I’ve been debating how I’m going to talk about this, and whether I even should…whether anyone would care? But I have to talk about it because it’s caused me emotional distress I cannot explain.

On Sunday, I have to return my beautiful boy Mando to his breeder. There is a likelihood he has something called rage syndrome, a rare neurological genetic abnormality that causes bouts of idiopathic aggression that only get worse.

The behavior associated with Rage Syndrome includes outbursts of aggression that are intense and at times unpredictable. These episodes also tend to be large dramatic responses relative to a seemingly benign situation. Affected dogs often freeze, stare, and may rapidly escalate to biting. This intense aggression contrasts with the dog’s otherwise pleasant personality. After episodes of aggression, dogs seem to not be fully aware of what just happened. Many dogs do not have dominant behavior, but likely have moments of mental “misfiring” due to underlying neurochemical abnormalities in their brains. Source: Aggression Toward Owners is Always Problematic, but When is it Pathologic? | College of Veterinary Medicine at MSU

In the last month, Mando has bitten my husband and attempted to bite me, twice. He has had increasing random bouts of serious growling and snarling, with no trigger or warning. This kicked off around December 2023, but is getting more random and progressively worse in each episode. We have been in emergency training and behaviour sessions, spoken with vets and even the breeder (more on that later).

It isn’t safe for him to be here. It’s isn’t safe for us or our other animals. It is highly likely Mando will be PTS, and this has broken my heart over and over and over until I thought it couldn’t break anymore and then it did again.

Mando is a beautiful dog. He’s funny, and fun, and more intelligent and clever than I could imagine. He has the best drive and confidence…and when his brain isn’t misfiring, he is just a typical puppy.

But when his brain misfires, he becomes very aggressive, dangerous and difficult to handle. He cannot be corrected, he pushes through anything – even a remote collar – and is very unpredictable. The times his brain misfires occur randomly.

I look at his soft eyes and gentle face and his happy smile and ask myself if I’m just seeing things that aren’t there. But my husband’s bite wounds confirm it has.

The most recent incident was in his crate. He called me to wake me up so he could go for a wee. I proceeded as normal, still half asleep. I opened his crate and with no warning he launched at me. I felt his teeth scrape my arm but he didn’t bite me. I kicked him out and he went to wee and returned to the door snarling at me. I had to leave him outside as a result.

In all of this, I have been graciously supported by his training team. I say team because we didn’t just work with one person but with everyone. They made me feel I had support in one of the most difficult scenarios I’ve had to navigate. Words cannot ever describe my gratitude to these amazing people.

But his breeder has turned out to be a charlatan and a misogynist. When I first called him to tell him, within the first 5 minutes of the call he said, “Tee, this isn’t good news. The prognosis isn’t good. I am really scared for you being there alone with him.” Of course that alarmed me even more, and I started thinking about returning him (because the contract we signed when taking Mando also states to return the dog to the breeder if possible.)

What proceeded was what made me angry. Suddenly, it all became our fault. Suddenly, the training we were doing which he was formerly praising, wasn’t good. Suddenly, I was “probably a bit too weak to handle him” you know, being a woman and all. Suddenly, Mando didn’t respect me or my husband and this had nothing to do with reactivity.

In the first phone call with the breeder, he stated the following throughout the conversation:

  • “to be honest, he did show signs of dominance and reactivity in the litter” (to my understanding and in conversations with vets and vet nurses and trainers, reactivity at birth would mean that this was something genetic, because reactivity usually occurs after an event and not when a puppy is a few weeks old.)
  • “He is reactive Tee, reactive. He’s like Saxon”
  • “He’s actually worse than Saxon cos Saxon had a trigger. This is why I am scared of you being there alone with him.” (Saxon was a dog returned to him we observed when collecting Mando. Turns out Saxon bit his owner, a female – after she tried correcting him when he had a ‘random bout of aggression directed at her by him’. She ended up having to run away and lock herself in the bathroom until the dog walked out of the house so she could lock the door and keep him in the backyard. Saxon was PTS by the breeder 8 months after his return because he couldn’t be fixed and his aggression remained spontaneous despite 8 months of work being put into him.)

