To Neuter or Not Neuter? That Is the Question.

With a growing body of research urging dog owners to wait or avoid spaying or neutering their pets, the population of young “intact” dogs in our area has skyrocketed.  And while the risk of some joint disorders, cancers and urinary incontinence seems to decline for some breeds when spaying or neutering is delayed or avoided, the subsequent difficulty in socializing them with their conspecifics cannot be ignored.  

At Dingo’s Dogsitting, all dogs must be spayed or neutered by one year of age in order to attend daycare.  But the truth is, most dogs who are not neutered will need to take a hiatus from daycare as soon as they near adolescence – or around six months of age – due to a number of maladaptive behaviors that we see manifest in our pack environment when intact and neutered males co-mingle.  

A common fallacy among many dog owners is that in-tact males are more aggressive in a pack environment.  That is often not the case.  On the contrary, when you have one intact male in a pack of dogs that are predominantly neutered, the intact male is more likely to be bullied, harassed, or attacked.  Therefore, socializing an in-tact male can become a liability for the dog and its owner.

Adding to this liability is the fact that intact males are usually incredibly driven to mount other dogs and many refuse to heed social cues or “corrections” when their packmates tire of this behavior.  Dogs who mount other dogs obsessively and fail to acknowledge social cues from their conspecifics need to be redirected by their human handlers.  Unfortunately, many of these dogs become so fixated on mounting that we are unable to redirect them adequately or consistently.  Because a scuffle can ensue when dogs ignore each other’s corrections (imagine being harassed at a bar by an overly eager suitor who refuses to leave you alone despite your admonishments), as a daycare we often have to excuse these dogs for safety reasons. 

Aggression: while it is true that intact males are more likely to be bullied in a group environment composed of mostly neutered males, in-tact adolescents, due to a surge in hormones, and a developmentally appropriate desire to push boundaries, may also exhibit aggressive behaviors.   That said, both intact and spayed/neutered adolescents are more likely than any other age group to be excused from daycare due to a confluence of factors, but most notably their reactivity.  That said, spayed and neutered adolescents – while challenging – typically present with fewer sociability issues overall, at least from what I have seen at my own daycare over the past ten plus years.

Of course we all want our beloved dogs to live long and healthy lives.  If you are able to socialize your dog and provide for his/her energy expenditure requirements whilst delaying neutering, then you have likely hit the proverbial jackpot.  However, because sociability is a pivotal component in overall health, most people will need to carefully consider the risk vs. rewards when it comes to delaying or avoiding spaying or neutering.  As time passes and we have more data at our disposal, best practices tend to change – we see this in human healthcare as well as veterinary medicine.  Because of this, there is often no “right” or “wrong” answer; but only what is “right” or “wrong” right now and for you personally!

Are you the owner of a new puppy or an adolescent dog and have you chosen to delay or refrain from spaying or neutering your new family member?  If so, why?  And how has the decision affected you and your dog?  Leave us a comment!  We would love to hear from you!

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