Does De-Sexing A Dog help Behaviour?
Rowan, Wendy and I have done podcasts on this fascinating subject. Neutering seems to be the go-to procedure for unwanted male behaviour in dogs. Dogs are simply just dogs and display many behaviours that us, as humans don’t really like or are dangerous or inconvenient or we are embarrassed about.
Many of us are advised to neuter dogs before they get the wonder lust and to stop male behaviour becoming a problem behaviour. Taking the maleness out of a male does have its consequences and not as beneficial as we’ve been lead to believe over the years.
Early neutering doesn’t necessarily stop male behaviours
I had my first dog neutered at 6 months old as advised, did it stop him wondering … no, he was a complete escapologist. Dogs wander off for many reasons, not just hormones. Was my dog aggressive, no but he was very sensitive to noise post-castration and now having worked with so many dogs over the years and finding scientific studies, I now know why much of it occurred. His behaviour was not solely due to castration, it was about how I was with him, how I trained him, where I trained him and my lack of understanding of dogs as thinking animals who expressed themselves mostly by what they do. In actual fact I didn’t even think about why he did what he did, (apparently he was naughty!) I was taught, if he jumps, ask him to sit, if he looks away, get him to look at you.
He was being a dog and these behaviours were expressing his feelings as a dog and I was ignoring them. He was talking and I was being an arrogant control freak. I trained my dog to stop being a dog and expressing himself like a dog! No wonder he kept running off. In the words of Mel Gibson in Braveheart “Freeeedom” … Anyway I digress …
Back to neutering … there are some great books and research papers available for us to draw from. Sadly though many just go with what they have always done or always heard and it is not necessarily right.
Males have different behaviours to that of most females* when it comes to marking, humping and ranging from home (the great technical term here!!) Yes, males do roam to find a female in season when the waft comes their way, its nature … gathering scent is all dependant on wind direction, humidity, breed of dog and what they are trained to scent for, and that’s a whole new blog. Males will mark their territory but so will females, males will hump, but so will females, it is more often that no an anxiety issue.
The most male behaviour we see is not only testosterone driven.
They are driven by the environment, where they are, who they are with and what’s happening at that time.
*There are females who display male characteristics (marking and male-like aggression) which studies show, stem from the placement of a female pup within the womb between two males. So prior to birth the scene has been set. (James O’Heare … Aggressive Behaviour In Dogs)
In my 30 yrs of working with dogs I came to the conclusion that taking drastic action of surgery to try correcting an issue was really very unhelpful; both physically (backed by Study by Laura Sanborn study 2007) and mentally. I was thrilled to find a study in 2010 to confirm the negative effects on behaviour in neutering a male at any stage of life, and a female at 12 months or younger by Farhoody and Zinc.
Hunter College in the USA released this study by Farhoody and Zinc.
They used over 10,000 dogs in four age groups. The Canine Behavioural and Research Questionnaire created by Hsu and Serpell in 2003 used to gather information on seven behavioural issues. Using both intact female and male dogs as well as spayed and neutered. They found that the behaviour of neutered males was very different from that of intact males and contradict common advice and views. They found that not only were neutered males more fearful, excitable and less trainable but also more aggressive.
This study strongly supports the need to re-evaluate recommendations when dealing with behavioural issues in dogs. Studies show that health wise it is detrimental to desex dogs already.
In Sweden, it is against the law to de sex any dog unless on medical grounds. Way ahead than the UK and so on.
This has also got me into thinking about so many dogs being neutered to stop the huge amount of dogs producing puppies, but there does need to be a study done as to how many dogs going into rescue are already neutered, as the main reason I can see from my experience in the UK, that dogs end up in rescue, more often than not is due to behavioural issues. If anyone can point me in the direction if there is a study that exists already I’d be fascinated.
Please do not worry if your dog or bitch has been desexed already.
We can still modify undesirable behaviour or at least manage it far better, so you can live a more relaxed life with your furry friend. It may just take a little longer. You can connect with your dog and him to you, if you embrace his language and take the right steps to help him really understand you and you him. Be his supportive guide and help him make great decisions rather than the ones that get him and you into trouble.
Not smelling like a bloke will make him feel more vulnerable and he needs you more to help him relax in our confusing world of close proximity to our neighbours (human and animal alike), gadgets and packed schedules.
Is your dog running high testosterone ?
Now, having said all that there are most definitely adult dogs out there who run high testosterone and are really big male personalities and have a huge drive for procreating. In these instances to make sure that is the case ( sadly no tests for testosterone levels available) and that castration does not have a profound negative effect on behaviour, then you can ask your vet for a chemical castration on your dog. It is always also advisable to wait until they are fully mature in body and mind before castration occurs or you’ll end up with a dog who suffers from medical conditions related to early desexing.
Does spaying a female change behaviour?
As the study says with a female, spaying after 12 months doesn’t seem to have any behavioural consequences. So when fully mature and has had the first season then it’s safer to say, go ahead if that’s what you feel would suit your lifestyle better. Again this does come with drawbacks as any woman knows who are menopausal, or any bloke who has a menopausal partner!! I have a 4 yr old female who was spayed at 6 months before I got her. She has suddenly presented with incontinence and am about to start her on a hormone replacement that apparently does the trick. I’ll keep you posted as to the progress and if I see any behavioural changes also. My vet says he’s never seen incontinence in an un-spayed young bitch, but many times in spayed.
Here a great article for more info to help you make an educated decision on whether to or not to desex.
Light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak
So whatever you have, spayed/neutered or un-spayed / un-neutered. There are ways round behavioural issues, if not a complete fix, then blooming good management so that you can be confident in what you do and how you approach and support your dogs’ learning skills and the ability to trust you.
With health, then you are doing the right thing now … a blooming great diet, throwing a curve ball at those potential medical issues.neutering, spaying