I preface the next section by saying, if it isn’t entirely obvious by how I have written the above, the breeder is now backtracking on his original statements. Not only did he say to us when we first bought Mando to bring him back if anything bad happened, but it is in the contract. So I am returning him based on that requirement.

At the time I called him and asked him what I should do, because he kept telling me he was fearful for my safety (my husband is currently away and won’t be back for 3 weeks), and when asked if I should be returning Mando he said “well I suppose you could. We always welcome our dogs back.” Suppose you could makes it sound like an after thought. And then when I did send him a message to say I was returning him, I got the backtracking messages which I won’t share on here, yet – but that basically suggested that our training method was bad, our training school wasn’t good, I wasn’t correcting him properly, he was too strong for me, he didn’t respect me and Serge because it was disrespect he was doing towards us and not reactivity….this was after he specifically said in the phone call that Mando was reactive, or ranky. Ranky was the word he specifically used.

Furthermore, when I described the suspicious eye he gets, he said he knows exactly what I was talking about as he has ”seen it before” in a dog that one of his dogs once upon a time presented with.

I’ve owned 7 Dobermans in my life. 5 of the 7 were male, 4 of the 5 were working dogs. Last time I checked, I never had any of my dogs try to attack me. So, he can try and spin it however he wants to absolve himself of the responsibility that he is breeding something bad, or he can take the information graciously and put some money and time into understanding how prevalent this issue is within his line.

Maybe he doesn’t know about it, but based on conversations I think he does, or has a feeling that at least something isn’t right, but hasn’t done anything about it because his perspective is too narrow. He did say to me over the phone, that if Mando returns he will be the 3rd dog in the last number of years (I think he said 5 but I cannot be certain), and that he really needs to look at what’s going on if that is the case. Again, I have no confirmation he already has the knowledge or not and based on conversations he can always spin it to sound like he didn’t know, or it is the first time he’s heard of it, but you can’t know.

Instead of looking at all information, his first attack is to go and say that it’s usually the owner that has done something wrong. With the Saxon scenario, the first way he described it was as follows, “it was the wife. I don’t know exact details, but it had something to do with the wife.”

Again, this implies that she is nothing but a weak woman who can’t handle his dogs. Or that his dogs are so superior only strong men can handle them. When he later repeated the story with more information, suddenly there was a random growl/snarl by the dog, the woman tried to correct as told/instructed previously, he kept pushing through it until he eventually bit her, and she had to run away and hide and lock herself in her bathroom.

Can you imagine how much fear this woman would have had? Can you imagine her being home alone and this happening, how absolutely terrified she would feel?

It has nothing to do with the breed of the dog, because its considered rare, genetic and neurological but it is possible in all breeds and was most commonly attributed to spaniel type breeds (and who would ever think a spaniel is objectively meaner or tougher than a Doberman?)

So, it has nothing to do with Saxon being a Doberman. But it does have everything to do with the fact that rage syndrome is difficult to diagnose as it presents as regular aggression-based behaviours. And in most instances, people will seek advice from the vet, their trainers and breeders about what to do. Even in this instance, she corrected, which was fine. The issue is not the correction, whatever it was – the issue is she did not have knowledge that this dog may have rage syndrome. In any other aggression-based correction or desensitization, her correction would have worked. But in dogs with rage syndrome, it will not work because their brain has misfired. They are somewhere else.

When I told the breeder everything we did with Mando in terms of training, play, engagement and socialisation, he said “Tee, you guys have done everything right,” only to backtrack on those comments via SMS and say,

“Honestly Tee if he comes here, as we discussed, he may get better who really knows 🤷‍♂️ I do know one thing though that I’m sure off 100%, both you and Serge need to realise that this all is about Mando respecting you guys and Not reacting towards you both. The only way for him to have respect for you both is if you do the rehabilitation work yourselves, wth the help of Will’s Practicle training and both of our verbal input. If you guys don’t do this and try and fix Mando, then he will resort back to the same behaviour when returning to you guys from here.

