When it comes to the wellbeing of your dog, neutering is an important decision to make. Unless you are wanting to breed from your pet, getting them neutered as soon as they are mature enough is common practice and has many benefits, including for your pet’s overall health as well as preventing unwanted pups. Neutering is also one way to help improve the temperament of a potentially aggressive dog. But while the general consensus is that neutering is a good thing, it does raise the question as to whether a neutered dog will actually have their behavior changed.
We take a look at the very real benefits of sterilizing your dog, as well as explore whether the procedure has the potential to alter your pet’s personality.
What is Neutering?
The term neutering refers to a surgical procedure that will prevent an animal from reproducing. For male dogs, the neutering procedure is known as castration, while for females it is called spaying.
When a male dog is castrated, both of his testicles are removed, which effectively takes away the main source of the male hormone, testosterone. Your dog’s penis remains unaffected and the outer sac that contains the testes is also left in place. Your male dog will not be totally sterile immediately following the procedure, as it takes on average between two and six weeks for it to settle down and for the results to be final. During this time, it is essential to keep him away from any female dogs who may be in heat as it could still result in a pregnancy.
Spaying a female dog is a slightly more invasive procedure which involves the removal of both ovaries as well as the uterus, and so your pet will need a little longer to recover as the incision is larger. After spaying, not only will your girl be immediately sterile, but she will not be able to sustain any pregnancy.
Both castration and spaying are performed under general anesthetic and typically cost between $45 – $175 per pet, with spaying a little more expensive than castration due to it being a more complicated surgery. But finances shouldn’t be a reason for not getting your pet neutered – many local community animal welfare services offer a spay and neutering program that provide a discount service. Check out www.aspca.org for details of a program near you if you need some help in getting your pet sterilized.
When Should I Get it Done?
Veterinary professionals advise getting your pet neutered as soon as they are mature enough, although this may vary depending on the breed and size of your dog. As a general rule of thumb, neutering can be performed on a pooch from around six months of age as long as they are in good health. It is recommended that the procedure is carried out before your pet has the chance to breed and from the point where his or her adult teeth have come through (around six – nine months of age) although in some circumstances it can be done earlier. Younger animals typically need less time to recover from the procedure although there is no reason why neutering cannot be carried out on an older dog, due to need or circumstances (eg. a new, ‘complete’ adult arrival at a dog pound).
Why Should I Neuter My Pet?
There are numerous social, health and behavioral reasons why getting your dog neutered is a good idea and one you should seriously consider when bringing a new pup or older canine pet into your home. As well as having the potential to positively influence or alter a dog’s behavior, particularly the more unwanted traits (which we will discuss in more depth shortly), neutering can also:
- Reduce the number of unwanted pets
When opting to sterilize your precious pet, you will also be helping to reduce the growing number of unwanted pets and puppies in the US. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), around 3.3m stray or unwanted canines enter dog shelters across the US every year, with approximately 670,000 euthanized as they cannot be found a new home. Simply put, there are currently too many dogs in the US and not enough loving homes and with only 10% of dogs arriving at shelters already neutered, the issue of unwanted breeding remains a real concern. If you have absolutely no intention of breeding from your pet, having them sterilized will help to reduce the number of dogs in circulation. The situation is then a win: win – you get to love and enjoy your own pet, and at the same time, give an unwanted dog much better odds on finding their very own forever home.
- Decrease the risk of cancer and other health conditions
While the procedure can never guarantee that your pet will not get cancer or other serious illnesses during their life, neutering can help to reduce the risk of certain diseases. For male dogs, castration particularly when young may reduce the chance of them getting prostate as well as testicular cancer. Castration is also believed to reduce the risk of diabetes as well as perineal fistulas (painful lesions around the anus).
When it comes to female dogs, spaying can help to prevent mammary (or canine breast) cancer as well as a host of unpleasant uterine conditions, including the womb infection, pyometra which if left untreated can lead to potentially fatal kidney failure and toxaemia.
There is also no evidence that your dog will put on weight as a direct result of being neutered. While their hormone and associated activity levels may reduce post-procedure, weight gain in a dog is directly linked to over-eating/over-feeding and lack of exercise, not being neutered, both of which as an owner you can do something about. And, overall, research suggests that having your dog castrated or spayed may actually add one to three years on to their life expectancy.
