was never brushed. His hair was matted to the skin and he had to be shaved completely. His previous owner also had a westie that he was so proud had bitten 6 people. Lets you know what kind of situation he came from. While at the vet for the day to get all of his mistreatment taken care of he became very aggressive. The vet explained dogs that bite to me and said she felt this dog bit to kill. Well that rocked my world as we had never seen anything like that He truly was sweet. We thought he just hated vets. We kept him for years but what the vet said lingered in my head and I was always on gaurd. Not good for either the dog or me. We eventually had to have him euthanized we moved to a new house and he could not handle it as much as we tried nothing worked He walked around growling With what the vet had said it made it impossible to thing of re homing Broke our heart as we felt we had failed him but I finally came to terms it was his first home that ruined a good dog and not us Its a tough decision to make but sometime its the only decision

I have to tell you my thinking on putting a dog who is aggressive down.
In my mind this dog is scared, very scared and reacts when it doesn't need to..taking clues from the damage done to it before we get it.
Giving the dog the PEACE of the rainbow bridge can be the kindest thing we can do for these dogs.
Its takes the stress off of all…the humans, the possible target for their aggression, and most of all the dog, who can't control itself and needs to lash out.
Its not a fun thing to do, but in my mind, its the right thing to do.
I do think this is the kindest thing in the long run.

@sharronhurlbut:

I have to tell you my thinking on putting a dog who is aggressive down.
In my mind this dog is scared, very scared and reacts when it doesn't need to..taking clues from the damage done to it before we get it.
Giving the dog the PEACE of the rainbow bridge can be the kindest thing we can do for these dogs.
Its takes the stress off of all…the humans, the possible target for their aggression, and most of all the dog, who can't control itself and needs to lash out.
Its not a fun thing to do, but in my mind, its the right thing to do.
I do think this is the kindest thing in the long run.

As always, Sharron… well said....

Pat thank you.
I hate these type of posts.
I want every b' well any dog to be mentally happy and able to bond with any family they have*.
THIS is the ideal, but the reality is that we have some very damaged b's out there.
We need to give them peace.
So, please, don't pass these dogs on, you can be libel , but more over, you can send a damaged dogs into a home where further damage can be done.
Hard decisions.
BUT its the right one for the dog.
IMO.

I'm certainly not going to rehome him. We're bringing him back home tomorrow and like I said in a previous post, I realize I was being naive in thinking he could possibly be rehomed and in major denial of how serious the problem was. This is my baby, foster or not, and we see him being nothing but sweet and loving 99.9% of the time so it's easy to be a little deluded right after something like this happens.

We're meeting with a trainer/behaviorist this week to try to get some answers and help dealing with him. We need to give him a chance because right now we just don't know enough to make a major decision like putting him down. We only have Joey's best interest at heart and we above anyone don't want him to suffer so if it comes to that then it does.

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