A few years ago, after coming to terms with the passing of my great dog Lou, I decided to look around for a puppy.  Pity the dog who follows a legend, yes?  But it was time; the house just wasn’t they same. 

I looked around for a mixed breed puppy; a shepherd mix, maybe, something big but not too big.  I checked the local Northwest shelters, and used online sites in an effort to find the right new friend.  What I found was interesting, and surprising. 

Contrary to what I had thought, there was no oversupply of needy pups, at least not in the Northwest.  In
fact, unlike the eternal glut of kittens, the demand for healthy pups
far exceeded the supply; over and over, before I could even get to a
shelter, the pup in question would be scooped up by some happy new
owner.  It almost seemed as if buying a purebred pup would become a necessity if I were to succeed.

There was of course an oversupply of adult dogs up for adoption, sweet-faced galoots just waiting, waiting hard, hoping.  They don’t get taken home as readily as do the cute little empty slates, for obvious reasons.  Though it broke my heart to pass them by, I had rescued more than my share, and really wanted to bring home a fresh new face.  So I kept looking. 

During my search, I discovered something interesting.  It
is nearly impossible today to adopt a shelter puppy without it first
being neutered- castration for the male, spay for the female.  As
virtually all of these pups get adopted by the age of ten weeks, it
means that neutering, or "gonadectomy," would be performed on all of them at around eight or nine weeks of age.  The main given reason is simple- to prevent an explosion of unwanted dogs, and the resulting tragedy of mass euthanization.

Okay.  A
noble cause, I thought, putting aside the fact that every pup listed in
my area got scooped up fast as nuggets of gold lying in the Sacramento
River.  But I digress. 

As I
searched far and wide for that perfect shelter pup, it became apparent
to me that a tradition of early spay/castration had firmly taken hold,
not only in my region, but all over the country.  Thousands
of eight week-old pups were being routinely neutered, apparently
without objection from well-meaning potential owners, or from the
dog-loving public.   

Honestly, I hadn’t given it much thought up to that point.  I’d always supported the drive to prevent unwanted births, thereby reducing unnecessary euthanization.  But
as I looked for my own new friend, I began to ask myself; is neutering
at this early stage really the cure-all we build it up to be? 

Let’s take a look at the claimed benefits of early neutering, or "pre-pubertal gonadectomy."  Besides
preventing these dogs from breeding, removal of a puppy’s gonads
reduces the incidence of some cancers, particularly testicular, uterine,
mammary, and prostate (though the prostate claim is currently in
dispute).  Neutering also eliminates pyometra, or uterine infections, and may reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections.  Roaming
associated with the drive of intact males and females to mate is also
reduced, and mental focus (vis-à-vis the distraction of amour)
increased.  Aggression is arguably reduced as well.  All
true, though as a trainer of twenty years, I can tell you that many
dogs, particularly scenthounds, arctic breeds, shepherds and those with
acute noses will roam no matter what you do to them.  And plenty of neutered dogs fight like tigers.

We rarely get to hear about the well-researched and scientifically documented drawbacks of puppy neutering.  They include:

·         A higher incidence of obesity

·         Measurably reduced bone mass and density

·         A significant increase in vascular tumors and bone cancers

·         An increase in hypothyroidism, especially in larger breeds such as golden retrievers

·         A delay in the closure of growth plates, resulting in taller, thinner dogs.  Tibia-to-femur length ratios are often changed, resulting in ligament stress that can lead to possible rupture.

·         Thinner chests, and smaller heads

·         A higher incidence of incontinence in females

·         A higher incidence of adverse reaction to vaccines

·         An increase in the occurrence of hip dysplasia

·         A marked increase in canine geriatric dementia

These are observed and proven phenomena, documented by veterinary researchers (here is a taste: http://www.caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html ).  My question is- why hasn’t the pro-puppy neutering crowd mentioned any of these profound drawbacks?

But there is more.  Research
also indicates adverse behavioral issues associated with early neuter,
including increased rates of noise phobias, fear aggression, and reduced
intelligence.  As a behaviorist for two decades, I can
tell you that fear aggression, particularly the on-leash, dog-on-dog
variety, has skyrocketed in the last ten years or so; whether caused by
the rampant humanization of dogs by well-meaning but poorly-informed
"fur kid" owners, I don’t know; perhaps that one is anecdotal at best.  But
I can tell you that an abiding professional observation of mine, after
working with thousands of dogs, is that those undergoing early neutering
often become either bubble-brained, slow-learning goofballs, or
nervous, insecure handfuls.   