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- Reduce their instinct to roam
When it comes to the overwhelming urge to mate, your male pooch can have a tendency to roam over wide distances to find his perfect mate, which in turn can up their ability and determination to escape. Likewise, for your girl, when she is in season, she will put all her efforts into finding her own Mr Right. This urge to mate could not only lead to unwanted pups, but also put your own dog at risk of getting lost or hurt on their wanders or even becoming a shelter statistic, if they are not chipped. So, when it comes to the burning question, ‘does spaying a dog calm them down?’ then neutering your pet could well help them to resist their instinct to roam.
- Less mess all round
Let’s cut to the chase – canine ‘sexy time’ is a pretty messy business! Un-neutered bitches will continue to have their natural ‘on heat’ cycle, which can start from as early as six months old and typically occurs twice a year, for around three weeks at a time. During their heat cycle, your girl will be bleeding and spotting, and unless she is wearing protective garments, will leave her mark all over your home (and soft furnishings). During her cycle, you will also have to carefully manage and monitor her daily exercise routine, to ensure she doesn’t encounter an uncastrated, randy male as it only takes a few seconds of unexpected mounting to result in an unwanted pregnancy.
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- Avoid the cost of puppies
While the thought of your precious dog having a once-in-their-lifetime litter of their very own puppy ‘mini-mes’ is a wonderful one, having puppies is not cheap – both financially and when it comes to your time. Factor in the veterinary fees, the extra supplements, the round-the-clock care as well as the potential risk to your own gorgeous dog, and then the worry of finding the pups the right new home and most dog owners will think twice. And in answer to the question ‘it is healthier for my girl to have one litter before she is spayed’, there is also no actual physical benefit to letting your dog have a litter before she is neutered. In fact, spaying your pet before she reaches sexual maturity means she will be more likely benefit from the long-term health benefits of being sterilized.
How Neutering Can Also Help with Certain Canine Behaviors
As well as helping to curb your pet’s desire to escape and roam when it comes to the mating season, neutering can also help to calm down some of his or her other undesirable or unsociable behaviors that you would be happy to live without. However, it’s important to recognize that castration or spaying only has a potential impact on behaviors and traits that are driven by hormones (testosterone in particular) and won’t turn your pet into a total angel overnight. Many of your dog’s other personality traits and behaviors are the result of genetics, environment and upbringing, which we will cover later.
In the meantime, the other main hormone-driven canine behaviors that neutering may help with include:
- Dominance and aggression
Your dog’s hormones – especially in males – play a key role in their natural instincts when it comes to shows of dominance and aggression. Seasonal or reactive surges in testosterone can amplify these behaviors, making some animals difficult to handle and train. After neutering dog behavior, especially aggression influenced by the impact of these hormones, can be dampened down, ultimately leading to a calmer animal. For the best results when it comes to reducing aggression and dominance, it is important to get your male dog castrated as a youngster before he learns or adopts non-hormonal aggressive and dominant behaviors, most likely in response to his environment or handling.
- Prevents fighting
Neutering your pet can also help to reduce the likelihood of him being competitively attacked by another dog who is on the look-out for his own mate. A complete male dog will be much more territorial than a neutered animal and will be less tolerant of another ‘alpha male’ arriving on his patch. This encounter between two intact males could lead to an aggressive stand-off and potentially a fight. Driven by their hormones, especially if there is the scent of a nearby un-neutered female who is in season, a fight in these circumstances is something to be avoided at all costs.
So, will spaying calm a female dog as well? Although on the whole, female dogs tend to be less aggressive than males, they can also be intolerant of another un-spayed bitch in their vicinity and so neutering both male and female dogs can make a real difference when it comes to over-aggression triggered by hormones.
- Undesirable sexual behavior
In a male dog, castration can help to manage and reduce overt or undesirable sexual desires which are not only inconvenient or downright embarrassing for his human but can also put a female dog at risk of becoming pregnant. Obsessive attraction to other dogs, roaming, humping and masturbation can all be reduced or even eliminated by castration (neutering or spaying) but it is also important to know that some of these behaviors may continue even after the procedure. This is largely due to learned behavior and the fact that some of these actions still bring pleasure to your pet.
- Urine marking
Pretty much all adult male dogs lift their leg when they need to urinate. They also use small amounts of urine to mark their territory outdoors although with some animals this desire to mark is so strong that they will also do it around the house or indoors. Castrated dogs will still lift their leg to go to the toilet, but the desire to mark will be reduced.
