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The Debate Over Neutering

This article, “The Debate over Neutering” is likely to be the most controversial aspect of Natural Dog Training, but it is the inescapable conclusion of the belief that dogs are social by nature. Because if this is true, that dogs are the most cooperative animal on earth, then by definition, even their sexual makeup is vital to their social nature.

However, I’m not trying to convince owners not to neuter their male dogs. Every owner is entitled to do what they believe is in the best interest of their dog. From my perspective, a whole dog has more energy and this presents its own set of issues that I’m fully prepared to deal with. And from my perspective, I believe it’s easier to prevent and/or solve dog problems with energy at the surface rather than the other way around. If someone asks me my opinion, the article which follows is the basis of my response to the question. If an owner doesn’t agree with me or feel safe about going outside the mainstream conventional way of thinking, I’m fine with their choice because it doesn’t impact me. Many owners of puppies hear what I have to say, reject my advice and then we go on and work together. I will consider my educational mission in dogdom successful if owners were to say “I want to neuter my male dog because I don’t want him to have so much energy and I think he will still be healthy”.

On the other hand, I am compelled to write this article because there are those who are indeed on a soapbox and telling me and my clients that we are somehow being irresponsible, somehow contributing to the over-population of dogs in shelters, and somehow frustrating dogs with a misdirected and woe-begotten libido. Legislation and town ordinances are being proposed and enacted to compel owners of male dogs to have them neutered. In New York City a male, whole Rottweiler ended up in the shelter system after it had been stolen from its owner. When its owner finally tracked it down, he was refused his dog unless he agreed to have it neutered. It cost the man $10,000 in legal fees to get his dog back and keep him intact. This is outrageous, and it’s time to set the record straight before this propaganda campaign gets worse. There is nothing broken about a male dog and therefore it is presumptuous of us to think the most social animal on the face of the earth needs to be “fixed”.

The argument made by mainstream dogdom against whole males is based on two false judgments: 1) Male energy is in some way inimical to smooth social functioning 2) There is such a thing as “bad energy”. This mindset concerns me because it distorts our view of dogs. I will explain below why I don’t believe neutering male dogs is calming, healthful or sociologically justified.

I’ve been in the dog business all my life. As a boy I worked at my father’s kennel, “Canine College” in West Redding, Connecticut. My father, John Behan, began his career in the Army Canine Corps during WW Two, training dogs for deployment in the Pacific theater of combat. After the war, Dad was one of the first trainers to install service dogs in police departments and security applications, and he could very well have been the first trainer to apply the idea of wolves organized as a dominance hierarchy to the relationship between a dog and its owner. I am well versed in this theory.

I can distinctly remember in the sixties when the question of whether or not to neuter a male puppy started to nag at dog owners. They were beginning to hear from a growing number of veterinarians and dog experts that neutering had many benefits for male dogs, behavioral as well as medical. In those early years owners often questioned this advice (this was most true of men at that time, however now women are more willing to question modern orthodoxy) and wondered why any part of a happy, healthy puppy’s anatomy needed to be removed?

I could never see why the marketplace saw any cause for concern in the first place. I grew up with whole males as our family pets. Most of the male dogs we boarded and trained were whole. We trained police and personal protection dogs, all were whole and all were social when off-duty. When dogs misbehaved, we didn’t attribute the problem to too much testosterone. In our minds, problem behaviors represented social rather than hormonal imbalances. We believed that any dog raised and trained properly could learn to get along with anyone or any other dog or animal. If something was off in a dog’s behavior, our first impulse was to find the cause of the social imbalance and redress it. I can now see that not looking for surface biological, chemical explanations for complex social behavior was my beginning as a “natural dog trainer”.

However in the seventies, as behaviorism took over the marketplace of ideas and the commerce of dog training, the debate over neutering became more like a theological schism – with folks starting to get their hackles up. By the eighties, whoever stood on the wrong side of the inquisition was viewed as a heretic. It became virtually impossible to have a reasoned exchange of ideas on the matter. If I broached the topic at a gathering of dog folk, it provoked instant anger and so I learned to tread softly. And when puppy owners came to me for consultations or lessons, I noticed them visibly squirming at the prospect of resisting what their vet, breeder, or next door neighbor was telling them in favor of neutering.

Today there is virtually no debate on the question of neutering whatsoever. Trainers, behaviorists, breeders and veterinarians have convinced the vast majority of dog owners that there are overwhelming benefits to neutering. Castrating male puppies is now considered a basic rite of passage into human society, as automatic and necessary a procedure as a rabies vaccine. A three-pronged argument in favor of neutering has stamped out the heresy.

First of all, neutering is said to calm a dog so that he won’t become sexually frustrated, or hyperactive, and he won’t roam the countryside looking for potential mates, and the most often cited behavioral benefit, the dog won’t become aggressive. Secondly, neutering is said to improve the health of male dogs. Neutered male dogs do not get testicular cancer. Thirdly, widespread neutering is said to reduce the number of pets in circulation, and as the reasoning goes, fewer pets in dog pounds means that fewer pets will have to be destroyed.

It would thus appear that the argument in favor of neutering hasn’t a downside in sight. Advocates claim that neutering improves everything about a male dog’s physical and temperamental constitution, and yet has absolutely no impact on a dog’s personality or disposition. It’s a miracle. Neutering changes everything while it doesn’t change a thing.

However, I will argue that sexuality is so vital to the canine’s social nature we must reopen the debate on neutering. In this article I am going to present a new explanation for why sexuality evolved in nature, what its real role is in behavior and evolution, and from that perspective, we will revisit each argument that’s made in favor of neutering male dogs. My objections to neutering arise from what I’ve learned about a dog’s social nature, the nature of sociability, as well as the correlation between wholeness and health. With an almost universal rate of compliance in the neutering of male dogs, in conjunction with an exponential increase in the percentage of dogs trained through nationally certified and affordable dog training programs, and with the wealth of behavioral information available through the internet, magazines, videos and television programs, we need to ask therefore, why is there an alarming rise in rates of aggression in dogs these days, at younger and younger ages and in breeds that would have been unthinkable forty years ago? Is something amiss in modern dogdom; is something missing from our understanding on dogs?

Why sex and what is sex?

It might be surprising to many people to learn that the purpose of sexuality in animals is currently in scientific limbo. Surely something as fundamental as sexuality would have been figured out by now, and yet the truth is that it remains a subject of intense scientific debate. Jared Diamond in the “Third Ape” quips that science has the right answer; it just doesn’t know which one it is yet. I would argue that if science doesn’t know which one it is, then it doesn’t know the answer. On multiple choice tests if you don’t check an answer, you still get it wrong.

We jump straightaway to the issue of sexuality because most instances of canine aggression are attributed to a “drive to dominate” and this is supposedly in response to the universal mandate within every organism to compete for mates in order to disseminate its genes. Currently gene replication is seen as the mainspring to evolutionary psychology. If males are competing to secure breeding privileges certainly this could cause social discord.

However, if we’re going to say that male dogs become more social by virtue of being neutered, then this means that male sexual energy can be anti-social, which then immediately contradicts the most basic observation one can make about the nature of dogs, i.e. they are highly sexual in direct proportion to the degree to which they are highly social. This is a particularly inconvenient fact because elsewhere in mainstream biology the sexuality of Bonobos, labeled by evolutionary behaviorists the “social ape,” is lauded as the defining feature of their sociability. Bonobos use sexual pleasuring in every interaction, between members of the opposite sex, same sex, parent and offspring. And yet when it comes to the dog, canine behaviorism represents what I call the “New Puritanism”. All of a sudden sexuality in dogs (and dogs make Bonobos look chaste in comparison) has become a bad energy.

Just as every feather on a bird contributes to its ability to fly, wouldn’t every aspect of a dog’s nature contribute to its ability to cooperate, since the overriding feature of the canine nature is an innate and compulsive sociability?

My thesis is that sexuality evolved as an emotional transformer so that emotion could move from the simple Predator-Prey modality (Instinct), through the Male-Female modality (Sexuality), on its way to elaborating into complex personality traits (Social or Drive energy.) Sexuality is a transformer through which raw energy evolves into refined energy. This is why adolescence and coming of age is considered so critical in the social development of human beings. Our sexuality is how we mature.

A Brief Overview of the Role Sexuality Plays in Nature

This is my rock bottom principle. It takes new energy to be social. Sexuality is first and foremost about making new energy because every social contact is an act of creation in abject defiance of instinct. An act of creation requires new energy in order to get past the limiting effect of an instinct. An instinct always travels the path of least resistance, whereas a social act is always the path of highest resistance and it takes energy to get water to move uphill. So just as each day plants absorb solar energy – new energy – to create the carbon bonds of new plant growth and nourish existing tissues, animals likewise need new energy (each and every time) to not only grow, but simply to maintain existing social bonds. This is the main reason why dogs can’t possibly be social by instinct, since an instinct is about maintaining stasis, whereas sociability is about adding energy in direct contravention to the status quo. The best of dog buddies are constantly smelling each other no matter how well they get along or “know” each other, because this is how new energy is added to their emotional bond.

Where does new energy come from? From old energy.

An animal by virtue of its physiological and neurological makeup acquires a “bio-static charge” merely by contact with the external world, just as a spring driven toy car that’s rolled along the ground becomes wound up with an internal tension. Simply by being sentient an animal acquires a standing, whole body state of tension just like that toy car being rolled against the floor. Then, when it perceives something in its environment as a re-leaser from this charge, it feels this as a pull of attraction, what we call emotion.

Next, when an animal experiences resistance to the expression of its emotion, it acquires “unresolved emotion” which accrues to become an organism’s “emotional mass”. Unresolved emotion serves many behavioral functions in the moderation of consciousness, one of which is as an energy reserve for critical moments. In this way we can think of an animal’s body as an emotional battery, the deepest layers of which come up to the surface in moments of crisis or dramatic change.

However, the most important understanding is that while this energy may be latent, it is by no means dormant. As a lump sum aggregate mass, it serves as an emotional beings “emotional center-of-gravity” and just like a physical center-of-gravity, it can move anywhere in the body. When the e-cog is triggered by external stimuli, this movement of unresolved emotion as a lump sum composite is experienced by the individual as sexual energy.