Sorry Tee I just needed to be up front so you know that bringing him here is the point if no return really 😪😪 even if he never reacts to me what’s to say he won’t resort back to the same behaviour when returning to you guys, because you guys didn’t get involved in the rehabilitation 🤷.”

So how, after 7 months of work, training, engagement, socialisation, toys, amazing food, probiotics and vitamins and the best things money could buy, my beautiful boy has to leave me because he’s not safe. I haven’t stopped crying in a week. I haven’t eaten, I hardly sleep.

My support network, my friends, family, husband, our training team – everyone said I did the right thing by him. I’ve become a much better handler and at least for this I can say that any dog’s life I encounter will get a touch of Mando in their life. It has made me consider whether I should do more of this, because I really enjoy it and enjoy seeing the dog and handler develop. I know myself my heart bursts with joy whenever we are able to achieve a milestone, so imagine being able to help others do that.

I seriously doubted myself when the breeder messaged me. He started off with “I know what he’s like and I’ve seen it before” meaning he knows about the spontaneous aggression, to then try and paint me in the light of being a shit handler. Maybe I am. Maybe I could be a better handler. Of course, I acknowledge that there is always room to grow and improve. But the benefit for me is, I will always become better and I am always willing to learn. He’s just a guy holding onto a 40-year story that he was trained by this ex airforce dog handler and he somehow thinks that’s still relevant 40 years later and that training practices haven’t improved. He is narrow sighted in his perspective and not willing to take responsibility for bad breeding practices. And again, I have no proof he doesn’t know, but I think he does.

Placing a ‘return to breeder’ clause in a contract comes across as a nice thing to do. To the discerning buyer, it’s like, “wow, he loves his dogs so much he’d rather they all return.” It seems noble and even we fell for it. But knowing what I know now and what has emerged about Mando, this is done purely to give him control of how the dog’s life is ended. Because if he ends its life, he controls how it’s recorded on the pedigree register. This happens a lot with dogs overseas. DCM is prevalent in 60+% of the WORLDWIDE Doberman population, but somehow in some areas of Eastern Europe, no dog has DCM. And you think, that can’t be. Well, it can if they’re the ones inputting information into the pedigree databases.

Information is only as valuable as the source. And the source must be assessed for credibility, reliability, accuracy and relevance. This is my job. This is what I’ve done for 17 years. It’s a muscle in my body that works without me even knowing it does. Research, analysis, and assessment is what I do. So, you can be sure that when this emerged about Mando I did everything in my power to determine what I could. For those who understand the Admiralty Rating system, my assessment about this issue is at a minimum a B2, B3. For those that don’t understand, it means that the assessment reporting in its totality is confirmed using various reliable sources from multiple open and closed source locations. It is highly likely that the statements made in the report are true and correct.

To end this, I have only one message.

My boy, my little shithead….I love you so, so much. I wish I could do more for you. I wish your life didn’t have to end this way. I wish I could fix you. I hope, if nothing, that your life while with us was the best that it could be. I hope one day I won’t feel guilty for having to return you. I feel like I failed you and wish I could have done more. I hope you felt everyday how much I adored you, and how much I loved you, and how proud you made me when you achieved. I hope you know how much I loved taking you swimming, and training with you, and teaching you new commands. I hope you know how much it hurt me not to pat you because I was scared you would randomly attack me. I hope you know, I never wanted not to show you affection, but I had to be careful around you because you were so unpredictable. I hope you know, I cried when I had to leave you to sleep outside overnight….I heard you crying because you wanted to be with me. I saw you laying outside my window because you knew that’s where I slept and wanted to be close to me. You would wake me up at 4:30am because you had slept enough and wanted to play. And I got up EVERY SINGLE TIME. You were the light in my life. You were my heart. I will always love you. And you will always be in my heart, my soul, and my memories. Thank you Mando. Thank you for making me a better person, and a better handler.

I love you mate.

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