While female dogs are not so prone or driven to scent mark, an un-spayed bitch may demonstrate scent-marking around the home during her season, so spaying your girl pooch can prevent this from happening too.
- Calmer temperaments
All-in-all, neutering your pet can have a positive, calming effect on both males and females as they are no longer a slave to their fluctuating hormones. This does not mean they become so calm and laid-back that they are horizontal, but they are more likely to be less reactive to situations that would ordinarily flare up, thanks to those tricky canine hormone surges.
Will Neutering Change My Dog’s Personality?
Every dog is different, which is why we love them, and your dog is as much a product of nurture as they are of nature (and their breed). Those funny quirks and that loving personality which make your pup such an important part of your family are also influenced by how they are handled, trained and cared for. So, if you are worried your pup is going to lose his or her personality if you go for the spay or castration, you can rest easy.
You may see some temporary changes in their personality immediately after their neutering operation such as lethargy, confusion, increased clinginess, excessive sleepiness and loss of appetite, but these should only last a day or two as he or she recovers from the procedure. But if you are concerned, refer back to your vet. However, the long-lasting behavior changes brought about by sterilization are actually for the better, in terms of a calmer, less aggressive and less dominant animal, especially if they are a male.
Will My Dog Know What We’ve Done to Him or Her?
This is a concern for many dog owners – that their pet will resent them for taking away their manhood or lady bits and that they will feel less of a dog. Or they will lose some of their spark because of what has been done to them. Dogs don’t think the way we humans do, and they certainly don’t hold grudges! Other than the initial discomfort, your pooch will not be aware they are any different and will go on with his or her life as if it is the way they have always been and will certainly not consciously miss ‘their bits’. Their personality is as much down to their home environment and the way they are treated so if you have a cool, happy and engaging dog, keep doing what you’re doing as you are getting it right! And remember – your decision to spay or neuter your pup could well make all the difference to their health and happiness in later life.
Is There Anything Else I Can do to Change My Dog’s Behavior?
As mentioned previously, not all of your dog’s more negative or unwanted traits will be resolved or reduced by the process of neutering if these behaviors are driven by something other than hormones.
Aggression in dogs can also be brought about by fear, nervousness, anxiety, previous treatment or inadequate training and socialization with other animals. Unruly behavior and boisterousness can be amplified by lack of training or boundaries or even too much training that is more heavy-handed or inconsistent, so your dog becomes frustrated or rebellious. The urge to wander and roam could be due to boredom or sheer opportunity while dry-humping your leg can be less of a sexual act and more to do with stress, attention-seeking or simple excitement. Inappropriate behavior in the company of other dogs could well be down to a lack of socialization. And if your pup is still marking his territory in inappropriate places in your home, it could be related to fear or simply poor toilet training on the part of his human.
If your dog has some behaviors that are still causing you some concern, even after they have been neutered, then it is worth seeking the advice of your veterinarian or a canine behaviorist for a second opinion. Further training or assistance can really help with learned behaviors that continue to be negative and need something extra to resolve. Classic dog training, reward-based training and even physical therapy can all help to tackle any underlying issues that are causing your dog to act out, even though you now have their hormones under control.
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Whether it is by castration for males or spaying for females, neutering (AKA sterilization) is recommended for all dogs, unless you are planning and are prepared to breed from your pet. Not only can neutering benefit your dog’s health and may positively impact on his or her behavior and overall wellbeing, it is also a responsible thing to do, as it helps to prevent unwanted or unplanned pups adding to the number of dogs looking for a loving home. Neutering can help to prevent some serious canine cancers as well as potentially add a few years onto your dog’s life.
Neutering is also a way to help reduce and control any negative or disruptive behaviors in your pet, that may be fuelled by their hormones. In males, it can reduce their desire to roam in search of a mate, as well as calm testosterone-driven aggression and sexual behavior. In females, it stops her going into her heat cycle, removes her ability to carry a pregnancy and calms her desire to find a mate. Neutering should not adversely change your dog’s personality or cause them to put on weight.
However, neutering will not necessarily impact on negative, non-hormonal behaviors your dog may exhibit, so other interventions such as positive reinforcement training and increased exercise, or a change in diet may be needed to help your pooch find his or her ‘happy space’.
- Spay/Neuter Your Pet – ASPCA
- Personality vs. Behavior: How Spay and Neuter Affects Your Pet – Michelson Found Animals
- Why you should spay/neuter your pet – The Humane Society of the US