So first there is emotion as a release from bio-static pressure, and behavior in this modality proceeds according to the simple Predator-Prey instinctual conduit. However, when the expression of emotion through the prey making conduit meets resistance, unresolved emotion is produced, and the release from unresolved emotion becomes organized as a state of physical sensuality, i.e. sexual (Male/Female) and this is what an animal experiences as new energy. Simply by watching any two dogs interact, one can see each individual evolving to occupy one of these complementary polarities, and then even more importantly, exchanging these roles if the interaction really gets going. We call this play but what’s really happening is that they are each turning the others’ stress reserves into new energy and this makes them both feel sensual. In short, sexual animals are more social because they have a higher capacity to feel energized by being close to other beings. When another being moves, the observing animal feels just as if it’s being energized rather than destabilized (as in an instinct). Ultimately, this feeling of new energy evolves into a permanent emotional bond that is constantly renewed by physical proximity and constant physical contact. Therefore, by definition, it is an oxymoron to say that a dog is social by instinct as is embodied in the popular expression, “dogs are pack animals”. No, dogs are group animals and this is because they are highly sexual beings.

Another way of saying all of the above is that a sexual nature allows an individual to project its “self” (e-cog) out of its body and into another body. And the greater the sexual capacity of an individual, the greater the gap it can project beyond and thereby secure a new connection.

Below we will examine the myths that inspire people to believe in the benefits of neutering.

The Calming Myth

Where did the idea arise that neutering is a calming influence on a dog and why have these observed changes in behavior been interpreted as being beneficial?

It seems to me that most of our views on animal husbandry have trickled down to us from life on the farm. Animal sciences and veterinary medicine arose from the agrarian need to manage cows, sheep, chickens and horses in an efficient and cost effective way, and in tight quarters. As a boy I remember “Smokey”, a chestnut horse that my father raised from a colt into a magnificent stallion. When Smokey didn’t get enough exercise he became agitated and might even kick down his stall door. When other horses rode past our property, it was questionable whether or not the fences would contain him. I forget exactly at what age he was “gelded” as the procedure is called in horses but I remember the event and recall that the horse was far more tractable thereafter. If someone rode by our farm, he’d get excited, but the fence seemed a whole lot stronger. This mellowing effect I’m sure is the general rule in livestock. When males are castrated they become more docile and easier for the farmer to manage as tension between them abates. (Recently however, some of my horse-owning clients have told me that their stallions are far more tractable than their gelded males.)

Then in the latter half of the 20th century, as the pet market developed, the veterinary field began to concentrate and specialize on cats and dogs, however, because of these barnyard beginnings the same theory used to account for the social behavior of livestock was applied to dogs, and there has been little examination of the many discrepancies in the theory. Therefore we have a wide acceptance of the theory that the social organization of canines is analogous to large animals and poultry; that being, a society founded on a dominant and submissive hierarchy of rank, a sophisticated version of the so-called “pecking order.”

The social life of canines is universally interpreted as the struggle for status to secure the right to pass on one’s genes. Among wolves, only the dominant pair breed and the “competition” is so pronounced that inferior females don’t even come into estrus. Given this evidence, the drive to reproduce has been traditionally seen as the mainspring to any group’s workings. Therefore, were the sexual mechanism to be deactivated by removal of the sexual glands, a potentially wild animal would be tamed. And in fact, when dogs are neutered changes in their behavior are often reported, and so the prevailing model is seemingly confirmed – as well as the stream of logic that suggests a male dog be neutered as an antidote to an excitable or unruly nature. Allegedly, what is innate and wild about a male dog is what’s wrong with him.

Yet there are two flagrant flaws to applying this model for horses, cows, sheep and chickens to dogs. One, we don’t live with horses, cows, sheep or chickens. We keep them penned up, harnessed when in public, and when we’re done for the day we leave them behind in a barn, paddock or chicken coop. Dogs on the other hand, participate in every aspect of human life. Secondly, livestock are prey animals whereas the dog evolved from the wolf, a predator. While a stronger case can be made that the social life of prey animals revolves around a competition for breeding rites (which in my view still isn’t accurate), wolves and dogs on the other hand march to a more complex cadence; one far more intricate even than other predators such as lions, cats or bears which attack prey that they can overpower singly.

But I understand the reasoning. If one views sexuality as being synonymous with sexual intercourse, then of course it would seem logical that the highest expressions of sexual energy are courtship and breeding behaviors, and competition for mates. One might also think that I’m saying that a whole dog needs to copulate in order to feel fulfilled. But I’m not. As a matter of fact, active stud dogs are more sexually frustrated than sexually naïve dogs when they’re not breeding and this is because copulation can never yield a full measure of wholeness. Procreation isn’t the fundamental purpose sexuality evolved to serve in nature.

In my model of animal behavior, I’m using the term sexuality in a far more neutral sense: in fact the term sensuality might be more apt. In my view, sexual/sensuality is, at its core, a feeling of resonance with one’s surroundings, be it with one’s environmental circumstances (for example a feeling of expansiveness while standing in a large, open field) or with one’s “temperamental” circumstances (for example a feeling of warm, physical rapport with a fellow human being or an animal). Another word we could substitute for my meaning of the term sexuality is “animal magnetism”. (Walt Whitman and the naturalist romantics from the 19th century would have no problem with this broader view of sexual/sensuality as I’m using it here. The idea of sexuality in its largest sense as a state of physical sensuality is in fact the traditional viewpoint. Whereas in our modern denatured times, sexuality has become a hyper sensation that is not natural and is not a true feeling.)

If an animal can feel resonance, it can likewise feel dissonance. In fact, the greater the potential of any organism to feel resonance, the greater the potential for that organism to feel dissonance. This is why animals can become stressed and possibly disoriented, whereas when insects are disturbed, they become excited and exhibit no lag time between disturbance and an automatically generated response that deals in a precise manner with the source of a disturbance. Animals being that they have a sexual nature have to “pick up” their “magnetic” bearings in order to feel how to proceed, like a homing pigeon orbiting two or three times when released before it knows the way home. So because sexual/sensuality represents a whole-body phenomenon that is primarily about inter-personal dynamics, and is not limited to the animal’s genitalia, therefore a dog does not need to breed to feel sensually fulfilled. Its body is how it connects to its surroundings and in creative ways that yield new energy, and new energy is the fundamental motive for all behavior, – not gene replication.

My premise is that sexuality is only thirdly about procreation and gene mixing, it is secondarily about recreation; and it is primarily about creation, by which I mean the merging of the emotional energies of two individuals via a process of sensual differentiation (one becomes prey, one becomes predator, one becomes female, the other becomes male, one becomes Active/Direct, to the other as Reactive/Indirect) in a synchronized response to change. These roles are interchanged (and irregardless of each one’s sex) until they form one social being.

In their book Dogs, the Drs. Raymond and Lorna Coppinger raise an important point about the domestication process of dogs. Early man could not have domesticated the wolf by deliberate intent because it would have been impossible to confine a large enough breeding population of wolves over the number of generations required to produce a domesticated version. They note how wolves are almost impossible to contain even with the high chain-link fences and elaborate gate mechanisms available to modern researchers. So even if some wolves were seized as cubs and tamed by early man, the fact remains that when they reached sexual maturation they would have fled to the wild to breed, never to return, and all the scarce resources that had been poured into them, what would be the difference between life and death for a people in the short run, would be running off with the wolves as well. The first versions of proto-dog, once it reached maturity, wouldn’t have been capable of being a companion let alone a working partner with early humans because it would have quickly left to sow its wild oats given that in their model, the dissemination of genes is the overarching principle to animal behavior.

The Coppingers’ developed the “Village Dump” scenario in order to account for how man might have inadvertently domesticated the wolf without having to house and care for breeding stock. Once humans settled in villages, a steady source of garbage was freely available and would have selected across an entire genome for the most approachable individuals. The last wolves to leave and the first to return ate the most garbage and might have developed an affinity for humans. A Russian fox breeding experiment seemingly verifies the premise that it takes relatively few generations selecting for approachability to produce a domesticated version of the fox. Also, the fact that every village in the third world has its set of village dogs that don’t actually belong to anyone is more compelling evidence that scavenging at the village dump may have brought proto-dog into close affiliation with humans.

However, the fact that when proto-dog reached sexual maturity, it didn’t head for the hills could also reinforce my argument that sexuality is inseparable from hunting a large, dangerous prey animal that lies beyond the physical capacity of such a predator. I believe this is a more plausible theory because the simple fact remains that there are no domesticated versions of the fox anywhere in the world, which as the Russian breeding experiment reveals, would have required a short span of time to effect. Where are the “fox-dogs”?

All the current scenarios for domestication hinge on the concept of neotony, i.e. the retention of infantile characteristics into adulthood. Stephen Budiansky in “The Truth About Dogs” claims this is the source of the various breeds of dogs. However in an energy model, neotony isn’t the retention of infantile characteristics into adulthood; rather it’s the phase of life when the physical/sensual channel, whereby raw emotion evolves into social energy, is at its most pronounced and the threshold of “projection” of the e-cog into another individual is at its lowest. This is why infant puppies mount other puppies. They are not exhibiting a drive to dominate or a sexual reflex out of context; rather they are manifesting the highly evolved sexual transformer.

In other words, even when an adult animal makes social contact with another animal, it’s not the adult mind that’s being engaged: it’s the infant mind coming up to the surface due to the softening effects that incur in such an individual as it perceives (and if it perceives) the pure positive, emotional value of what it’s attracted to. The resulting state of sensual alignment then secures an actual physical connection (via emotional projection) as the two parties exchange the aforementioned roles in order to become each other’s emotional counterbalance. The young of every species are much more social than when they mature into adults because this is when the higher processes of their brain are not yet highly developed. The infant mind turns the stress of change into a stronger force of attraction because the puppy mind remains intimately integrated with the sexual module. The higher processes of the nervous system detach it from this intimate degree of integration and render the adult mind. It’s precisely because there is such a channel; and that the channel persists into adulthood as the basis of social behavior (and to neutralize the limiting effects of a highly developed nervous system), that the phenomenon is even available to and malleable by selective breeding in the first place.

Just as Serpell in “The Domestic Dog” points out that the fetus in the womb is a highly specialized organism that evolved to adapt to a specific environmental niche, i.e. the womb, likewise in a “network consciousness” way of looking at social behavior and evolution, so too is the infant puppy. It’s not undeveloped in the sense of being un-evolved. Rather, I call the puppy mind a “social stem cell” capable of devolving from the adult form and re-evolving in response to whatever emotional environment it currently finds itself in.

At any rate, it doesn’t matter to my theory of behavior which domestication scenario proves true, or even what specific animal is the true ancestor of the domestic dog. My theory rests on one demonstrable, observable and testable fact, that the drive to hunt in dogs is stronger than the drive to reproduce or even to survive. This is why dogs can be trained to hunt past the point of satiation, why untrained dogs chase deer they are never, ever going to catch, not to mention that dogs chase cars that do kill them, and why it is even possible to have a police dog eagerly dash into gunfire. Not that such a dog is aware of danger and therefore capable of courage in the human sense of the term; that in fact is just the point. Because such a dog is so sensualized by the drive to hunt and craves physical contact above all else, is why it’s oblivious to the possibility of danger. No other animal can be trained to perform such a feat. Gunfire, stick hits, knock-down, drag-out fights are converted into physical stimulants by such a dog’s “puppy mind”.

