To Neuter Or Not To Neuter: That Is The Question

cute neutered dogThe question of whether or not to have your dog neutered or spayed largely has to do with creating the desired temperament in your dog. This is, ultimately, why so many people agonize over the decision of what breed or hybrid to bring into their home, as the predisposition of a particular breed towards aggression, playfulness, nervousness, and other behavior has a lot to do with determining whether or not that dog is a good fit for you, your lifestyle, and your family.

Consequently, the next big decision is whether or not to have your dog spayed or neutered.

What is Neutering?

Neutering, as it is known, is a surgical procedure undertaken to remove the sexual reproductive organs of your dog – in the case of males, their testicles; and in the case of females, their ovaries. Generally speaking this is called castration in males and spaying in females. This is generally not something done early in the dog’s life, as the sex hormones released in the dog’s life help them to grow to be strong, healthy, and happy.

However, as a dog ages, their behavior will begin to change as they look towards reproducing, as all living organisms must inevitably seek to do. This may mean marking territory with urine or re-enacting coitus with a chair leg, but in the end, it generally means a very big inconvenience to the owner, especially as your dog – now in heat and wishing to breed – will seek out other dogs to mate with.

If you own a female dog, this is especially problematic, as she may very well come back pregnant and with a litter for you to help birth, at which point you are faced with yet another decision: do you keep the litter, or try to sell or give them all away? Soon after, the cycle will repeat itself…

Health vs. Training

As with any major surgical procedure, though, there are concerns about the health impact of neutering. There are, of course, some health benefits to having a dog neutered, including eliminating the chance of infections such as pyometra while also decreasing the risk of certain kinds of cancer.

On the other hand, there is little evidence that the impact on a dog’s health is, over the long term, particularly positive. Indeed, the number of health problems associated with neutering may well exceed the benefits when it comes to male dogs. With female dogs, on the other hand, the situation is slightly more complicated, as it would seem that on balance more health benefits are gained for the dog through spaying.

In terms of a dog’s behavior, the primary effect is to change – and in effect, reduce – the impact that a dog’s sex hormones has on their behavior. Before you go rushing out to have your dog neutered for this reason, consider that these behaviors are not all purely hormonal; they are also learned behaviors and conditioned responses, and will not necessarily go away just because your dog has been neutered.

Whether or not you choose to have your dog neutered, their behavior is ultimately up to you and your ability to adequately train your dog. With or without their sex organs, a dog can only be a “good dog” – obedient, trustworthy, attentive, and friendly – when they have been well-trained using positive reinforcement, repetition, and clarity. With this in mind, choose carefully at the vet’s!

+Neil Kilgore is a dog owner, dog lover and the Jack (Russell) of all trades at Greenfield Puppies in Lancaster Pa. He regularly blogs about puppies, breeders and dog care advice on the Greenfield Puppies website.