One of the questions I am regularly asked by new puppy owners is “how old should my dog be when I neuter him / her”.
A very simple question without a simple answer
It is one of those “hot-button” topics for many people that can evoke equally passionate arguments from pro and anti-neuter advocates.
I always try to take a pragmatic view in dog training so that seems like a reasonable way to approach the sometimes emotive question of neutering.
These are some of the things you may wish to consider:
- The physical health of your dog
- The behavioural well-being of your dog
- The needs of the owner
- The needs of society
The physical health of your dog
What does your vet say?
A visit to your vet should answer this question, right? Well, no. You are likely to get a range of opinions from your vet. In my experience some will say do it as soon as possible, some say wait until about six months (or after the first season for a bitch), some will say only do it if required for veterinary reasons. No consensus at all!
A common reason for neutering given by some vets is the reduced risk of cancers. In bitches this could be mammary tumours and male dogs testicular or prostate cancer. Ask your vet to talk you through this.
What does the research say?
Research into the consequences of neutering should inform your decision.
This research however by its nature is difficult the conduct. The ideal, but impractical, method would be to follow a group of neutered and unneutered dogs of both sexes and multiple breeds over their lifetime to determine the consequences of neutering. An alternative method has been to retrospectively analyse data collected to look at significant effects. Good research requires good data with reasonable sample sizes. In the US research with Golden Retrievers (a very popular breed) has given some insight. However it would be wrong to assume that the results of studies on one breed can be generalised to all.
The behavioural well-being of your dog
Asking your trainer or behaviourist should give you an answer then? Again, there is little consensus between different trainers or behaviourists.
It is widely believed by owners that neutering will “calm down” a dog. This is however a major simplification.
Some male dogs will have poor recall because they have an overriding drive to seek out a mate.
Some male dogs will get themselves into trouble with other dogs by attempting to mount.
Does your male dog “have” to be kept on lead because of his hormone driven behaviours which restricts his general quality of life?
Neutering, however is not a “silver bullet” to behavioural problems for all dogs.
The needs of the owner
Do you have more than one dog in your home? How will you prevent unwanted mating.
Do you have good general control of your dog?
Can you cope with a bitch in season twice a year for three weeks at a time?
Do you plan to show your dog and therefore are required to keep him / her entire?
Do you plan to breed from your dog? Is he / she a perfect example of the breed with no health or behaviour problems? Have you considered all the implications of breeding?
The needs of society
In the UK there are thousands of unwanted dogs in rescue. Many of these got there through sellers wanting to make a “quick buck” by selling puppies to owners who did not research dog ownership sufficiently. Deliberate or accidental breeding of your dog just adds to this problem.
Is your dog a sex pest? Does he try to hump everything in sight making life stressful for other dogs and owners?
What do other owners do?
I asked the question “At what age (if at all) would you neuter your dog” on a Facebook Group that advocates positive dog training methods. The group is used by trainers and dog owners interested in training. This is not a scientific study but just a snap-shot of opinion!
I received 638 responses within 24 hours. The four main responses were are as follows:
- Between 6-12 months: 25%
- Between 12-24 months: 44%
- After 24 months: 12%
- Never: 19%
Some people have very strong views pro or anti-neutering. For those people who do neuter there has been a general shift in opinion from neutering at six months to waiting until at least 12 months.
Do your own research since everyone’s circumstances will be different!
Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.
Follow Rainbow Dogs on Facebook.