Spay and Neuter and Behavior Problems

While volunteering I got a call from someone who has a 9 month old German shepherd puppy.    She told me that her she didn’t know if we could neuter her puppy, because of his level of aggression.  The owner is in tears. 

She just doesn’t know what to do with her puppy.  I asked her to explain what’s going on and she told me that he is jumping on the counters, pulling on the leash, barking at everyone and everything.   She said he growls at her and other family members, barks and spins when people come over and that she is worried if she doesn’t do something he’ll get worse.   She said she is at her wits end and talked to her vet in depth.  She said after speaking to him, she has decided her only option is to get him neutered. 

I asked her if she has done any training with him, she said that she hadn’t, but that she had bought a easy walk harness and a prong collar, but neither was working.  I asked her to tell me about the exercise this puppy was getting.  She told me that she has an average sized dog run and takes him on 2-3 walks a week at about a half mile to a mile.  I asked her what she was feeding and how she was feeding.  She told me he eats out of a bowl like every other dog.

Here we have a case of a big, strong, adolescent dog that was bred to work all day. He isn’t having his basic needs being met and not being given any structure or guidance in how he should behavior…. and the solution… surgery!

That is asinine!

Doing a surgical procedure without really diving into the research of the effects on behavior is also common practice here in the states.  Veterinarians may advise owners like her with dogs that presents with aggressive, unruly or other behaviors problems to do spay and neuter.

What does research and studies actually say about this?

Despite the historic propensity for veterinarians to recommend altering dogs to treat problem behaviors, the effect of spay and neuter has been assessed in only a few studies.

We have heard it time and time again…. Responsible owners spay and neuter.    Rescue workers shame the person walking through the petstore buying dog food with their calm relaxed bull mastiff walking at their side, breeders make people sign contracts and legislation has been passed.  

Maybe the neighbor said it is the responsible thing to do, but do you really know what the most recent studies are saying?

In 2010 a study was conducted with 10,839 dogs, behavioral characteristics of intact male and female dogs were compared with those of four groups of neutered dogs.  The findings of this well put together study showed, that the behavior of neutered dogs was significantly different from that of intact dogs in ways that contradict the prevailing and historic view of spay and neuter being a solution to behavioral issues.

Among the findings in this study, neutered dogs were MORE aggressive, fearful, excitable, and less trainable than intact dogs.

They also tested spatial learning, memory and reversal learning tasks using a maze.  The results showed that 81% of intact females successfully completed the whole procedure.  Only 56% of spayed females where able to complete the same maze.

Could this vet’s recommendation of altering her 9 month old puppy make the behavior worse instead of better?   Is it possible that the investment of spending $20 on a prong collar, $30 on an easy walk harness and $300-$500 on spay and neuter would have been better spent on proactive training classes and now, behavior modification?

I would say so, while this is a topic that doesn’t have enough study and has plenty of debate I have to say, there is enough research to show that in terms of aggression and excitability altering your pet will not make a difference and may even hurt aggressive behavior.

We know that the number one reason animals are surrendered to shelters and rescues are behavior.  We know the number one cause of euthanasia on dogs under 3 in the United States is BEHAVIOR and NOT infectious disease.

When she neuters this dog and his behavior doesn’t change will he end up another shelter statistic? 

Maybe the responsible thing to do isn’t debatable surgeries but meeting your dog’s basic needs and providing early socialization and consistent training.

Check out some studies referenced in this article;

Maybe the responsible thing to do is train, research and respect the choices of others.