Let’s Tackle the Controversy to Neuter or not to Neuter
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I am not one to shy away from the occasional controversial topic. Although it is not something I do all the time; I have done it from time to time in the years I have been writing for this blog.
I am also not ashamed to admit that I am human and make mistakes. I also freely admit that dog trainers are not perfect, nor are we magical beings. We make mistakes as a whole and so do our dogs!
So it should not surprise you that I am about to admit that, although I have worked in several veterinary clinics and I have learned much over the years, I am not an expert in veterinary concerns and health problems, etc. Only your vet who has been to veterinary school and reads the latest vet journals and goes to constant CE is an professional.
I did not go to vet school.
When you are seeking veterinary advice, it is best to go to the experts, those who did go to veterinary school and are abreast of the latest medical studies.
We have all giggled at the commercial that says “Everything you read on the internet is true”, right?
After all, there is some ludicrous information that makes its way to the internet. And, a lot of it is written by people who just have opinions, and no scientific data or information or educated experience. Some of these people call themselves experts… but if I am researching dog health knowledge and information; I am only going to read those from the veterinary field. I am not going to read any articles or information from passionate owners or others who have had one experience and do not have the diverse knowledge they need to make an educated stand.
If you want advice on behavior you should learn from either a veterinary behaviorist, or a longtime trainer who has years and years of experience dealing with dogs of all shapes and sizes and behaviors.
And, although I do not have veterinary knowledge from going to vet school, I do probably have more health knowledge from working several years in the field, and I also have over 20 years’ experience dealing with the behavior problems that can result from dealing with intact dogs and I will get into my experience with that later in the article.
I am also going to do a lot of the research for you and provide links so that you can make your own decisions.
There are a lot of highly emotional posts regarding this topic, and I don’t want mine to fall into that category. Because sometimes I think emotions override facts and common sense, and when I read a highly charged emotional article or post, I have trouble separating fact from emotion.
I recently had a person go on and on about how we don’t and would NEVER neuter people. But the truth is many, many women end up having problems with their female parts and need complete hysterectomies and oophorectomies. And, many of us take medications to keep our hormones in check and to keep us from having children. And, I have not seen any studies of these women dying prematurely from cancers or suffering from more significant arthritis (although the risk of stroke with the administration of hormones is higher).
I might also add for this person (so I hope he reads this) dating from BC times to 1912 Eunuchs (men who were either castrated and/or their penis was also removed) were common place in some societies. And, studies show they lived an average of 13.5 more years than their counterparts with more testosterone.
And, today a number of men undergo elective surgery to remove their testicles and take hormones to be recognized as females. I also do not see studies where these individuals are dying younger or suffering from broad spectrum health problems.
I suppose doggy birth control is not in the works. However there are more and more vets who are willing to leave female dogs’ ovaries and doing vasectomies on dogs, which only addresses the issue of breeding and doesn’t get into any of the behavioral issues.
I am a nerd, and I love research studies! I could spend days just reading up on dog behavior or health studies. But the truth is, most have very limited control groups.
Many of the studies I found online were done on only one or two very limited groups. One was on only Rottweilers, one was on Golden Retrievers and an updated version was based on Labrador Retrievers.
There is SO MUCH diversity in dogs, and dog breeds. A Golden is not the same as a Chihuahua, each suffers from different genetic and health disorders as well as behavior problems. So to do a study on one and extrapolate that all dogs are equal is a long shot at best.
As humans we are also diverse, race, ethnicity and culture play a part in our health care as well. We can also suffer from conditions and skeletal changes that result in Achondroplasia (dwarfism) and Gigantism (giantism). And, I am pretty sure we can agree that even as humans all of these things play a role in health and behavior.
Dogs and dog breeds are even more diverse, from the tiny 2# Chihuahua to the gigantic over 200# Caucasian Orvcharka, and the fragile framed Italian Greyhound, to the thick frame of the 265# Spanish Mastiff.
It is difficult, then, to take one small portion and relate it to another.
And, I personally find fault in any research project, that projects to make HUGE changes either behaviorally or health wise that only samples a small group.
Yet, I also understand how hard it is to have a research project that will embody the whole canine world.
So Let’s Get Down To It
In 2002 a study was done on Rottweilers (which are 5 times more likely to suffer osteosarcoma also known as bone cancer than other dogs).
