Much has changed in the Veterinary world in regards to spaying and neutering in recent years. When I first got a dog about 15 years ago, every Vet that I talked to was 100% firm on spaying and neutering at 6 months of age. More research has been done in this area and the hearts and minds of some Vets have come to change.
I’m not a Veterinarian, so please don’t take anything in this blog as medical advice. This blog post is only to give my opinions, and you should know that I never give medical opinions because I’m not a trained Vet. I’m a dog trainer who specializes in reactive and aggressive dogs. Please seek professional guidance from a Vet before making any medical decisions for your dog/dogs. You should also know that I deeply respect Vets and have many as clients and friends.
Regarding when to spay and neuter your dog, the data and medical opinions are about as numerous as the number of Vets on this planet. It seems as though they don’t go by any standard. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) A decade ago there were two standards that I noticed. The less progressive types would suggest 6 months for both males and females. The more progressive granola-eating types opted for 12 months for males and after the first heat cycles of the females.
These days, it’s all over the map.
I’ll tell you that if it were my dogs, I would not spay or neuter before 3-4 years of age, allowing the dog to mature more fully.
Dr. Karen Becker is a world-renowned Vet from the USA and she’s been known for quotes like this. “While spaying or neutering these dogs decreases or prevents reproductive organ disease, it increases the risk for other diseases, including obesity, musculoskeletal disorders and several types of canine cancer”.
Much of the research mentioned below has been done on large/giant breeds and from what I could find, little has been done on smaller breeds.
Labrador and Golden Retrievers neutered before 6 months of age develop one or more joint disorders at two to five times the rate of intact dogs.
In a study of several hundred Golden Retrievers, none of the intact dogs had CCL disease; however, 5 percent of neutered males and 7.7 percent of spayed females who were desexed before they were a year old developed CCL injuries.
Male Golden Retrievers neutered at under 1 year developed hip dysplasia at double the rate of intact males, and the disease also appeared earlier in the desexed dogs.
In a study of Rottweilers, both males and females who were desexed before they were a year old had a 1-in-4 lifetime risk for bone cancer, and in general, spayed or neutered dogs were significantly more likely to develop the disease than intact Rotties.
If spaying or neutering can actually increase the likelihood of certain cancers and other disorders, should you do it, and if so when? Well, that’s up to you, there is no right or wrong answer. If you don’t decide to spay or neuter, you need to have a really good handle on your dog to ensure that they are going to create unwanted puppies.
Personally, I’m very impressed with Dr. Becker for writing this blog because I know that she got a lot of crap for it, including death threats from dog rescue people who were toxic.
More on this topic can be found here:
It’s commonly accepted that neutering male dogs will calm them down and reduce sexual behaviors like excess humping and I would agree with these changes in most cases. But is that enough reason to spay or neuter at a young age when training can fix both of those issues?
The link between spay/neuter and dog aggression is even more varied.
I’ve looked at several studies that seem to come to no direct answer on the topic because there are so many variables to try and map, and others that make bold claims.
Rather than try and play Mr Science, I’ll give you my thoughts on the link or lack of link because I keep detailed records on this topic.
The majority of dogs that I work with are reactive or aggressive. I use the term reactive to suggest the dog in question will bark, growl or lunge at humans or dogs or animals or a combination of those. Aggression often includes the above mentioned but the intention of the dog in question is to hurt the other being. These dogs send people to the emergency room for stitches, and dogs to the Vet to mend puncture wounds.
–83.6 percent of the dogs that I work with are referred to as reactive or aggressive by their owners
–55% are male and 45% female
–81% are spayed or neutered
–19% are intact
These numbers are not definitive proof that spaying or neutering promotes dog aggression.
One number that I don’t track, but will start to track as of this week is when did the dog start to show these reactive/aggressive behaviors specific to when they were spayed and neutered.
From talking to clients in the past, this seems to be a mixed bag. I would say that roughly 70% started to see these behaviors within 2 months of the spay or neuter. Another roughly 30% saw the behaviors before the procedure and hoped that it would help the aggression.
I personally have not seen a massive reduction in dog aggression after a spay or neuter, but then again, the owners of those dogs would be highly unlikely to call me in the first place if spaying or neutering seemed to solve the issues.
If I had to make a suggestion, I would suggest that spay and neuter is actually more likely to make dogs aggressive than making them less aggressive, especially with fearful dogs. For a fearful dog, waking up in a Vet office in a little crate with humans all around you can do a lot to build distrust in people and I see this all of the time with clients’ dogs. Fearful dogs should have their confidence built by training before these procedures. Again, my opinions, not medical advice.
So what do the studies say about spaying or neutering actually reducing dog aggression? In one study, castration led to reduced aggression toward other dogs in the house in 1/3 of cases, towards people in the family in 30% of cases, towards unfamiliar dogs in 20% of cases and toward unfamiliar people in 10% of cases. In other studies, it’s hard to find changes.
As far as I can tell having talked to thousands of dog owners, spaying or neutering reactive or aggressive dogs does very little if anything to decrease these issues, but many Vets suggest spaying or neutering aggressive dogs because at the very least it will prevent the reproduction and passing on of any genetic traits for aggression.
I’m cool with that, but assuming an aggressive dog will stop being aggressive after these procedures are almost unheard of. I polled 127 dog trainers on this topic and of these 127 dog trainers three of them had seen cases in which aggressive dogs were significantly less aggressive after a spay or neuter.
My dog BB is 12.5 years old and was neutered last week. I’ve seen no change in his behavior. He’s helped me rehabilitate over a 1000 aggressive dogs in his career and he’s the best dog on the planet. I left him intact for all of those years for many reasons. Mainly because aggressive female dogs are much more likely to want to work on their social skills with an intact male who’s still got some pep in his step, they can smell it, the love juice. To that point, male dogs like to target him because of his sexual eligibility, and that’s great for training because some of those dogs will only target puppies and intact males.
He was recently neutered because his prostate had become enlarged and was causing some medical complications.
All this to say that spaying or neutering will not ensure that your aggressive dog will be rehabilitated. If you believe that, you are sadly mistaken. Intact male and female dogs can also be out of control or amazing.
Spayed/Neutered dogs can also be out of control or amazing.
Proper dog training seems to make the biggest difference. Regardless of spayed/neutered or not, proper dog training can completely change the way your dog sees the world.