You heard me right. Do not spay or neuter your dog. Well, at least not right away. And not all dogs.
My friend, Zeke's owner, he had a lot of questions about his new puppy. One question was pertaining to spaying and neutering. Zeke is a Llewellyn Setter. He is a breed of pointing dog. He was acquired to hunt as well as to be a good family dog. It is my job to train up this pup, and, his journey is the purpose of this blog. Part of my job as trainer of this pup is to provide the best info to the owners to allow the puppy the best chances at becoming an outstanding hunting dog. To that end, when I was asked about neutering Zeke, my answer was: Don't do it!
There is a stereotype that is out there that insecure men are the ones that keep their dogs intact, wincing and crossing their legs at the very notion of removing the man-bits. I've met those who resemble this. Most every rescue organization requires spaying or neutering as a requirement of homing a dog, or will perform this procedure before a dog is homed. But regardless of the stereotypical overly-empathetical human male, and regardless of the well-meaning intentions of the rescue organization, spay and neuter is not the right procedure for every dog.
Let me summarize the data that is 'out there': Spayed and neutered dogs still mount and still have aggression issues. Spayed and neutered dogs have a higher incidence of knee and hip problems. If the dog is a canine athlete (hunting dog or agility dog), this increased potential for knee and hip injuries increase the likelihood of a career ending injury for your dog. The advantages of spaying and neutering are very few, and when weighed against the disadvantages; the decision is clear for me: Do not spay or neuter. But if you must, do it later in life (> 2 years old).
Advantages of Neutering
As a service to you, dear reader, I have condensed some of the materials being published.
First, here is the short list of things that spaying and neutering is alleged to fix:
- Unwanted puppies
- Health problems, such as cancers
- Male marking
It is a myth that mounting can be fixed by neutering. It is more an issue of dominance than sex. Neutering has shown to have little effect on this behavior.
Neutering may help with wandering and unwanted puppies. However, I have found a less invasive procedure with fewer side effects. It is called: a fence.
Aggression may be helped by neutering, but only if the aggression is male-on-male and caused by sexual competition. There are many causes of aggression which should be evaluated in light of the side effects of neutering. In other words, neutering may not fix your aggression issues and, having neutered, you have the heightened risk of a debilitating injury in the field.
There are some very real health problems that can be remedied by spaying or neutering your dog early. One very real issue is the increased likelihood of mammary tumors in intact females. The notion that I have heard is that spaying early (before the first heat cycle) decreases the chance of mammary tumors. With each additional heat cycle, the risk increases until, after 4 cycles or so, there is no advantage against tumors by spaying. This is a real and documented phenomenon, and it needs to be considered against any advantages of the intact female. There are a couple of things that have been brought up. 1) Female mammary tumors are easy to detect early and can be adequately dealt with. 2) There are those who are questioning the validity of the above description.
(As for me, I have never owned a female dog. I really have no experience with aspect of the issue. The balance between the constant heat cycles and mammary tumor risk on the one side vs. knee problems on the other side makes this decision a difficult one. A good friend tries to strike a compromise by spaying later, around a year.)
Another supposed health benefit is the decreased chance of testicular cancer in neutered dogs. In other words, if you cut it off, it can't get cancer. This is true, but one could make the same argument about a dog's leg. We should cut off a dog's leg for the same reason. Dogs can get by just fine on 3 legs. We need to weigh benefits on both sides.
Male marking... I have heard people speculate that it is impossible to house train an intact male dog. And anyone who has ever owned such a dog will tell you that this is a myth that rises from ignorance. Male dogs do not mark in the house. Now, outside, when left to their own devices, they will mark every post, tree, or tall blade of grass. My 3 year old spent the week at a friends house while I was on vacation. On Thursday, he decided to lift a leg inside the house. The pet sitter, a friend with a lot of dog experience, came down like the wrath of God on my dog. You know what? He never tried that again! Marking is a matter of training. Training can overcome the instinct.
Advantages For The Intact Dog
Having stated the reality of the benefits of neutering and spaying, let's talk about some of the advantages. There is a decrease in many forms of cancers, hip dysplasia, and CCL (i.e. knee) injuries in intact dogs. The knee injuries are the ones that really make me sit up and take notice. Our canine athletes...the hunting dogs and agility dogs...they work hard at their jobs. They run hard. They abuse their bodies in quest of what they love to do. I do not want to put my dog at a disadvantage by neutering him. Neutering increases the chance by a lot.
What I take away from the literature out there is that the hormones present in the gonads greatly affect the body development of the dog. Many people are now trying to strike a balance by allowing the dog to retain these hormomes to allow for a more normal body development until the dog is 2 years old. By this time, the dog is done growing and done putting on muscle.
Spaying or neutering a dog--the risks are too great and the rewards are too few for an early neuter of a hunting dog or an agility dog. If you have one of these dogs, please educate yourself through the attached links before blindly accepting the conventional thought that all dogs must be spayed or neutered. If you do chose to spay or neuter, consider waiting longer to give the pup more time to develop.
Before you leave, please check out my the appendix to this article. There are 4 things that may interest you: a) Some of my additional posts and writings b) Subscriptions c) My policy on comments d) Copied abstract from one of the sources for this article
Appendix A - Other Stuff
Update (1/21/2015) - If you liked this post, please consider taking a look at some of my other posts:
- Dog Barking: A Non-Intuitive Fix
- Spay Or Neuter: Playing The Odds With Your Dog
- Shock Collar For Your Dog: Training The Recall
- Dog Aggression: One Thing That Works
- Shock Collar: 6 Rules Of Thumb While Training
Appendix B - Subscriptions
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Appendix C - Sources
Some have stated that I have not cited sources for the argument that there are health concerns for the early neutered dog. These can be found in the embedded links in the article. If that is too difficult, please read the following research abstract, found at this website:
In contrast to European countries, the overwhelming majority of dogs in the U.S. are neutered (including spaying), usually done before one year of age. Given the importance of gonadal hormones in growth and development, this cultural contrast invites an analysis of the multiple organ systems that may be adversely affected by neutering. Using a single breed-specific dataset, the objective was to examine the variables of gender and age at the time of neutering versus leaving dogs gonadally intact, on all diseases occurring with sufficient frequency for statistical analyses. Given its popularity and vulnerability to various cancers and joint disorders, the Golden Retriever was chosen for this study. Veterinary hospital records of 759 client-owned, intact and neutered female and male dogs, 1–8 years old, were examined for diagnoses of hip dysplasia (HD), cranial cruciate ligament tear (CCL), lymphosarcoma (LSA), hemangiosarcoma (HSA), and mast cell tumor (MCT). Patients were classified as intact, or neutered early (<12 mo) or late (≥12 mo). Statistical analyses involved survival analyses and incidence rate comparisons. Outcomes at the 5 percent level of significance are reported. Of early-neutered males, 10 percent were diagnosed with HD, double the occurrence in intact males. There were no cases of CCL diagnosed in intact males or females, but in early-neutered males and females the occurrences were 5 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Almost 10 percent of early-neutered males were diagnosed with LSA, 3 times more than intact males. The percentage of HSA cases in late-neutered females (about 8 percent) was 4 times more than intact and early-neutered females. There were no cases of MCT in intact females, but the occurrence was nearly 6 percent in late-neutered females. The results have health implications for Golden Retriever companion and service dogs, and for oncologists using dogs as models of cancers that occur in humans.