Spaying and Neutering

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

Firstly, I want to start out by saying that I am not going to tell you whether you should or should not neuter or spay your dogs. That will be your decision. Yes. Ultimately your decision. Not your vet's, not your daycare owner's, not your trainer's. However, I feel so many people aren't informed on all the varying facets of the topic of neutering/spaying and that's something I want to address.

I just had six intact dogs ranging from 15 weeks to 3.5 years in my house: a male Azawakh, two female Azawakh, a female Rhodesian Ridgeback. a male Newfoundland, and a female Irish Wolfhound. There was not one fight. Not one scuffle. No one got humped. No one marked. No accidental pregnancies. Everyone either got along or kept the peace. The vast majority of the dogs that I board or train are intact and I find I have no more issues than when I primarily worked with fixed dogs.

I also currently work at a dog daycare that allows intact males. And in a daycare setting, the intact males do become problematic from ages ranging from 4 months to a year or so. As their hormones change and their body develops into majority they can be prone to humping other dogs (sometimes to the point of obsession or shutting other dogs down) or picking fights with other dogs, often intact males. However, typically this is only a problem while their hormones surge. Once they settle to a reasonable level, the strong urges to hump and pick fights typically settle as well.

Why do I mention all of this? Because I have more experience with a wide array of intact dogs than most people (or even trainers) in the US. I have an intact male Service Dog. I have a mixed pack with a male and two female intact dogs. We run flyball, coursing, and racing with other intact dogs. Perhaps, having an intact dog isn't the end of the world.

Did you know that in many places in Europe, the majority of dogs are kept intact? Yet somehow the majority of Europe isn't famous for their out of hand stray dog populations (not anymore than parts of the US anyway) nor are they famous for their dog fights despite having a much higher percentage of intact dogs. In fact, everyone I've ever known that has visited Europe has remarked on how dogs are commonly brought everywhere and how well their dogs are behaved (but there reasons for that are the subject for an entirely different blog post).

Yet it has very much become common practice in the United States to remove whole organs of your dog as matter of course. While that sounds dramatic, perhaps it would serve us to remember that is exactly what spaying and neutering is. So let's look at some common conceptions about intact dogs versus spaying/neutering.

Intact dogs are more prone to behavioral issues including marking, roaming, aggression, dominance.

All misconceptions have an element or kernel of truth. Yes, intact males might hump. However, give them an alternative and set your boundaries and this can easily be averted.

Additionally, male dogs don't roam if you don't let them roam. I once had a client who just opened the back door when he left for work and let his intact Bouvier roam the neighborhood. I was aghast and we had an extensive talk. But if you are sensible, don't leave you intact male unconstrained on in an area they can escape (yes this can include fenced yards) while they are unattended, then roaming very quickly becomes a non-issue.

Aggression largely comes into play with intact male dogs. There are some dog breeds that are known to have same-sex aggression such as Dobermans, Akitas, and a number of large, working breeds. Knowing these propensities is important. But honestly, I've seen plenty of neutered male Dobermans have problems with same-sex aggression. Yes, neutering changes the dog's hormone composition, but it doesn't change genetic traits and it's certainly not a cure all or substitute for proper training, management, and behavior modification.

Dominance is an over used term. Full stop. Most people who claim a dog is dominant isn't reading the situation correctly at all. In fact, in my experience a dog is far more likely insecure or anxious than dominant (I'd argue this is frankly true of humans as well). I've also found no appreciable difference (anecdotally, but with a large sample size) in training intact dogs versus training neutered and spayed dogs.

Intact dogs have more health issues.

For a very long time, as the push to spay and neuter all pet dogs became more influential and common place, the belief was that spaying and neutering your dogs only carried with it health benefits: no risk of testicular or ovarian cancer, reduced risk of mammary cancer, complete prevention of pregnancy. What's not to like?

However, I remember when the first, now famous, study on the effects of early altering (before a year of age) in Golden Retrievers. The findings were in short: altering a Golden Retriever before a year of age increased their chances of hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament (CCL in the knee) tear, and two different types of cancer.

Following that study a study on Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, a study on German Shepherds, a study on the correlation between sexual alteration and cognitive function in older dogs, and more have created a larger body of work all asserting that sexually altering your dog, particularly early (before growth plates have closed) creates a wide variety of health problems for the dogs down the line. I watched as the veterinary profession slowly began to shift to advising owners to wait until at least a year, ideally 18-24 months before altering their dogs and I'm pleased to see the shift.

Additionally, within the dog world (purebred dogs, sport dogs, working dogs, etc) it is well understood that when you cut off a dog's hormones by altering them before they go through puberty, you permanently alter their structure. Typically dogs that are altered before puberty/their first heat cycle are weedy/leggy, they lack depth and width of chest, often they will even lack width of body in general. Those are all traits that develop with an influx hormones.

This is Ash the smooth Saluki at seven months (he was neutered a bit over a month before that) on the left and at six years on the right. Note his proportions never truly changed. His chest never dropped, he never got proportionally longer (or wider though you can't tell that from the picture). He mostly filled out with weight and gained some muscle.