After being involved in animals for over twenty years, I recognize that in the United States, we have a huge problem with unneutered pets. The problem isn’t just that they aren’t neutered–it’s that their owners don’t understand the consequences of having an intact dog.
I’m not talking about the pet overpopulation problem. Neutering all male dogs would affect the overpopulation problem, but many other valid reasons exist to neuter.
Most pet owners I’ve talked to about neutering feel that their dog “deserves love” or “should get some” or, if male, unconsciously reach in the general direction of their crotch, thinking about having things cut off. The fact that a product called Neuticles even exist tells us a lot about the human element.
Dogs do not create social contracts by mating in the way humans do. The male has no long-term interest in his puppies, and often isn’t even allowed to meet them. The male may live in a different household, or breeding may happen via artificial insemination.
So why do so many choose to keep them intact, when the dog will be happier after surgery?
No Unwanted Puppies
Well, yay to that one. Unwanted or surprise puppies often end up in less than stellar homes, with poor prenatal care. While this is the most common reason to neuter, it isn’t the most beneficial to your dog. He’s probably not even aware that he’s a Dad, and he certainly doesn’t want much to do with the puppies until they’re big enough to play with. (And sometimes, not even then.)
No Sex Drive
Having had an intact male dog for 8 years, I know a little bit about doggie sex drives. For him, every interaction with another dog was led by “is this a girl, and is she in season?” He was always frustrated when we came across an unspayed female, and was often unable to focus. Being a large dog, I was always on my toes and he was always in some form of trouble for his hormones.
He also liked to mark things. We all know that they do, but when they’ve been around girls, they have even more of an instinct to mark territory and it carries over for a day or two. He got in trouble for marking in the house, marking cars, and trying to mark the cat. (Yes. It happened.) He was always very confused, because his body was telling him one thing and I was telling him something completely different.
Neutering works like an on/off switch for the sex drive. While dogs that have been routinely bred remain in the habit of reacting like an intact male dog, they have less instinct behind the reaction, and thus do not react as strongly. They are easier to dissuade, and are more likely to stop bad behavior with patient training.
Dogs that are not part of a breeding program should be neutered for no other reason than reducing the risk of testicular cancer.
Less Aggression & Anxiety
Male dogs that have not been neutered bite more people yearly than any other class of dog. Dog mating behavior leads to most of these bites. Intact male dogs are more territorial and more aggressive than females or neutered males. Their drive leads them to try to hold territory–meaning that they are more likely to bite guests. They try to expand their territory by escaping and fighting other dogs.
Neutered dogs are also constantly frustrated by barriers humans place in their way: fences, leashes, training. They fight to go out and find girls, and we not only prevent them from going out, but also prevent them from interacting with other dogs in the way they are naturally driven to act. This creates immense frustration, and leads to acting out.
Neutering turns off this drive. They feel no need to go out and expand their territory (though some will continue to do so out of habit; training can resolve this.)
Better Interactions with Other Dogs
Neutered dogs interact with other dogs on a social level rather than a sexual level. This leads to fewer dog fights, less aggression and calmer play. They do not feel as strong of a need to be dominant, and tolerate puppies and rough play better. They do not feel the need to one-up the other dogs, and have no one to impress.
My Experience with Neutering
As I mentioned before, I neutered my male Labrador when he was about 8 years old. Most breeders recommend neutering after your dog has achieved it’s adult frame, usually 12 to 18 months. My boy, Rusty, had a gorgeous personality his entire life.
I did notice, within about 30 days, that his interactions with other dogs were calmer. He was less desperate to check out other dogs at the pet store, and stopped trying to drag me everywhere sniffing everything. My boy was finally content to go for a walk instead of stopping every three steps because another dog once peed there.
Rusty was never a good guard dog, but he was less alert to common, every day happenings. He no longer pitched a fit every time the squirrels or geese were outside the window, because he no longer cared about everything being his personal territory.
Rusty was still my smart, sweet, and funny boy–but all of the little quirks that made situations stressful disappeared. The cat still hated him, and was still very driven to play fetch and learn. He just had less stress going on behind the scenes.
Your Neutering Experiences
Have you had your dog neutered, or do you feel that he should stay intact? Tell me about your experiences!