Therefore, because sexuality serves a function far bigger than reproduction (i.e. the drive-to-make-contact-with-the-path-of-highest-resistance), because this makes the most energy, and because the domestication process amplified the emotional/sexual capacity of the wolf (or some other closely related ancestor), this accounts for the domestication of the dog and is also why no other species of animal but the wolf can produce a domesticated version as varied and as adaptable as the dog. The wolf stands alone in this regard because it must feel which prey is becoming vulnerable since its main prey is physically superior to wolves. Wolves evolved to project its “self” (e-cog) into prey animals and then “reads” what’s going on “out there” by virtue of what it feels “in here.”

The ability to cross the genetic/instinctual divide that separates man from beast is a matter of emotional capacity, and the one and only animal with the emotional capacity to bridge the gap between animal and human, is the dog. And since sexual/sensuality is that mechanism of trans-species communication that co-evolved with the wolf’s capacity to hunt a physically superior prey, there is no need for dog to breed in order to feel sexually/sensually fulfilled. I maintain that the highly sexual nature of dogs is precisely why they are able to eschew a life of the wild because only contact with man can complete the dog’s deepest emotional circuitry. So just as the hunt involves sexuality as a transformer between prey and predator, the connection between man and proto-dog likewise revolved around the hunt and became a means of communication and emotional bonding that was more gratifying than anything else proto-dog could possibly do.

One might counter that their male dog would rather breed with a female in heat than be by their side if the opportunity presented itself, and the Drs. Coppingers likewise maintain that the drive to hunt in dogs is not that strong. But I would counter that this is because such a dog’s emotional capacity was never developed and was actually inhibited by its manner of raising and training. (Interestingly the Coppingers are accomplished sled dog breeders, trainers and racers and I would point out that the drive to pull the sled with the group of dogs feeding off each other’s energy, and the proclivity of such dogs to howl in unison, is the very sensual/sexual capacity I’m arguing for as the fundamental essence of the canine social nature. Imagine harnessing a pack of cats together!)

Every protection dog trainer knows that a dog in drive could care less about a female in heat on the training field. It’s only after the training session when the dog comes down from its “Drive” that it would be distracted by a female in heat. I own a male and a female German shepherd and twice a year my female comes into heat. If I left my male dog outside he would indeed tear down the gate to the yard and breed with her, and this is a bi-annual period of great inconvenience around the Behan household. Nevertheless, when I let my male outdoors and he immediately runs to the gate where the female flags her tail, when I fire up my tractor and head off into the woods to gather some firewood, he immediately leaves her behind because he would rather be part of that hunt.

Now because most of the sexual/sensual behaviors that belong to this social-making domain manifest on a far subtler plane of physical expression than overt acts of copulation, they have been mistakenly attributed to other faculties of intelligence, such as thinking or instinct. For example, when a dog goes around an obstacle toward an object of attraction as opposed to fruitlessly pursuing a straightforward approach or giving up altogether, in reality this is a function of sensual alignment with the object of desire. The feat of “intelligence” does not represent a dog figuring out that one way could be better than another; sensuality means orienting according to the cardinal points of the compass. You may have noticed that when you train a dog to not go in one direction, it only means don’t go in that direction. One still has to go around the compass. Also, when dogs meet and greet, they are sensually orienting and aligning with each other, not displaying dominance and submission and thereby figuring out a hierarchy of relative rank. If this latter explanation were true, then why do dogs investigate their own urine and poop? Are they placing themselves into their own internal hierarchy of rank?

On occasion of course, a feeling of physical rapport does indeed lead to procreation (although we see with humans that it is far more often in pursuit of recreation rather than a drive to procreate), and hormones have a lot to do with intensifying a state of sensual alignment to the point of mating. However in most species, hormones raise the individual’s emotional capacity so that they can get past the limiting effects of instinct that maintain social and flight distances, whereas in dogs the exact opposite is happening. The overt sex hormones decrease the emotional capacity of canines so that their feeling of resonance collapses into sexual reflexes that are species-specific to how canines copulate. But even here we can still see the tell-tale signature of emotional fusion as the governing principle to the canine makeup as manifested by the canine copulatory tie with male and female interlocked for as long as an hour or two; a position of compromise which again defies all mainstream biological explanation.

The fundamental and most important function of sexuality is to facilitate the communication of energy between animals, and most especially, between species. Furthermore, by definition this produces sociability because sociability in the grand scheme of things is how “the network” adds energy to the system in order to offset entropy. Therefore, species of animals co-evolve to create an ecosystem just as plants co-evolve to generate a life-giving atmosphere, and just as participants in an economy through their collective purchases and services co-evolve to generate wealth, i.e. new energy as in the expansion of an economy. In all of nature, the highest expression of this evolved form of symbiotic communication predicated on a physical/sensual rapport is the relationship that has evolved between dog and man.

If all of the above is true, what happens when a dog is neutered?

Because sexuality is a far bigger phenomenon than genitalia and reproduction, even a neutered dog remains fundamentally a sexual animal, so we are just talking about a few clicks on a gradient if temperament were to be visualized on a clock face. Every dog has a temperamental “flaw”, a set point toward which it gravitates in order to deal with stress. Some dogs like to be at 5:29, some orient to 11:59 etc., and these various polarities play out as diametrically different behaviors. Each individual has the entire code, but they orient to a preferred “polarity” and in this way the phenomenon of temperament accounts for variability within a litter as it simultaneously accounts for variability between breeds. It’s a simple fractal equation elaborating into an unbelievably intricate expression on every level of organization, from the internal makeup of the individual, to the external makeup of the group, to the makeup of the entire canine genome and its inter-relatedness with other species.

Running parallel with the confusion of sexuality with reproduction is the confusion of sexuality with hormones. Hormones do not cause behavior: they support behavior in the sense that they amplify the feeling of resonance and sustain a force of attraction despite a high rate of change or a high degree of resistance in the surroundings. For this reason the military drafts young men that are at the peak of a testosterone-addled worldview because they entertain a ridiculous belief in their invulnerability. Green soldiers actually chafe for combat to break the boredom of peacetime deployment. Stephen Ambrose writes that the first wave of Allied forces hitting the beaches at Normandy were troops that had never seen combat. The assault planners knew that given the overwhelming odds against success, they didn’t want to ask combat veterans: who had long since lost the blinding flush of testosterone to the cold hard reality of warfare, to entertain that the impossible was possible.

If a lust for action, which is actually a lust for energy, also invokes a blind-like faith in one’s sense of invulnerability and unlimited potential, what’s so bad about that? How does that make testosterone an anti-social hormone? Hormones do not cause sexuality: hormones support sexuality. Hormones do not create energy: they exist in service to emotion in order to make energy.

Seeing sexuality as a function of hormones also makes us think that a state of sexual attractiveness can only occur between individuals of the same species. Yet if we were to revisit how wolves hunt, or look again at dogs working livestock, we might note that they are sexually attracted to their prey because this is how a straightforward Drive-To-Make-Contact is deflected into circular, indirect manners of approach that are context specific, i.e. in resonance with what the sheep and even the human sheepherder are doing. A properly trained working dog circles the sheep with the same drive as they do were they to dive in and grab a sheep with a full-mouth bite. In other words, the simple prey drive manifests into complex social behaviors because the physical resistance of the situation is transformed by an organism’s sexual nature, into an even stronger feeling of attraction, although now one that is imbued with an incredible degree of nuance and refinement as a circular style of release. And with the emotional experience of this higher level of complexity, the dog derives an even deeper feeling of wholeness and contentedness. In fact I contend that a properly channeled dog working sheep derives more emotional satisfaction then a dog actually killing one.

Hormones do not create social behavior or anti–social behavior: their function is to support social behavior. They support an individual’s ability to go out on a social limb so to speak and take up a novel social station so as to add energy to the system by maintaining an old connection or making a new one. Making social contact means taking a risk and always goes against the grain of an instinct. Instincts seek stasis, whereas sociability means change, growth. It’s a pack instinct that compels a wolf pack to kill an alien wolf straying into its territory, whereas it’s the puppy mind that would let a lone wolf in.

Hormones are released in my theory when the dog senses the potential for a common ground with a newcomer. This makes the dog feel more energized and he becomes more active and refined about making contact. Also, hormones serve to devolve an individual back to the clear emotional channel he was born with as a puppy, only now to be reconfigured in terms of the object of attraction and by which I mean as its emotional counterbalance.

When the sexual glands are removed the dog loses the energetic support of hormones. He feels less safe about extending himself emotionally, of opening up. He gravitates to his temperamental set point and resists being displaced from it. Some believe this is calmness. And I’m not saying he’s not “friendly”, – in fact he may even become hyper-friendly, i.e. socially nervous. This is but one possible manifestation of having less energy; some of these effects are subtle whereas some are overt. For example, a dog may begin to roam less because it has less energy, and so this is seen as good. But then later in life it becomes noise-sensitive or even phobic. However, because so much time has gone by no one is likely to make the connection and the dog’s sudden aversion to a loud noise is mistakenly attributed to the dog’s personality or perhaps to some negative experience.

Because emotion piggybacks on the most fundamental systems of the body, in particular the physiological and neurological processes dedicated to balance and hunger, in order for one individual to let another into its “mood”, it must “feel open” so that the new object of attraction becomes integrated into its hunger/balance makeup. Sexuality facilitates this. (Note we say physical, emotional and sexual appetite.) Whereas on the one hand a neutered dog becomes more sensitive to changes in his social environment, (and possibly more friendly as a defensive response) and becomes more resistant to “flipping polarity” to allow for new energy to come into the system. A social brittleness begins to replace a desirable flexibility because an individual will begin to need more and more to reside at his most comfortable place within the pack, his inborn temperamental inclination. Not being supported by hormonal energy, the individual will resist being displaced and moving to a new role or personality style in order to facilitate the group purpose. Therefore, change appears more threatening to neutered males. At my kennel we have a large play yard for the dogs, and it’s our experience that the neutered males had to be supervised most closely, whereas we always find the whole dog running around with a stick in its mouth as if to say, “Come on fellas, cut it out, let’s play.”

About 15 years ago my New York clients started to report that their neutered males were attacking whole males. Owners at the dog runs were telling newcomers to neuter their male puppies or otherwise their neutered dogs would pick fights with them. At first I found this hard to believe, but not for long. The judgment against male energy held by humans is now manifesting in their dogs.