The study suggests that neutered dogs are more likely to suffer from bone cancer than their intact counterparts.
A questionnaire was mailed out in 1999 to 1,500 owners of Rottweilers who were picked out from 8 national specialty breed Rottweiler clubs. 5 dogs could be entered per household and 730 were returned and used by this study. To read more click here
I hate to say it but I think that this study probably focuses on a small genetic pool and also focuses on a breed that is even more susceptible to bone cancer.
And before you think I have no experience in this area, you should know I had a male Rottweiler (who stayed intact for many many years because he was a conformation show dog and co-owned by the breeder, before we ignored our contract and neutered him anyway because his hip dysplasia was so severe. And no we never bred him thank goodness) he died at 7 from bone cancer. I also had a spayed female Rottweiler who died at 9 from brain cancer and a neutered Belgian Malinois who died at 8 from bone cancer.
I know how heart wrenching it is to watch a dog suffer from both dysplasia and arthritis AND osteosarcoma and cancer.
You can also find more information here http://www.ufaw.org.uk/OSTEOSARCOMAROTTWEILER.php.
I work with dogs in the competition protection world and many of these highly trained dogs are related. I have 3 dogs and 2 of them have a world renowned dog named “Rudie Pegge” in their genetics and pedigree to check out this amazing dog click here for his you tube video. I venture to say that hundreds of dogs can trace their lineage back to him, which isn’t such a horrible things since he was an amazing dog and a great producer of champions. But, if you took these hundreds of dogs into a study the genetic diversity would not be as broad as you might expect… which I foresee happened with those involved in the 2002 Rottweiler study, since those individuals were also a very specific group focusing on a very specific goal.
In 2013 a study by University of California, Davis took 759 Golden Retrievers from their veterinary teaching hospital of various ages and looked for the incidents and risks of neutering and hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear (ACL or knee tear), lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumor.
Interestingly, males neutered prior to one year were more susceptible to hip dysplasia, while females were more susceptible to ACL tears. You can read more on the study here
I find it incredibly mesmerizing, and yet I wonder if weight and other factors were taken into account? I wonder how many of these males and females were overweight at an early age (since many Golden Retrievers suffer from obesity as well as cancers and arthritis).
I take it with a grain of salt because it only focuses on one breed, and I think veterinary teaching hospitals see dogs with mostly severe and specific problems. The average dog owner goes to his neighborhood vet and does not need to go to a teaching hospital unless there is something significant going on with his pet.
And, when UC Davis tried to run the same research on a group of Labrador Retrievers (which I think we can agree are very close to Golden Retrievers) the incidents of joint disorders and cancers were not nearly as significant as that seen in Golden Retrievers. For more on that click here
We Change Animals When We Spay and Castrate Them, Both in Good and Bad Ways—Dr. Margaret V. Root University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine
I think that is my favorite quote!!
So Let’s Talk About the Good Things Behaviorally
No, neutering your dog isn’t guaranteed that he won’t ever mark or pee in your house, but it certainly will help.
Intact male dogs reach an age when they get sexually mature and their hormones tell them to mark everything, from trees, to grass, to fence to maybe even your sofa or your laundry basket.
Neutering helps to decrease their desire to leave their signature everywhere they go.
I have had both intact and neutered dogs mark in my house, however, it was much easier to deter my neutered males from marking than to try and override the hormones raging in my intact males.
And, although the truth is harsh, people euthanize dogs for peeing and marking in the house, or these dog are rehomed over and over again being beaten and having their noses rubbed in their urine before finally ending up at a shelter.
I think for the average dog owner it is in their best interests to neuter early to stop the desire to urine mark.
I have a 2.5 year old neutered male who still squats to pee and has never marked in my house.
My husband has a 4 year old intact male who has to be crated when we leave or he will mark everything he wants to be his, including furniture and walls. He has learned not to mark while we are home, but he takes every opportunity to leave his scent when we are away.
After all, his hormones and instincts tell him to warn all the other males and females in the area that this is his house.
BTW females can also mark their territory, and some even lift their legs!
Will neutering your dog ensure that he will never have an altercation with another dog? No, but it probably will decrease the chance and the severity.
