The Great Spay/Neuter Debate: From a Trainer's Perspective

 |  Oct 18th 2011  |   1 Contribution


When Janine Kahn, my fantabulous editor here at Dogster, invited me on as a guest blogger this month for the Dog Blog, she requested specifically that I not shy away from topics that may be considered contentious and likely to provoke thoughtful debate.

I tried to do Janine proud — we've discussed appropriate dog park behavior and the puppy mill industry these last couple of Tuesdays. Today, Ive selected another subject that is likely to create a stir: spay and neuter.

Spay/neuter is generally recommended universally as a procedure with no or negligible side effects. It is the only ethical decision in terms of social consciousness related to pet overpopulation, and provides health and behavioral benefits.

Do not take the decision to spay/neuter lightly. At what age should you spay/neuter your pet? What management protocols should be in place should you decide to keep your dog intact responsibly — how will you adjust your environment to ensure youre not contributing to the overpopulation problem?

Are intact dogs more aggressive," and are neutered dogs more likely to be obese? These are just a few of the questions pet owners would do well to consider.

The truth is, its not an easy decision. There are behavioral and physical benefits and risks, some of which are mitigated or altered based on the age of the dog at the time of neuter. While rescue and shelter organizations are understandably great advocates for early spay/neuter programs (often as young as 8 weeks!), little information is given to adopters about potential health risks associated with the procedure.

Im not trying to dissuade anyone from neutering or spaying their dogs. I also understand the early need for spay/neuter in dogs who are adopted from shelters or rescues: Much as I cannot guarantee my clients will follow through with training, you cannot guarantee your adopters will take advantage of that spay/neuter voucher after the dog is taken home.

I am saying that I am a big advocate for educated consumers. When you are making a decision with potentially serious consequences, it is best to thoroughly research the pros and cons so you can make the best possible choice.

If you are not willing to securely fence your yard, even if that includes a potential cost of thousands of dollars; keep your dogs on leash at all times; and even implement a crate and rotate system in your home if necessary, talk to your vet about scheduling a neuter procedure at a time that is physically and behaviorally optimal for your dog.

I strongly believe that sterilization decisions should be highly individualized — related to the dogs breed, physical development, the owners lifestyle, training and management abilities or options, the presence of other dogs and/or other pets, genetic health histories of both parents (when available), your home environment (chain-link fence in an area where there are many intact strays, for example?), etc. Conventional wisdom says to spay or neuter your dog at 6 months. But there may be real reasons to spay or neuter earlier or later, and you should carefully consider them, they must be considered carefully; hopefully as a collaborative decision among a knowledgeable veterinarian, behavior specialist, and committed pet owner.

Its not much of a secret that I like to consider holistic health treatment for dog care issues. One of my favorite sources of information is the Healthy Pets section of Dr. Mercolas website. The section is run by the fabulous Dr. Karen Becker, an integrated wellness veterinarian, and has a lot of compelling (albeit controversial) content. You can follow her on Facebook.

Check out her recent entry on the Mercola site, an unbiased examination of the data currently available on the physical and behavioral risks associated with spaying or neutering at any stage of a dogs life.

What are your thoughts? Are your animals intact? Neutered or spayed? If spayed or neutered, at what age were they sterilized? Have you noted any health or behavioral changes in your dog(s) related to your decision? What information did your vet give you about the benefits/risks associated with your decision? Please give your feedback in the comments!

About the Author: Casey Lomonaco graduated with distinction from the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior, and is a member of the following professional organizations: APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), CGC evaluator AKC (American Kennel Club), TDF (Truly Dog Friendly), and the No-Shock Collar Coalition.

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