Meanwhile, it’s strange that we don’t recognize the obvious good effects that sexuality imparts to sociability. We recognize that male and female dogs get along better in the same household than same sexed pairings because the overt, complementary sexual channel between them is so readily available. Similarly, we recognize that wolves are extremely social animals, and yet in the wild no pack member is spayed or neutered. And dogs are far more social than wolves because they are to the exact same degree more sexual than wolves. A wolf isn’t sexually mature until 2 years of age, whereas dogs are fertile at six months. Wolves are selective about breeding partners whereas dogs are promiscuously non–discriminating. Female wolves come into season once a year whereas female dogs come into heat twice a year. Clearly, domestication of the dog meant a further enhancement of the wolf’s already highly developed sexual capacity.

When I wrote this article about fifteen years ago, I lived with two whole males: a five-year old Corgi and a nine-year old German shepherd. Almost every day, training clients came to my farm and most of these were aggressive dogs. The vast majority of these dogs have been neutered and the most difficult of these cases are those who have been neutered at the earliest age. And yet I can open my door, let my dogs out and they will turn themselves inside and out trying to find a way to connect with such dogs. If the other dog puts up a wall, they’ll observe it. If the other dog is receptive to contact but is tentative and unsure, they’ll make themselves soft. If the other dog clearly wants to fight, they’ll give him a wide berth or approach with the most precise and delicate form of diplomatic entreaty. It isn’t because they are smart or well trained, it’s because they can feel what the other dog is feeling and they are compelled to respond sensually, rather than instinctively because that feels better. It doesn’t feel good to put a wet nose in a hot socket.

They sense the emotional balance of the new dog, and even though according to traditional dogma my dogs are on their own territory and should therefore be the ones threatened by an intruder, the opposite is the case. Barley, the Corgi, is feisty enough to take on the world and yet he is especially seductive in these tense moments, enticing the other dog to chase him while keeping close to the car in case he needs to duck under to escape the inevitable overload that immutably precedes a softening. He waits and waits and makes little entreaties until the clouds have fully cleared. Meanwhile, Illo the German shepherd will tend to root up a stick in order to find a common ground.

So, on the one hand proponents of neutering say that the procedure will change the dog’s entire outlook on life so that he’ll stop mounting, pulling his handler down the road, trying to establish dominance, peeing on the furniture, won’t have any aggressive tendencies whatsoever… it will calm him in every sense of the word. But then on the other hand, the experts say don’t worry, neutering won’t change your dog’s personality whatsoever. It won’t change anything, just as it changes everything.

Unfortunately, researchers, behaviorists, trainers, veterinarians, dog professionals and lay people alike have misinterpreted the complexities of canine social life and have reduced it to the drive to dominate in the quest for procreation. Castration is thereby seen as helping a dog adjust to our world. This might work well enough for horses and cows, but again, we don’t have to live with a horse or a cow. We don’t require these animals to cope with the degree of change that dogs are exposed to. We don’t ask them to step outside of their instinctual frames of reference as we require the dog.

The Pet Over–Population Myth

At first glance this aspect of the argument in favor of neutering seems compelling. If more male dogs were castrated, presumably there would be fewer litters whelped, fewer puppies needing homes and therefore fewer castaway pets. The yearly slaughter of millions of these abandoned waifs is indeed a tragedy. Were neutering able to reduce the national carnage who in their right mind would deny its merits?

Yes, there are too many dogs in America’s shelters, perfectly healthy and normal dogs, many destined to be killed. But if there are too many pets in shelters, does neutering address this issue?

The logic behind the claim that too-many-pets means too-many-problem-dogs in shelters makes as much sense as the idea that limiting the number of cars manufactured would reduce highway fatalities. If there were fewer puppies, by simple arithmetic there would be fewer candidates for the pound and perhaps this is why P.E.T.A. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an influential and in my view a radical animal rights group) is pushing for legislation that would outlaw the breeding of pet dogs altogether. Their reasoning, as it is for most advocates of neutering, is that there are too many dogs for the number of caring or responsible homes available to receive them. A reasonable argument at first glance, until one realizes that two unrelated concepts, A) an excess of dogs, and B) the condition of being unwanted, are being lumped together. And if these two concepts are accepted as an aggregate, one is then led into the faulty conclusion that it is the excess of dogs that produces the condition of their being unwanted.

First of all, has America reached the saturation point in regard to its number of pets? Consider that in France there are twice as many pets as there are children according to statistics quoted in the Reader’s Digest. (Over the last ten years however, there has been an interesting development in the northeast. It seems there aren’t enough abandoned dogs to meet demand and so humane societies are importing strays from the South as well as from around the world.) I suspect that if more American dog owners understood how dogs learn to cooperate by virtue of their sexual nature, our country could easily accommodate the number of puppies we now produce. And isn’t a high demand for pets a good thing? Life with a dog can offer one a refuge from the numbing pace of modern society, a veritable centrifuge of tension spinning us away from a sense of community and from contact with nature. Owning a dog gives one a ready excuse to go for a walk and draws one inevitably into contact with fellow dog owners. The simple act of walking a dog gives one a chance to ponder what mysteries of a vestigial and hidden wilderness are revealed by their pet’s acuity of senses.

Also, science has demonstrated that talking to and touching a pet is incredibly soothing; stroking a dog’s soft fur lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety. Pets download the emotional burdens of an owner’s day without judgment or complaint. It may very well be that pets are responsible for preventing untold numbers of emotional and nervous breakdowns and these benefits are so widely recognized that pet-facilitated therapy is a rapidly growing field. Are there too many dogs? The politically correct answer these days may be yes, but truly, given the stresses of modern life, there are hardly enough.

In my mind, the only relevant question is where (or rather how) do unwanted pets come from? The situation is portrayed as if there are hordes of dogs sneaking around backyards, churning out puppies (irregardless of market demand) and then these winnow their way into homes across the land like an infestation of insects. Whereas most puppies (unlike kittens for example, as cats do breed freely in barns, underneath porches, in abandoned cars, etc.) do indeed start out in life wanted by someone. Pet stores, puppy mills, backyard breeders, none of which represent a source of pups that I would recommend, usually have no trouble finding willing owners for their puppies. They’re not turning out a huge surplus and then abandoning these dogs for the shelters to deal with. These outlets exist to satisfy a demand already in place; they don’t create the need, they capitalize on something already present in the marketplace. And even in those relatively rare instances when a household bitch is accidentally impregnated, in the vast majority of cases, eager people are readily found to bring the pups into their homes and lives. The linkage between too many pets, the condition of being unwanted, and the neutering issue, has been so effectively drummed into people’s minds that when I ask people if they intend to neuter their male puppy, the most common response I hear is, “Probably, we don’t intend to breed him and there are so many unwanted pets”. So what’s the problem? Don’t breed him and don’t ‘un-want’ him.

A critic might interject here that many owners get a puppy on impulse: they never would have acquired a pup if they hadn’t caught sight of that cute little doggie in the window. And when the pup outgrows the cute stage they soon fall by the wayside. This is an excellent argument against pet shops and puppy mills, but it has nothing to do with neutering. My preference is that pet shops and puppy mills be driven from business but preferably through consumer education. (However, an outright ban on inhumane breeding practices is needed.) Dogs are incredibly sensitive beings: puppies shouldn’t be put in glass cages in shopping malls and incessantly handled by curiosity seekers. But just because these operations are severely flawed doesn’t mean one can thereby link the issues of discarded pets, neutering and pet overpopulation into the same syndrome.

My critics might next counter that there would be fewer dogs discarded if only responsible people owned dogs. Yes, that would be nice.

For most of my career in dogs, my boarding and training business was located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, one of the richest areas in the country and an area that most likely has the highest percentage of neutered and spayed pets of any region in the country. By these indicators, Fairfield County is apparently a bastion of responsibility. Yet are Fairfield County’s pounds and shelters any less burdened? Are fewer pets destroyed here per capita than elsewhere? I continually heard of dogs being cast off or destroyed not because they started out as surplus flotsam, but because they developed one behavioral problem or another. Furthermore, I have never found a responsible person fail to see that euthanasia or abandonment is the most responsible approach to a serious problem. Responsible people are acting responsibly by removing a pet once they think there is no other option. A responsible owner doesn’t turn a dog loose or pawn it off on someone unsuspecting. Therefore I’ve found that affluence, rates of castration among pets or any of the so-called benchmarks of civic responsibility and compassion seem to correlate little with a pup’s chances of survival in man’s world.

And who is going to be made responsible for conducting the responsibility litmus test? I have known homeless people who have provided a companion dog with a good life. Who is going to be anointed judge of the rest of us, and what will be their standard? Were it possible to regulate, or legislate, a responsible owner into existence, responsibility without understanding still wouldn’t be enough. Education is the key. If consumers were more aware of what it takes to raise a calm, healthy companion they wouldn’t turn to pet stores and backyard breeders in the first place.

So while responsibility has its place, my point is that responsible dog ownership need not by definition require neutering. Especially since in my view, neutering doesn’t improve a dog’s sociability, it inhibits it and can thereby hasten a dog’s banishment to the pound or euthanasia at the clinic.

Given my interpretation of canine social nature, I view the so-called unwanted pet syndrome from a different perspective. The real problem as I’ve suggested isn’t that there are too many dogs, but that there are too many dogs being misunderstood and that it is the resulting confusion and disappointment that creates an unwanted pet. The argument is being presented standing on end. It’s the process of becoming unwanted that creates the so-called excess, not the other way around. That there are vast legions of unwanted and discarded dogs is not because there are too many dogs to go around, but because we are to that degree out of touch with the social nature of dogs. This is why I find the popular view of neutering as therapeutic so vexing, for it represents the absence and not the apex in the understanding of dog behavior. To repeat, the real problem isn’t pet overpopulation, (although I do indeed wish that only a few select dogs would be bred – and these wouldn’t be the ones show dog experts would select), the core issue is that dog and man all too often can’t learn to get along precisely because the wild, natural basis of canine behavior, the relationship of sexuality to harmonious group living isn’t understood and is in fact denied.

Therefore, when people take the time to train and regulate their dog’s activities, I don’t consider neutering as being in their dog’s best interests. But then maybe for some, neutering their dog is a way they can say to themselves they’re being responsible, and then they don’t actually have to act responsibly. They can open the door and let their dog go his own way in good conscience. It’s been my experience that the majority of male dogs discarded at shelters have already been neutered. Shelter workers tell me otherwise, but I don’t see this from my own experience. Where are these un-neutered dogs coming from? The average dog owner takes his puppy to a vet clinic for shots and is always advised to neuter their dog and most people, if they are interested in raising a well–adjusted puppy, accept it since this is the only information provided them. So if most of the dogs in shelters are un-neutered, this would indicate that these whole males come from owners who resist so–called informed opinion. Or, they are resisting out of outright machismo.