Reproductive hormones do much more than simply allow a mammal to develop its reproductive system, and to breed.  In
fact, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone and other sex hormones
affect many functions of the body, including metabolism, growth, mood,
immune system regulation, heart development and regulation, and even
brain and nervous system development and regulation.  During early stages of development, mammals rely on the presence of these hormones for optimal growth.  If this is the case, then, can anyone tell me with a straight face that puppy neutering is beneficial? 

I have always frowned upon those who insist on treating dogs like humans.  But if you are in that camp, fine; let’s accept that construct.  If your dogs are like children to you, then why on earth would you consider neutering them at eight weeks of age?  Would
any human parent seriously consider removing his or her infant’s
testicles, or ovaries and uterus, even if it meant better health and
behavior?  An abhorrent, ghoulish thought, yes?  But why?  Wouldn’t those children be more tractable, more healthy, more focused?  And wouldn’t it relieve the human overpopulation problem? 

And what of the plethora of health problems elderly citizens suffer because of menopause and andropause?  Dementia, mood swings, osteoporosis, weight gain, increased allergic response, lethargy, and decreased muscle strength?  All because the body’s natural hormonal balance is being distorted.  Are other mammals not subject to these changes?

My interest lies firmly in the production of physically and psychologically sound dogs.  I
cannot tell you how many pets I’ve trained who suffered from either
physical or psychological issues, completely unrelated to owner
competence.  What if the complete removal of reproductive hormones at eight weeks of age contributes to this? 

The old
claim that the owner is always responsible for all of a dog’s bad
behaviors is poppycock, especially today, when kind-hearted people are
adopting problematic shelter or puppy mill dogs.  Sure, most owners could be better trainers.  But on the whole, people do their best.  Often
an owner gets saddled with a hard dog- one with either tough medical or
behavioral issues, poor lineage, or simply a breed or personality at
odds with "normal" dog ownership.  Aside from other
determining factors, every dog comes with a unique personality and
history; sometimes these can overwhelm the average owner. 

But what I
am addressing here today is the effects of puppy neutering on long term
behavior and health, which I believe are significant.  Why
does the pet rights movement on one hand strive for a more "humane" and
ethical approach for dogs and cats, and yet at the same time support a
surgical procedure that so violates an animal’s right to develop

argument can be given that puppies must be spayed or castrated before
adoption, because either the new owners cannot be trusted to have the
procedure done at the appropriate time, or because they will actively
choose to breed their dogs, contributing to the overpopulation problem.  My
opinion is that, if people can’t be trusted to neuter at the
appropriate time, then they are not responsible enough to be pet owners
in the first place. 

So, how can we allow
puppies to develop properly, vis-à-vis the natural actions of
reproductive hormones, while at the same time preventing unwanted
breeding?  How about, instead of vets performing thousands
of gonadectomies on eight or ten week-old puppies, they instead simply
perform vasectomies or tubal ligations?  The glib response is often that these procedures are so rarely done, that most vets don’t yet have the skill set.  Well; so what?  Learn!  I’ve
spoken to vets about it, and confidentially they say almost to a person
that it would be no harder to do, and, on some level even less
involved.  Certainly tying a pup’s tubes is less traumatic than performing an ovario-hysterectomy, yes?  And if funding for wholesale neutering exists, why not vasectomies or tubal ligations? 

Once the dog has
developed to its full physical and psychological potential, a vet can go
in at the owner’s request to perform a neuter.  This might
be a smart decision, particularly if said dog has developed behavioral
problems related to the effects of sex hormones (roaming, aggression,
marking, etc.).  But if the owner decides not to, the dog is still unable to breed.  Is this not a viable compromise?  And if for some reason the owner does decide to breed the dog, the animal still has sperm and/or eggs available.

There is one other issue.  Most of these early puppy neuters are performed on mixed breed dogs.  Pure bred pups often escape this mandatory sterilization, at least until six or eight months of age.  And if they are of good breeding stock, then they never get neutered.  My
opinion is that this is blatantly prejudicial toward mixed breed dogs,
who are on the whole statistically healthier, and at least as smart.  Why should this wholesale prohibition on the breeding of mutts exist?  I
can tell you that some of the smartest dogs I have ever known were
mutts, including the smartest, bravest and most kindhearted of them all,
my old super dog Lou, star of Last Dog On The Hill.  I had him neutered at the age of about three; in retrospect, I regret that decision every day of my life.  If
any dog deserved to pass his genes and spirit on, it was Lou, and not
some inbred nightmare who’s sole claim to fame is its physical closeness
to some arbitrary confirmation.  Lou could outrun, out-think, out-fight, and out-love any dog I have ever known.  But right now, thousands of potential Lou puppies are being taken out of the gene pool forever.  One must ask; is the goal here total extinction of the mixed-breed dog?