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I have a 4 1/2 year old intact male GSD who is developing bizarre aggressive behavior, usually just after he wakes up, but occasionally just before he falls asleep if he is very sleepy. It started with my husband about 6 months ago but now he has done it to me several times. He looks at me with a totally different expression in his eyes, like he absolutely does not recognize me and growls - even after he gets up and walks to me. Sometimes during those moments it's as if he has flashes where he recognizes me and wags his tail, and I can even be petting him and then it's gone for a second and he looks at me like who the **** are you? and growls again. I have tried talking nice to him so that he could recognize my voice in case he wasn't seeing me, and I have tried correcting him with raised voice. Neither works. The only thing I have found to do, is to call him away and give him basic commands, which he will do, but he will not be normal for up to several minutes. Once he has moved around a bit, (got his blood pumping) then he's back to his normal happy loving self.
There has been no change in his routine. He's had a perfect dog life. He has been raised since he was a puppy in the same house on a 60 acre farm. My husband and I both work from home so he has never been left alone for any periods of time. Quite a bit of our work is outside so he gets plenty of exercise every day and interactions with other animals, two older dogs, a cat, goats, horses. He has water to play/swim in summer. Has never been kenneled. Has always had full run of the house and sleeps in the bedroom at night, but knows his boundaries, (has never been allowed on furniture and does not jump on people or exhibit other bad behaviors.) He had all his basic training and works well off leash.
He's always had a strong prey drive, that we keep sated with durable toys and he is quite vocal as he attempts to rip them to shreds. But again he knows the rules and his boundaries and he is fine with little animals - the cat and even to be in with baby goats. He has always been a fearful dog, something that we addressed with confidence building exercises in his puppy training classes, but he has never been aggressive to anyone - not company, not children, not anyone, until this. He's a big dog now, over 100 pounds, and has always been a big sweet oaf, or a scaredy-cat. But when he's in this new semi-awake trance state or whatever it is, he is a different animal. My biggest concern is that this is something that is going to continue to progress and become more serious and dangerous? I read about canine cognitive dysfunction, but he doesn't have any of the other symptoms and he's not old. But there is definitely something going haywire in his brain when he's close to sleep and it is getting worse. Is this something known to occur in GSD's?
 

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I always recommend having a dog checked by a vet, including blood work and a complete thyroid panel, when there is a sudden change in behavior to make sure there is nothing medical going on.

No, this isn't normal or known to occur in GSD.
 

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yes - work up at vet

are vaccinations up to date? I would also titer him - probably unnecessary, but better to be safe

Lee
 
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This almost sounds post-ictal. Is there any chance he's having seizures?


Rat lungworms wouldn't be high on my list as a cause -- when they move into the brain, they tend to cause hind-end paralysis first. The symptoms look like meningitis. I have had this rare parasite come through our rescue, unfortunately.
 

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Your story sounds similar to our experience with our 4 year old male. We would sometimes see confusion and occasionally a low growl after waking, he would then walk away returning shortly after and act like his normal self. I would think about changing his sleeping situation until you can find some answers to help explain his behavoir.
 

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I had a dog who developed Rabies vaccinosis. Similar development. You can google it to see if it could be that. Vets are very resistant to this though.
 

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I had a dog that changed and decompensated at that same age. I do not want to scare you, odds are it isn't as severe as my dog. However, a vet check is absolutely in order. SNAP panel. check for ALL tick borne diseases. Also consider possibility of seizures (drowsiness can be a prime time for them to occur) a brain tumor, rabies vaccinosis, rage syndrome (google those 2)

Don't panic over those terms..some are treatable (like tick diseases and seizures). I just wanted to help throw out ideas so you can make them topics with the vet, as even the good vets do not always think of everything.

Good luck OP I wish the best outcome for you.
 

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Update

First thanks for all the responses. All blood work is normal including thyroid. Has no other symptoms of rage syndrome, or epilepsy and he has not had a rabies vaccine in 2 years. (Symptoms first started showing up with husband 6 months ago and only recently with me.)
His aggression so far has been limited to a low growl and an almost fearful stance...stiff tail, head down, but not coming toward you, unless you call him. He will come and he will obey commands, like sit or down, but he will continue growling even as you pet him. Which quite honestly I'm a little leery to do, when he is staring at me like he does not recognize me. A few days ago, when he was doing it I called him with a special voice inflection that I have done since he was a pup. His normal response is to stop anything he's doing and run to me. This time he just kept staring at me stone cold unrecognizing with a low growl. I called him again and he twitched, blinked and wagged his tail half way looking at me totally confused. A few minutes later he was normal again.
Both my husband and I can recognize the strange expression on his face now and know when he is going to react this way. Usually he is laying down and if you look at him or walk toward him, he kind of hunkers down and growls low.
This has never happened even once when we are outside, which is usually most of the day. I have always been able to do anything to him, take his toys, his food, never with ANY issue. I love this dog, but when he is doing this, he is NOT my dog. I can make him sleep in the laundry room with the old black lab, but worry that I am just avoiding it and that it will progress.
I read the definition of dissociative behavior/episodes in humans and that fits him to a "T". "Dissociation is a mental process of disconnecting from one's thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity."
Any other thoughts, similar experiences or ideas?
 