Whenever I talk to shelter people they tell me that litters are tossed over the fence or dropped off all the time. But how often, and don’t those puppies find homes? Otherwise, why would shelters be importing dogs?

The Health Myth

Another myth in my view is that neutering promotes health in male dogs. Medical matters are outside my expertise but I’ll share my opinions nonetheless because I believe that whole, heal, hale and health are synonyms.

In my opinion, carcinogenic dog foods contaminated with steroids, antibiotics, chemical additives, diseased food animals processed into feed, highly-processed and therefore de-vitalized rations are the real source of most modern ailments. Fifty years ago, my father in his commercial kennel, as did most pet owners, fed mostly meat scraps and very little processed dog food as it wasn’t widely available in those days. No question dogs were much healthier then. Modern Veterinary medicine is so aligned with big dog food business that I believe they’ve conveniently forgotten how hardy dogs used to be. I now hear of dogs diagnosed as being allergic to grass. What’s coming next, an allergic reaction to air?

Once when I owned my boarding kennel, I used to care for an Irish setter over a number of years. When he was about ten years old I gave him a bath and noticed how incredibly soft the skin on his underbelly had become. And then one day, about a year later, I let him out into our exercise yard to play with other dogs and later when I checked back on things, I was horrified to see him grabbing hunks of his skin and ripping them off his belly. He was covered in blood; I wrapped him in a blanket to keep him from inflicting any more damage and then rushed him to the vet. I had never seen anything like it, but the vet then informed me that this happens sometimes with older, neutered Irish Setters.

And then there were many older, neutered male dogs that had to be given hormone additives to their diet because they had become incontinent as they aged. Strangely, when owners ask their vets about any health consequences to neutering, they never seem to mention these long-term effects. It’s always presented in a completely rosy light.

I don’t see why a dog fed a natural diet can’t live to a ripe old age with all of his glands functioning free of disease. Also, most neutered males end up fat, if not obese, which can hardly be a prescription for health. Their owners could feed them less, but they don’t, and being neutered they tend to be less active and so they don’t burn up the calories; the weight piles on. They acquire a top-heavy flaccid body conformation with an overall appearance of unfitness. Ironically, in this age of holistic medicine, whole foods, an “un-whole” dog is considered more healthful. We need to ask, how might the whole organism, particularly the endocrine system, be subtly unbalanced in ways that science is not yet able to measure? Certainly the explosion of thyroid dysfunction in dogs over the last twenty years might have something to do with the neutering, and early spaying policies that have taken hold during this same period. And amazingly, the current fad in behaviorism is now diagnosing many incidents of aggression as being due to a thyroid imbalance.

While the removal of sexual organs will preclude the development of cancer in that particular organ, has any study been done to indicate a lessening in the rate of other cancers or diseases elsewhere in the body? (Links to such studies are provided below.) Perhaps all neutering really accomplishes is to shift the site of a cancer to another organ and the real source of cancer isn’t addressed. I remember as a kid, it was a common medical practice to remove a child’s tonsils because tonsils were considered an irrelevant vestigial appendage. Our family doctor didn’t buy it, and fortunately my parents listened. Now medicine recognizes the tonsils are the first line of defense and serve to trap infectious agents before they go deeper into the body and take a more dangerous manifestation. When will we learn that every component of the body is an integral component of the whole? If health is our concern, how could neutering be healthful? I advise my clients that they should feed their dog a diet free of contaminants and industrial processing and that nourished with whole foods, a whole male is more likely to lead a vigorously healthy life than a neutered one.

Some science below:

The links below are a good survey of the latest research. But remember we don’t need science to tell us that whole = health = heal. This understanding is a function of common sense.

http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/three-reasons-to-reconsider-spayneuter/

http://time4dogs.blogspot.com/2014/01/dont-spay-or-neuter-your-pets.html

http://www.dogcancerblog.com/bladder-and-prostate-cancer-neutering-male-dogs-increases-risk/

http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2011/02/17/dangers-of-early-pet-spaying-or-neutering.aspx

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Published June 25, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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148 responses to “The Debate Over Neutering”

  1. Actually, the link I provided above is a newer version of a more critical article written by Christie Keith (which I can no longer find).

    Here’s another article:
    The Negative and Positive Effects of Spay/Neuter

    By the way, reading your article made me remember a time when a client dropped off a dog for boarding with me at my apt. in New York. The next day (the 1st day in a 2 wk. long stay), the dog, a female boxer named Ilsa, went into heat. I was worried about what might happen when I took her and Freddie, my intact male Dalmatian, out to play.

    Sure enough, as soon as we got to our spot (a fenced-in softball field under the 59th St. Bridge), and I unleashed Freddie he started to try to “get something going” with Ilsa. But as soon as I pulled a tennis ball from my training vest, that’s all he was interested in.

    Very good article, as always, Kevin,

    LCK

  2. Max says:

    Took me a while to finish it, but I really found this article interesting.

    I’m looking forward to get a puppy before the end of this year and the subject about neutering was something I wasn’t so sure about. With so many arguments and authors on favour and against, I really couldn’t make my mind up.

    Finally, I have found in your article an argument that makes sense to me. Thanks Kevin, you have made me decide that neutering is something I would not do to my dog pets.

    If I may suggest, an article or post on natural foods should be a must!

    Thanks again,
    Max.

  3. Ben says:

    My dog, Indy, is very reactive and aware of intact males. He is highly attracted to them, but has trouble dealing with that attraction. He will become aggressive– barking, snarling, showing teeth, nipping, etc. If we’re out on a walk, he will lash out at intact males almost without warning if we pass one. After 5-10 minutes, he will settle down and become very social and have normal interactions with them.

    This has happened 4 or 5 times, but every single time, the intact dog has NEVER reacted or responded in an aggressive way. In fact, they seem relatively unphased by his approach, and try to initiate normal social contact even when he is physically nipping their neck, standing over them, etc.

    I now know this has nothing to do with whether he “likes” intact males or not, but more to do with the energy he experiences around them, and his inability to handle it appropriately.

    My question is, out of curiosity– why aren’t the intact dogs reacting? Is there something different about the way Indy is behaving (as compared to a different type of aggression), or is there something different about the intact dogs and their ability to handle that explosive energy he presents?

  4. Trisha says:

    Not much can be added to this succinct and elegant article. When my brother got a puppy, he researched all the veterinary medicine studies and found unequivocally that neutered dogs have more health problems than intact males. (He chose to neuter anyhow) I have a whole male, 8 years old, who has never “roamed”, never produced puppies, and never had a single behavioral problem. The only problem we have had is that neutered males growl and pick fights with him, and he is non reactive, therefore I find the previous post interesting and look forward to hearing the reply. I have thought for a long time that the neutering mania is more a function of fear of male energy than anything else, so I appreciate Kevin putting himself out there with such a contentious and hot topic. Thank you.

  5. kbehan says:

    The whole males are able to sense the positive attraction Indy holds for them and which is underlying Indy’s explosive behavior. Thus, they are in the process of “flipping polarity,” i.e. becoming soft to fit with Indy’s brittleness, or you could say becoming more magnetic to complement Indy’s intense electric, so that they can plug into him and fit together. It is the exact same phenomenon as a stud dog enduring a female dog’s abuse when he first tries to breed her but she’s not yet ready. Because of the strength of his sexual attraction, the stud dog can hold on to the feeling of attraction for the female despite all the fraction and resistance that’s being flung at him. So the whole dogs are hanging in there while the electrostatic energy is being discharged by Indy’s nipping and so on, and sure enough Indy’s “puppy mind” then comes up to the surface and he “remembers” how to be social.

  6. Jacinta says:

    Thank you for this. It’s a constant struggle when interacting with fellow dog people who believe that speutering is the responsible thing to do as a pet owner. I believe, as do many other people who believe in natural rearing animals, that cutting out body parts, especially healthy functioning body parts is unnatural and has to have some sort of impact on that body’s life energy and ability to maintain health. It’s akin to saying, Oh I might risk breast cancer in my 40s and 50s, so I’ll just cut my breasts off now. It’s utterly ridiculous, and frankly, sad that a responsible dog owner who wants her dogs intact are virtually bullied into “fixing” them. For what it’s worth, stupid people will always be irresponsible some way or other. I fail to see how making the rest of us suffer for their stupidity will make pet overpopulation disappear. Just because I have an intact dog doesn’t mean that I’m contributing to the supposed pet overpopulation problem.

    I actually believe that it’s precisely the early speutering of our animals, the over-vaccinating and the lazy feeding habits, the lack of understanding responsible animal husbandry, that’s making our animals unhealthier both physically and emotionally and behaviorally. Thank you for having, ahem, the balls to write this.

  7. Since the article covers so many aspects of this issue, one thing that may not have come through clearly is the fact that there lots of studies showing that testosterone, which has gotten such a bad rap in recent years, actually fosters calm behavior in both humans and dogs, and that aggression and macho-ism are not the result of testosterone itself, but of abnormally high levels. On its own, in proper amounts, it acts (as Kevin points out) as a kind of social glue or harmonizing agent.

    I liked Ben’s comment because it reminded me of something that my Dalmatian Freddie taught me about intact males. If forced into a corner by a neutered male Fred would sometimes, though rarely, stand his ground: not to attack the other dog, just to keep himself from being hurt. And he only did that when he was absolutely cornered. (In fact he only did that when he was cornered by other intact males as well; otherwise he kept his distance.) But any time a female tried to attack him, he would not under any circumstances fight back, not even if he was actually bitten by the dog (which only happened once). It just wasn’t in him to “hurt a girl.”

    LCK

  8. Genna says:

    While I found the article intelligently written and even agreed with some of it. I can’t get behind a trainer across the board attempting to ban spay/neuter. I think it would be more responsible of you to say “Have your dog evaluated by a trainer or behaviorist before having surgery. I have been concerned for many years with the efforts to spay/neuter earlier and earlier in pets lives. For the vast majority of pet owner’s spay/neuter is the responsible thing to do. Would I prefer that all owner’s educate themselves, go to classes, take seminars, read a book and actually implement the methods….YES!! But thats not reality for most owner’s. Thats not to say they arent caring people with the best intentions. All owner’s are not as educated or evolved to even handle a female in heat. By handle I mean basic common sense things,(not supporting or denying any behavior issues)

    Lets be honest most people have trouble getting their dog’s to sit reliably. Owner’s should brush their dog’s teeth, clip their nails, get regular check ups, make sure they get plenty of excercise and train their pets….They SHOULD do many things, and don’t…They shouldn’t do many things and do…In a perfect world would it be better for the animals to not neuter/spay? Most likely….In this world it remains an overall benefit to do so.

    You focus a bit more on “intact males”. Are you denying or just avoiding the health risks for intact females?