Intact dogs have the instincts to procreate and other dogs of the same sex lessen their ability to do so effectively. They desire for their genetic code to be passed on, this is how species survive and lends to all we have studied about survival of the fittest.
The instinct for procreation and survival of the fittest is why fights between intact dogs can be so severe and often deadly.
When comparing dogs to wolves (which I usually avoid because our dogs have been so domesticated, but in this instance I think a comparison is necessary because it is based on instinct), wolves are highly territorial and actively defend their territory from other wolves and domestic dogs and their territory can range from 100 square miles to 1,000 square miles (depending on where they live). Their survival depends on keeping and defending their territory.
Even intact dogs that are non-aggressive are often not liked or appreciated by other dogs.
I work for a friend of mine at a doggy day care, and it is obvious to watch even neutered dogs interact with an intact dogs. Often even neutered dogs can be reactive to those who remain intact and care must always be taken when socializing.
Professionals and breeders often have to separate their own packs and not allow interaction because certain dogs would kill each other if given the chance.
But the average dog owner doesn’t want to have dog “shifts” where one dog is in and one is out and they never, ever are alone face to face or even in the same room together. It is too much work.
And, as a professional trainer I worry about the safety of dog parks as more and more average owners opt out of spay and neuter and keep their dogs intact.
Dog parks and social interaction can be dangerous as it is, but add a half dozen intact dogs and I think we will have much more heightened dog aggression and human bites as owners try and break up fights.
With all this talk of “territory” comes the next stage which is running and increasing territory.
Dogs that are intact and have their hormones have a desire to procreate and with that often comes fence jumping, digging out, and running the neighborhood.
I recently heard an acquaintance admit that while she was away and her husband was in charge of their “breeding” dogs, the male broke out of his crate, shoved his way out of the door, jumped two fences and bred a 1 year old dog that was in heat.
As professional breeders they had an “oops” litter.
Think how difficult it is for the average person to deal with an intact dog or dogs that have a desire to breed and procreate.
There are enough dogs that die in shelters every day due to over-population, it makes me sad to think the numbers are going to inevitably increase.
With a decrease in dog to dog aggression, neutering often also decreases basic aggression and owner aggression.
Again, we are battling hormones and instincts to protect and defend territory.
I also think intact dogs are more reactive. In the wild, they would have to “be on their toes” to everything going on in their territory. I believe intact dogs are more aware of everything in their environment and have more protective and aggressive incidents.
Again, that is not to say than a neutered dog will never be protective or aggressive. But I think of neutered dogs as being more blasé and relaxed about the goings on in their environment.
Most people want a dog that will allow friends and family and the mail man to come over without incident and are not apropos to dealing with territorial aggression.
Sure people think they want a “protective” dog, but when it gets down to it, most don’t and can’t deal with a liability.
Most dogs neutered at a young age don’t start humping, although of course some can.
I was recently contacted by someone who had 2 Golden Retrievers, and one of them would grab toys, beds, and probably other things and then hump it to the point of ejaculation. I got the impression that this happens often.
I personally would not want to touch, clean up, launder or have anything to do with something a dog ejaculates on consistently.
I know that sounds like a bad thing, ha ha ha! But most people want a mellow dog.
I live with dogs that could climb walls and swing from ceiling fans. They are a challenge to say the least. I spend an incredible amount of time training, and playing and exercising them just to have semi-normal dogs around the house.
Most people want to come home from work, feed the dog, go for a short walk (maybe) and then snuggle up and watch TV until it is time for bed.
Or they are so busy ferreting children around to different sports practices and games that the dogs suffers long periods of time with no interaction.
If I crated my dogs for terribly long periods their exercise needs would escalate and they would likely chew out of their crates.
It is true that dogs with hormones are more active and desire more exercise.
Neutered dogs tend to mellow out a bit and can be at risk for putting on weight.
But I find that it is easier for most people to manage diet than it is for them to deal with an off the wall dog.
Weigh Your Needs
When it comes to spay and neuter, there are pros and cons just like everything else. Weigh the things you desire most with your lifestyle, experience and expectations for your dog.
Some odds of cancers lessen, some increase.
Until I see more proof of a broad scale range of increased cancers across the board I will recommend spay and neuter, because I think most people don’t want to deal with the behavioral problems that often come with having intact dogs.