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I would ask your vet to refer your dog to a neurologist.

Is it possible that your dog has come into contact with lead anywhere on your property? This could be in the form of old paint.

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As others have said I'd get a referral to a neurologist----or if there's a Vet teaching college close to you... get a referral or call them.....we were referred to NC State on two occasions and both times their knowledge/ talent and overall help was in a word---Amazing !!
 
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What do you mean by changed and decompensated? And did you ever find a cause or more importantly treatment?
It was a slow unraveling. Pushy behavior became pushy AND aggressive. Then he started not recognizing me even though I JUST got out of our vehicle. He started getting up upset when friends left, would prevent them from doing so. Then he started getting upset if you were plugging things in or if you dropped something. This all happened one little thing after another over the course of 8 or 9 months. It was so subtle at first. Not recognizing people who knew for brief seconds was one of the first weird signs. Nothing to do with sleeping like your boy though..so the lack of recognition combined with growling would be the similarity there.

Here is my thread when I felt like typing the whole thing out. I said he was 5..he was actually 4. Sometimes I have to look at FB pics to remember what year things happened in :/ I am sad to say they were not able to find a diagnoses of a medical reason. They did feel it was something though medical related, causing a neuro compromise.

He may have had a brain tumor. I wasn't going to shell out for a few thousand dollars for an MRI as the vet said if that it what it was (and I will never again be without good pet insurance due to all of this), and it was this symptomatic it wasn't something they could just remove and restore..most likely. He may have had a genetic rage syndrome. He actually did receive a rabies booster not long after his 3 year one...tussled with a racoon.

If your dog is exhibiting signs like this due to being tired or drowsy it does make me uneasy, but it could be something hurts him when he lays down/gets back up. If I were you I would be checking joints, everything. With 2nd and 3rd opinions. How can this vet rule out seizures? I have a son with seizures that are obvious when they are happening but any attempts to induce or catch on EEG have been unsuccessful. He obviously HAS them, but catching it and hence diagnose type of seizure is like catching lightning in a bottle.

Anyway, again I wish you a good outcome and would advise to be extremely careful and have a plan if he does not snap out of it. I NEVER in a million years thought my dog's weirdness would end with and actual puncturing bite to my son before turning on me with back arches hackles up, round eyes, and drooling...but it did. So just keep a close eye on it. Are there any kids in your house? If you have any company I'd be securing him either in a crate or in a room. Sorry, and I hope for you they can find the "aha" fixable issue or source.

Here is my thread:
https://www.germanshepherds.com/forum/aggression-good-bad-ugly/727378-what-happened.html
 

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You say your dog has access to water and swimming. Here in Fl. we've had numerous cases of Amoeba getting into

nostrils while swimming and migrating to the brain. I've read that the amoebas are pretty common in warm water and

live from year to year. Does your dog swim in a pond on the farm ? In the old days, we weren't allowed to swim in

small ponds for fear of "dog days" when ickies were rampant in stagnant water.

My adult son took my dog swimming yesterday in a large lake but said he didn't put his head under water for fear

of amoeba. Might want to google this for your area.

This article states, although not common, it is possible for dogs to get brain eating amoeba.
https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/pmahaney/2013/sept/could-your-dog-be-at-risk-for-brain-eating-amoeba-30912
 

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Update

Thanks again everyone for all the suggestions. I'll try to keep you updated for anyone who might have a case like this in the future. After reading an article on human symptoms of low tryptophan - specifically when levels are low in humans, they lose the ability to recognize facial expressions in other people as friendly and see them all as threatening. Once tryptophan levels are restored, they can recognize friendly again. (bizarre) So...since nothing else has worked, (trial period of anti-inflammatories, trial period of broad-spectrum antibiotics even though bloodwork and exam did not indicate pain or infection, I know some people will comment negatively on that, but I am not giving up on this dog without exhausting all possibilities. And no we do not have any children in the house, just my husband and I.)
Anyway, I started him on 100mg of tryptophan (over the counter supplement from Walmart in the form of 5-HTP) twice a day ten days ago and so far the results are promising. Within a few days we noticed improvement and he has continued to get better ever so slightly every day. He is not his old self yet, other than when we are outside, (where he has never had a problem) but he can sleep in the bedroom with us again and not look at us like we are devils in the morning. :) May be just coincidence, but I am cautiously optimistic. For his weight, the dose could be higher (recommended 1mg/lb) so I will be increasing it with the next bottle.
This is not a scientific study by any means, :) and too soon to tell how it will turn out, but I will keep you all updated.
 
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