    Your theories are fascinating, but you provide little to back them up at least in these articles. Maybe I need to buy the book. I’m not even sure I’ll be back to the site. Your theories seem to be based on your personal experience and anecdotes of this dog or that dog versus actual scientific studies. if that is not the case you should make more of an effort to have that come through in your online articles. Also if you took less of ” Im right and your wrong, but Im okay with that” attitude your message would come through more clearly.

    As I said I have concerns with owner’s being pushed towards spay/neuter at even earlier ages these days. Your blanket statements about what vet’s reccomend are inaccurate at best. They make you guilty of just what your accusing the other side of the argument of at worst….All vets that I come into contact with and in my current area that 85% of the market are very clear with owner’s that neutering epsecially will not lower their energy level, stop humping, other dog aggression or prevent dominant behavior. They set realistic expectations for owner’s.

    I assume you want people to read further, ask questions, learn more. If thats true, you can’t really just say “Here is what I think and some of why” and ” It doesnt impact me of you don’t follow it”

    Maybe you have done extensive research, but it isn’t coming through in the various articles I have read so far on this site. It seems to be anecdotes and case by case experiences. If your theories are correct they could be revolutionary, but this far I remain seriously unconvinced to even be tempted to buy your book. My respect and compliments for going new places and exploring new theories. Try to be a bit more responsible and respectful. You will get further with people. Even if you think it doesn’t impact you.

    Just because its different doesn’t make it right….or wrong.

  9. Genna says:

    *yikes*

    I apologize for the poorly organized response and typos:( No edit feature here and didn’t intend to hit “submit”.

  10. kbehan says:

    Genna: Please reread the beginning of the article where I state that the article is based on my experience and that “I’m not trying to convince owners not to neuter their male dogs.” I am not promulgating a ban on anything; the proponents for neutering are. I am not trying to control anyone’s choice in the matter, the proponents for neutering are. There are thousands of websites, books, articles and TV shows saying that owners must neuter their male dogs, whereas there are only a few websites and lone voices in opposition. All I’m saying is let’s have a free wheeling debate and everyone can make up their own mind.
    I am using the same science everyone else is using; I simply interpret the evidence in a different way and this has led me to a different conclusion. And as for science, according to Budiansky, there is in fact an increase in rates of aggression: which concurs with my anecdotal experience as well and with my theory. Also, I am open to a better scientific argument as to why for example: dogs love to ride in cars, smell their own you know what, or why-dogs-do-everything-in-a-circle – if I could find one, but to date science either hasn’t noticed that dogs do everything in a circle among many such things, or has failed to find any significance in any of it. This is like seeing apples floating upward from time to time but not questioning our understanding about gravity. And given that you are against the movement toward early neutering and spaying, you might want to note that it is the scientific/behavioral community that is leading that movement and not the breeders and old school dog people such as myself. Please feel free to challenge any specific point in my argument as opposed to my manner of presentation. My argument is based on the nature of the dog as I understand it, not respect or disrespect to anyone.
    The purpose of Natural Dog Training is to empower owners to become their own experts. You can test my theory for yourself. You don’t need a scientist to tell you what’s true. Go to a protection training field when there is a female dog in heat and observe for yourself if the well trained dog would rather work or breed. If the former is true, then this means the gene centric theory for behavior is as wrong as the notion that the sun revolves around the earth and indeed we need a revolution in thinking.
    Finally, this article is about the neutering of male dogs because the owners of male dogs are told it will improve their dog’s behavior and health, especially in regards to aggression. The article is not about the spaying of females.

  11. I found the link to the earlier Christie Keith article.

    It’s pretty good.

    It’s Just That They Lie About It

    LCK

  12. Jacinta says:

    Lee, may I ask if this is the same Christie Keith from this site:
    http://www.caberfeidh.com/

    The Caber Feidh site has some interesting information about dog health and it’s one I typically refer people to when they talk about titering etc. Just curious.

  13. Yes. She’s very knowledgeable about a lot of things, and was one of the first people to start digging into the whole melamine fiasco.

    LCK

  14. BethInNYC says:

    With all due respect Kevin you are indeed very strongly making a judgment about spay/ neutering. just using the term whole male is a very conscious and provocative word to use. I have seen little difference in males in dog runs whether they are intact or neutered. either can be various degrees of calm, nonreactive and tolerant or the opposite. The biggest difference I see is the reactions other dogs have towards an intact male by both intact and neutered. When inclined the reaction is noisy, pushy and threatening. If the dog is of a calm temperament, the other dog may continue the posturing but it rarely escalates, if the dog does respond it gets ugly. I rarely see this between two neutered. If one postures and the other responds there’s usually a short ack or yelling response and not much more.

    I find your theories interesting but a few things.. The whole natural name is misleading and here’s why.. there is nothing natural about a dog/human relationship other than the obvious bond and need to be each others companion. But if by your thinking, then teaching a dog to be housebroken is very unnatural and not really in the long run healthy. we have the ability to go the bathroom when we want to. dogs living with people in most situations don’t. they also may not eat everyday if feral and certainly don’t eat on schedule.. the point is using the term natural is misleading and dishonest. Bottom line, they live in our world and have to adapt to our needs for a successful longterm relationship. We make basically all their decisions.. when and how long they can bark, what pace to walk at when outside.. how to play, when to pee, when to eat and when and if to procreate.

    When we used to let our dogs out to years ago to wander the streets at their leisure, it was the closest to natural living while being domesticated in a city environment. they’d disappear for days and come back skinny and sometimes hurt. No doubt they mated and fought and then come home when starving. The biggest difference is of course commercial breeding facilities didn’t exist and thousands of puppies weren’t being bred and shipped all over the country. The situation is horribly different today and your article is irresponsible precisely because of this. If you want to present your theories to your clients whom are clearly educated and able to be responsible dog owners that’s fine but on a public site, yes it is irresponsible. the majority of people can’t even educate themselves on how to teach a dog how to walk properly on leash and you expect them to be responsible with a female in heat? People bring females in heat into dog runs and are shocked when their dog is harassed by all the other dogs and don’t understand why.. Really, this is what you want to see more of. the American public is simply not mature enough, not still enough and not inclined to be intact dog owners. If you insist on keeping this up I implore you to make a firm statement on the responsibility of being an intact dogs owner both male and female at the beginning and end of the article.

  15. BethInNYC says:

    wow, just reread.. sorry for some of the incomplete thoughts in a few of the sentences.. I was thinking and typing quickly but the basics got through..

  16. BethInNYC says:

    Sorry one more thought. Regarding your statement about dog bites. The majority of dog bites that are reported are by male intact tethered dogs (to which I believe both being intact and tethered contributed). Not the well treated beloved family pet whether intact or neutered/spayed(which doesn’t mean they don’t bite too, just not majority). There are also more people getting dogs for nefarious or just plain wrong reasons than in the past and more opportunities for puppies to be bought impulsively and/or for status then in the past.. All of this most certainly contributes to unwanted dogs and unwanted dog behavior. So why you choose to zero in on neutering is beyond me and clearly shows prejudice. The commitment level is completely different today in every aspect of American life.. bottom line, this is what is a major major source of dog issues.

  17. Margot says:

    I always believed an intact male dog was an out of control thing that ran around trying to hump everything in sight and was constantly trying to escape to go find a girl. Not sure where I got that idea from. Though Kevins article was very interesting, but now that I have a male dog who is intact, it can be boiled down to this:

    He is sweet, funny and smart, if anything he is a little too laid back when inside due to his hectic social life, he occasionally humps his friends, when females are on heat he is a little annoying to walk with because he is just interested in sniffing.

    I see no good reason to neuter him. To remove healthy organs from a living creature for no good reason is barbaric.

    Another thought. If I cut off my head I totally eliminate my risk of getting cancer of the brain. What a good idea. I’ll go do it!

    Just being funny, sorry 😉

  18. kbehan says:

    I don’t think a term like whole is provocative any more than it is when used in regards to holistic medicine or whole foods. It’s simply accurate. Interestingly, a term like “fixed” implies that the other is “broken.”
    The idea that the relationship between man and dog is not natural doesn’t make sense to me. If it is true that man has arbitrarily and artificially produced the dog, and that we teach it our ways, then why can’t man selectively breed cats into a variety of breeds which can perform specialized tasks? If we are in control of the way dogs do things, then why can’t we assert such control over any other species and live with them as well? My premise is that the relationship between man and dog is wholly natural because nature produced the dog, not man. It’s the nature of the dog that renders them house-trainable, obedience-trainable, serviceable and companionable. My goal with this web site is to reduce the number of dogs being killed and increase the satisfaction people derive from living with their dogs by giving dogs what they want most. This can only happen if owners understand their dog’s nature.

    If as you say the problem of owners bringing female dogs in heat into dog runs is so great, and if as you say whole males are too disturbing to other dogs, whole or neutered, so that a duly-constituted dog run association wants to pass a rule that only neutered male dogs can use their dog run, I have no problem with that. The responsible dog owner issue is a red herring. Responsible dog owners are neutering their dogs AND putting them down for aggression. My goal with this website is to lessen the skyrocketing rate of euthanasia for aggressive dogs. In my opinion things are not getting better in dogdom. The social and physical constitution of dogs is becoming weaker.

  19. kbehan says:

    One should never tie a dog out where it is in harms’ way or an attractive nuisance to other people and dogs. I couldn’t agree more. Also I am not zeroing in on anything. I am outlining a model for the whole dog, i.e. its nature, and this includes its sexuality. The theology in favor of neutering (on the other hand I enjoy a principled debate) is denying that the sexuality of dogs contribute to their good nature and so this offers us an opportunity to explore the issue and arrive at a fuller understanding of dogs.

  20. Trisha says:

    It seems to me that what we have here is a seasoned police dog trainer with 45 years of experience as well as a person who specializes in the rehabilitation of aggressive dogs proposing that we open up a discussion about the validity of the arguments given in support of neutering. What makes me uncomfortable about the negative comments is the underlying argument that people are not responsible enough to be make a decision about what is right for their pet, rather, there should be a firm, unquestioned, shame based status quo that all people should follow without thought. I find this type of thinking quite antithetical to the exercise of free will and it frightens me. A better society, and therefore a better place for pets, can only emerge through rigorous questioning of doctrines of all kinds and through expansion of thought, not contraction of it.

