When to Neuter a Dog
The prevailing wisdom when it comes to neutering dogs is to get the deed done at about six months of age. This avoids some of the unhealthy side effects of neutering young, while nipping burgeoning teenage behavior in the bud. However, there is a growing movement among dog fanciers to push that age back to a year old or even longer. Keeping an intact male dog is a great responsibility, and not for everyone. This article covers the pros and cons of neutering a dog at various ages, and will hopefully help you decide when to send your own pup under the knife.
What is Neutering?
That may seem like a silly question, but the truth is many pet owners do not understand the process of neutering an animal, or the effect the procedure has on their dog's growth, health, and temperament.
Neutering is the removal of male sex organs, more specifically the testes. Without testicles, a dog can no longer produce sperm and testosterone, eliminating his ability to reproduce and drastically reshaping his mental chemistry. Neutering is primarily performed to halt population growth in an already saturated species, but is also valued for preventing health problems and behavioral issues.
What Does Neutering Do To A Dog?
The effect neutering will have on a dog depends a good deal on what age the dog is castrated. Scientific studies have found that early neuters- performed at about eight weeks of age, have roughly the same impact on a dog's development as neutering at six months. Cutting off the testosterone in a pup's system can produce a slightly larger adult. Neutering reduces a dog's desire to roam, mark, and hump, and can cut aggression toward other dogs. Obviously, neutering also protects against testicular cancer, which is very common in dogs.
So Why Wait?
Most owners should have their dog neutered at six months of age. Shelters often neuter at eight weeks to ensure it gets done, and frankly, the general population have not proven themselves to be reliable when it comes to preventing puppies. The risks for most dogs are outweighed by the hassle of owning an intact male.
However, if you know for a fact that you can handle living with an un-neutered male, it may be beneficial to wait another full year before having the procedure done. This is especially true for large breed dogs, who don't finish growing until they are almost two. The growth of bones is slowed by testosterone levels- meaning a dog neutered before he is fully grown will actually have longer bones than he would otherwise. This can lead to joint and bone problems later in life. In fact, many owners active in agility and other dog sports wait until the dog is at least two for this very reason.
Neutered dogs also tend to be more obese than their intact counterparts. This can be managed with a proper diet, but it is nonetheless true that keeping an intact dog in shape is much easier.
Most of the behaviors supposedly solved by neutering (and anyone who knows dogs will tell you they frequently aren't,) can be more effectively managed through good training. A well-mannered dog will not hump, mark, or display excessive dog aggression. Roaming should never be an issue- dogs, and especially intact ones, should be leashed or in a fenced area for their own safety, not wandering unsupervised.
Ethically, I'm opposed to neutering before the dog has reached maturity. We would never castrate a thirteen year old boy to avoid all the headaches of puberty, so why take the lazy way out with a dog? I prefer dogs with an adult mindset to the lazy perma-puppies some neutered males become.
Again, waiting for a dog to mature before neutering is not for everyone. Plenty of dogs lose their manhood at six months old or earlier and live long, happy lives with their families. Being unable to take them to daycare or dog parks is, for many, reason enough to have it done. But, if you are really committed to giving your dog the chance to grow up as nature intended, then there's nothing wrong with waiting. With responsible management, it is perfectly possible to have a well-adjusted member of society at your side, while also giving him the chance to be a real dog.