  21. BethInNYC says:

    Trisha, despite my stance i agree with you for the most part. I believe wholeheartedly that education and discussion and training are the best way to go in any area of life. Sadly this society is just not mature enough. Again, please understand that I know that there are very responsible and capable people. Unfortunately there are far more who aren’t and I and thousands of others are in the trenches trying to stem the end result of this. I do not think there is anything wrong with an intact dog of either sex. If I lived in The Netherlands or Germany or Scandinavia I wouldn’t have to be an advocate of s/n. This is because those societies put a very high value on anti social behavior and adhere to doing what is best for the society. Americans are extremely independent and Don’t tread on me or my individual freedoms is fiercely imprinted on us results be damned.

    sadly, i feel an intense need to protect the dogs from selfish and/or uneducated decisions that I see the results of everyday. so perhaps saying this shouldn’t be published on a public site was extreme (it pushes my fear buttons with regard to this topic), I do stand by the idea that within this debate, as a responsible and loving dog person there must be discussion about the responsibilities with regard to procreation which is my only concern with intact dogs, most byb’s don’t give one thought as to what happens to the pups once they are in their new homes. puppies always find a home quickly, adult dogs do not. dogs that have been casually bred or bought usually change hands by age 1 or end up in a shelter or rescue situation. and by the way, there is no shortage of dogs in the northeast. there is a shortage of puppies in shelters because the northeast has high s/n rate… And as long as puppies are the golden ticket this situation is going to change anytime soon.

  22. BethInNYC says:

    once again… typed too fast:

    1.. re Scandinavia, netherlands, germany: place high value and pressure AGAINST anti social behavior.

    2.. last sentence: this situation ISN’T going to change soon..

    sorry about that..

  23. Jannik says:

    This article, “The Debate over Neutering” is likely to be the most controversial aspect of Natural Dog Training, but it is the inescapable conclusion of the belief that dogs are social by nature. Because if this is true, that dogs are the most cooperative animal on earth, then by definition, even their sexual makeup is vital to their social nature.

    This is so true..

    without a hunt in trainning one will probably not get enywhere in trainning. I often track with my dog ( German bloodline) If she sees a cat a deer while she is tracking they are out off interest but they are not, if she off duty hmm make some thoughts, back to group work 🙂

    1.. re Scandinavia, netherlands, germany: place high value and pressure AGAINST anti social behavior

    Thats true what there is in focus now is so called muscle dogs, there have been several accidents last couples of years that is up in debate in our goverment to discus these problems.

    Jannik

  24. Margot says:

    I have lived in various countries in north western Europe for many years now and I would not say there is high social pressure, and that there are no antisocial types. We do have those, and there is not so much pressure. There just seems to be a greater sense of responsibility towards living things and each other instilled in the people here. We have better social systems in place which I guess increases people’s sense of the value of life.

    They do encourage neutering, shelters insist on it, but mostly it is left up to the individual pet owner and few people have a strong opinion about it. Those that choose not to neuter, make sure that their dogs do not get the opportunity to breed unless they want them to.

    People should make their own choices based on factual information. Promoting inaccurate information to get a society to make certain choices is scary, regardless of the subject matter.

    Delierate misinformation is disrespectful, and when you disrespect, you do not promote respect. And then we are back where we started, lack of respect for the value of life.

  25. Sara says:

    It’s nice seeing the opposing arguments. We decided before we ever got our male bloodhound to keep him intact. The fact that so many people are blind to the negative consequences of neutering is sad. When we go to the dog park, people go out of their way to ask “When are you neutering him, or is he a show dog?” Our dog is not a show dog and we are not neutering him. This response almost always ends with the asker looking as if someone hit them with a truck. You can tell they want to yell at you and “educate” you. A few people have tried that. I will not be bullied into putting my dog through unnecessary surgery. My dog is not “fixed” but he is not “broken”!
    Owning an unaltered dog is difficult. People automatically assume that you are irresponsible.
    Surgery should not be a substitute for responsibility.

  26. April Hannon says:

    This is a very interesting article. I’ve never heard any debate against neutering your dog that made any sense to me. I understand what everyone in rescue groups are saying about spaying and neutering your pet. But since reading Keven’s debate over neutering, and experiencing a short part of life with a neutered dog that exhibited prey instinct towards other dogs and was put to sleep because of it, I wonder if he was unaltered if he would have been able to connect with his ual/sensual emotional energy and possibly project that on other dogs, maybe he could have been rehabilitated. It’s just a theory, no hard evidence, but I am convinced that the so called benefits of neutering your dogs are far less than the impact that removing vital emotional organs really has on your dog. I’m curious as to the fact that Kevin never mentions anything about spaying your female dogs, because I’m assuming the same reasons apply as to males.

  27. kbehan says:

    The same basic thing applies for females as males, however the issue of convenience comes up when the female is in heat. I advise my clients to let their female dog have at least two or three heats before they have her spayed. It is a more difficult operation for the vet, sorry, but the dog develops a much healthier body and temperament and will in my view, be healthier in the long run if fed a wholesome diet.

  28. Rachel says:

    I do agree with your views, although you do focus on the intact male. Medical science has proven the a hystorectomy is harmful to a woman, why i the same not true of our animal companions. Animals, human and non, were designed to be whole, however it is our responsiblity to prevent unwanted breedings. Veterinarians should offer vesectomies and tubal-liagations instead of spay or castration. Our animals would remain whole as nature intended, allowing the correct flow of energy, hormones, and vitality, all the while allowing proper social interactions, while preventing unpanned litters.

  29. kbehan says:

    I’m mainly focusing on the behavioral argument about neutering as it’s applied to male dogs. But yes, take responsibility and prevent unplanned breedings. Don’t spay your female if you can manage her estrus and can prevent mating. If you must spay, wait for her to have at least two to three heats so she can mature. Less invasive methods are always best.

  30. Stella says:

    Fabulous Post!

    I have a 3 year old female dog in NYC who is not neutered. Thankfully, with a female, this is easy to hide from other dog owners most of the time, because I really don’t need to hear the well-meaning but nonsensical “lectures” at the dog park. I do not plan to ever breed her – and no, there is no way she is going to get knocked up w/out my permission. It really isn’t all that hard or complicated to prevent an intact dog from getting pregnant (now cats on the other hand!).

    The reason I haven’t neutered her is because it just didn’t make sense to disrupt the endocrine system of a still maturing animal. Science is still learning a lot about the relationship between the endocrine system in humans and physical and mental health. It just seems to me that if hormonal health is so vital to human health, it would also be to animals.

    My dog has been through appx 5 heat cycles now – and I have learned that while it is a bit inconvenient, it is really not all that bad. And because her drive is focused on me – taking her for walks in NYC parks (where unneutered dogs DO roam during off-leash hours!) is not so hard; in fact, it has gotten easier each time. And yeah, she would rather hunt squirrels with me (we occasionally play stalk the squirrel together) than entertain a randy male dog – even when she is in heat!

    At this point, I see no need to ever neuter her. Particularly since for a female, spaying is MAJOR unnecessary surgery, and can be dangerous (I do know of one dog whose back legs became paralyzed after being spayed).

  31. Russell says:

    New research about testosterone

    Testosterone “prompts fair play, not aggression”

    http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE5B73RZ20091208

  32. kbehan says:

    Excellent article, perhaps mainstream science will start to become more open to seeing the true role sexuality plays in dogs as well. Dogs are our best window into the animal mind. Thanks for the link.

  33. Harold says:

    Great article, Kevin. I have adopted a dog from the shelter (he is around 1 year old) with physical features and personality atypical to a jack russell terrier, being very active, having a strong prey drive and constantly challenging his human pack members! But I believe he is not a pure-bred JRT as he has short ears (not droopy ones like JRTs usually have), and is of a medium size (he weighs 20 kilograms) but other than that he looks 90% like a JRT and behaves like a JRT.

    My dog however has a very strong urge to mark his territory as well as to escape, and I have been told that this is due to his testosterone levels (he is not neutered). My vet strongly encourages me to neuter. I am however unwilling to neuter him as I wish to preserve his territorial instincts (I live in a dangerous neighborhood and my new dog is very alert and barks at strangers and intruders viciously – something that I wish to retain), and especially after reading your article regarding your views on neutering, I have decided not to neuter.

    I have designated a certain area at home for him to mark (a small shrub) but have not tolerated his marking habit in other places of the house and garden. After training for a few months he does not mark on forbidden places when I am in the vicinity, although when I am not looking,he leaves his urine on poles and walls of the house. This habit of marking his territory is getting a little out of hand as his compulsive urge to defecate and leave his urine has caused much inconvenience for me and my family. I have tried certain methods of training him, (even chiding and scolding him in public does not work) but it all seems to be futile! This marking habit gets even worse when we take him out for walks and his compulsive desire to mark everywhere he pleases has caused much embarrassment for me and I have no idea on how to correct his behaviour. This may be due to the scents left behind by previous dogs, and he’s just trying to lift his leg on their scents (as your article has stated) – but is there a way to stop this behaviour? A few days back I took him to the vet for a check up and he started sniffing around and I know he’s going to mark and shouted at him to stop, even trying to distract him – in the end he defecated on the floor and started marking the the walls, and I had to take him outside much to my embarrassment. People around me are nagging me to neuter him, but is this really the only solution to this problem?

    My patience is wearing out day by day, and I am under pressure already by my family to send my new friend back to the shelter, and I am unwilling to do so, as I have been warned by staff in the shelter that he is at high risk of being put down. I love my dog and I want the best for him.

    Please advice,

    Harold

  34. Harold says:

    Perhaps this paper may be of some interest while we’re on the subject:

    http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf

    Regards,

    Harold

  35. kbehan says:

    This kind of elimination pattern is an indirect manner of expressing fighting drive. (Does dog sleep on bed?) And this means that correcting the dog over the behavior is actually reinforcing the underlying need for a fight. You can even say that the dog is “relieving” itself of internal pressure by eliminating in order to AVOID an outright fight, so in this sense it is adaptive although it will end the dog back in the clink and ultimately across the River Styx. At any rate you must first deny the dog access to the house until it is fully trained. Doesn’t matter how long this takes. The dog must always be crated indoors. Secondly, the dog must get a chance to express its fighting drive in an acceptable outlet, i.e. push for food, push/tug of war and always OUTDOORS, preferably on an outing at some distance from house. You must stop following the dog around when you go for walks outdoors and gratifying its insecurity and need for indirect fighting by prolific leg lifting. It has to learn to walk “in suspension” alongside you as a means of aligning with you rather than relying on these loads/overloads as dysfunction means of connection. A completely managed approach is the only hope. I once adopted a Papillon that was raised indoors for a year and it became perfectly house trained. When I saw it going to the far end of the yard to eliminate as far as possible from the house, I knew I had created a preference in the dog for an indirect expression of its energy in the appropriate place, which is why dogs are even house trainable in the first place, and only then did I begin to give it freedom in the house. Once we were delayed by emergency and the little trooper did 24 hours without a hitch.

  36. Harold says:

    Thank you for the reply Kevin. I hope other readers in my situation would find your response beneficial too! My new dog has no problems learning tricks and is in fact a fast learner – which has made me even more frustrated when he just doesn’t seem to learn to control his urge to eliminate/mark no matter how strict I treat him. My dog does not sleep on my bed.

    I will implement your advice and update you with details. I have spoken to some other dog owners today and it seems that their neutered dogs have problems with marking too – I doubt mine will stop the habit even after he gets neutered! Do you recommend me to use dog diapers/belly bands when the dog is in the house, will that be an effective deterrent for him to mark? How long on average do you think it will take before he is fully housebreaked through consistent daily training?

  37. Amanda says:

    Thank you for this article, Kevin.

    Your thoughts countering the overpopulation myth got me thinking… As you said, most owners are neutering right now, yet we still have an overpopulation problem.

    We have hundreds of puppy mills producing new dogs with an untold number of physical and mental problems, due to inbreeding, which are also causing untold emotion and physical devastation to the dogs they use for their profits. To me, this seems like it could quite possibly be an unfortunate result of all the “fixing” we have done, since it seems they have “filled the hole” of people’s desires for new puppies.

    As you mentioned, as far as overpopulation goes, the problem is mostly with people who abandon dogs, especially after the puppy stage. But the truth is, we have more desire for puppies than for adult dogs, so it stands to reason, that until people become committed to the animals they bring home – whether that means keeping them for life, or ensuring they go to another good home, this problem will always be here, regardless of whether or not we have a 100% rate of compliance for “fixing” our dogs.

    But coupled with this, we may also be experiencing more problem animals as a result of too many puppy mills. We have dogs inbred to meet “breed standards”, raised in a poor environment, and then living their young lives on display behind glass. Counter this type of puppy with one that comes as a result of an “accidental breeding” and I have to admit, I would prefer the accidental breeding take place instead.

    One could easily make the assumption that if the accidental breeding never took place, then at least half the problem is solved. We have half the number of excess animals, correct? But to me – it’s quality vs. quantity. And not allowing the accidental breeding to happen, only opens the door for puppy mills to breed twice as much, releasing more animals with greater problems than probably would have been seen in the accidental breeding.

    You said that cats do breed prolifically when they mate with neighbor cats… arguing that the need for neutering and spaying them is important.

    And this leads me to wondering, is this perhaps why we don’t hear so much about “kitty mills”? Perhaps all the “overpopulation” is produced so well by wandering felines, that the need for “kitty mills” is therefore reduced.

    Personally, I’d much rather see kittens being born in freedom, or from responsible breeders, than I would in the most inhumane way possible – in tight cages, with no freedom or ability to experience love in their lives. And I would also prefer to see this for the canine world as well.

    So therefore, in agreement with your “overpopulation myth”, I would (jokingly but seriously) propose that we PUT PUPPY MILLS OUT OF BUSINESS by allowing our intact males to roam freely and make all the puppies they want.

    I don’t really want this at THE solution, folks, so please don’t counter in angry opposition. This is intended however, to open our minds to what some of the potential problems may be of restricting our own breeding, restricting the breeding pools, and allowing puppy mills to consequently “fill the hole” of our puppy love.

  38. kbehan says:

    I’m advising that your dog not have one second of freedom in the house until it is reliably trained and no matter how long that takes. In other words he should be crated and I would guess this will trigger a barking problem so that will be another means of accessing and resolving the underlying problem. This is because whatever the dog is experiencing indoors, all the incidental activities, is nevertheless part of the “energy circuit” which is relieved by indoor elimination so if the dog is free in the house without first having established the preference for eliminating-outside-in-an-appropriate-place CIRCUIT, means that energetically it is being trained to relieve itself indoors even though the physical actions associated with it might be mechanically blocked by some device. The hard thing to entertain, until that is one looks at behavior as an energy formula, is that all the trick and obedience training, and petting and rewarding, is in fact fueling this syndrome as well.
    Another way to look at all this is that I suspect this dog can induce guilt in you so that you are troubled by dog not having freedom indoors even though it’s soiling the house. Guilt is a most insidious form of anger so you now have a dog that will trigger guilt and so that you can convert that into its complementary form, anger, which is good because in this form it is far easier to resolve. As the Terminator once remarked (in the third movie) when he referenced his human-psyche chip after getting the hero mad at him in the mausoleum, human anger is more adaptive. So your dog is probably a knot of anger (compressed energy) that is being relieved through friendliness/trick performing/marking and this entire ball has to be unwound as part of the healing process. It’s vital to not put a time element on the dog’s emotional healing process because this is exactly how the human intellect keeps human emotion compressed as guilt/anger. (Note how modern behaviorism is intensely fixated on schedules and imprint periods that are supposedly fixed in the maturing puppy, dog training courses cover ten weekly lessons — can one imagine a horse trainer offering a money-back guarantee? — the terminology of learning is dry and mechanical and treats emotion as a mental phenomenon which loops us right back into the Time syndrome.) Instead, consider the training regime as if it’s a physical rehab program after the victim has been in a car crash. Create the new circuit but be careful not to put any weight on the “bone” until it’s strong enough to handle the load. My daughter had appendicitis this summer and the healing process took months longer than the doctor told us, but so what? What else do we have to do that’s more important than healing?

  39. christine randolph says:

    More on urinating in the house. I have a female dog which has shown the tendency to urinate in the house.

    I had her on the leash for a month or so, not so much the crate.

    a crate would be fine, or several crates all over the house if it is a big house.

    she did not urinate while on the leash, i.e. tied to a chair or so.

    She did bark when she could not see us and she was tied up.

    we tried to reward her like crazy when she did urinate outdoors.

    eventually she was allowed to be free in the house and that seemed to work but when we got our third dog last spring, she started again. I think he had a few mistakes and that set her off.

    she has one room where she REALLY likes to urinate, this is also a room where we cannot see her doing it. she is very private.

    for a long time, when we first had her, she would not urinate while on a leash outdoors

    (this is how I got the idea to keep her on a leash in the house), she wanted to go far away and do it where we could not see her so well.

    I ended up blocking off the “pee room” with ring gates which “fixed” the problem..the plastic ring gates are still up…i guess i should take them down and test her for a bit. it is easy to put them back if it does not work.

    I think no matter how much you clean an area, there are still traces of urine that the dogs can detect and then they seem to like to urinate there again.

    this dog also wants to urinate in our bathrooms, she can smell our urine (and maybe even the previous inhabitants’ urine) and wants to go where we go.

    another thing she does, she will sneak out of the bedroom at night and urinate wherever, too sleepy to go outside.

    (we have the dog door open all night but it is in the basement, and she sleeps often on the first floor so she reckons it is a waste of her energy to do all that walking for a pee) so we now make her (and the other two just while we are at it) go outside at night, then my husband gives her a treat when she comes back in, so she gets into that habit. (My husband gets up once in the middle of the night anyway, checks the singapore stock exchange or whatever..)

    She is also the one who finds it most difficult to pee in a strange environment when we are going on a trip.

    we have taken her on many trips and she is slowly getting the hang of it.

    Smelling her adoptive siblings’ urine helps a lot with this.

    I think shouting at a dog can make them urinate or defecate from distress…

    I have seen dogs use calming sigals if they are shouted at to avoid a fight, but I am not sure that shouting deters them from any undesirable activities in the future.

    I am not sure neutering helps much with “eliminating the urinating”.

    I have not met anyone who was able to fix the problem this way. It is amazing how many dog owners have this problem, so do not feel bad.

    I think if we stop neutering and spaying dogs, we will end up having to euthanize more of them…i do not know if that is better ???

    obviously, if one rescues a dog, the rescue organizations mandate that they be neutered or spayed.

    Because I often walk my dogs off leash, they would be able to mount or be mounted by intact dogs and would have unplanned pregnancies, if they were not neutered/spayed…

    at the sled dog kennel, if the handler does not realize that a female is in heat, (sometimes you only see it on the second day or so) and an intact male gets loose by mistake, voila, more unwanted puppies with a less than ideal genetic background (litters from siblings etc).
    this is why often the dogs that are not considered breed-worthy are neutered. however, a lot of sled dog owners do not even have the money to neuter all the dogs they want neutered ! at 120 $ or so a pop, with 20, 30 or hundreds of dogs in a kennel, it can add up…

  40. Karen says:

    This morning at the dog park, a young female pit bull ran up to my male dog who is neutered. The pit bull owner was nowhere in sight, and my dog started going nuts humping her. Thanks to natural dog training, he usually has incredible recall, but this time he didn’t even look my way. I had to go over to him and leash him up to get him stop. Out of practically nowhere, several other male dogs ran over to her. They all were making attempts to hump her, and she was doing her best to keep them away. I knew right away that she was in heat.

    A few minutes later, the owner comes strolling up to us yelling at her dog, ”Don’t let them f***ing get up on you!” I asked her, “Is your dog in heat?” She replied, “What’s that?” I said, ”Does you dog have her period?” She answered, “Yeah.” I explained that she really shouldn’t bring her dog to the park right now because the dog could get pregnant and other dogs could start fighting over her.” She told me to mind my own f****ing business.

    Maybe everyone on this site who has an unneutered dog could have kept his or her dog off of this dog in heat. Kudos to you! But the average dog owner at my park couldn’t, and most people are average dog owners. That is precisely why there is a national campaign to educate and advocate spaying and neutering.

    And frankly, there are just too many idiots out there for me not to support the campaign to spay and neuter. Maybe a better campaign would be to educate people about being responsible–about how much it actually costs to raise an “oops” litter, and how many dogs are waiting to be euthanized in our shelters. But unfortunately, I know too many well-intentioned dog owners who really meant to do the “right” thing, and ended up with a pregnant dog. It simply wouldn’t have happened if the dog had been spayed.

    People may argue that there will always be idiots, and “I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about not neutering my dog because of other irresponsible people.” I understand your feelings, but this really isn’t about your feelings. It’s about the throwaway mother who was recently euthanized because she was deemed unadoptable when she growled to protect her puppies when a shelter worker reached in to take one away. Maybe if she had been spayed she would be in a loving home right now instead.

  41. kbehan says:

    I understand your point but if someone is irresponsible enough to bring a dog in heat to the dog park, why would they be responsible enough to spay their dog in the first place? So the argument will quickly shift toward compulsory spay/neutering to take such matters not only out of such peoples hands, but out of everyone’s hands. And between dog and owner, it must always be about what one feels is right, not what an external source of authority decrees; this is quite the slippery slope. My feeling is that in the long run the concept that male sexuality is antithetical to health and sociability is a toxic notion that will lead to a further deterioration of the constitution and social disposition of dogs. I’m arguing that everyone should have as much information at their disposal so that they can arrive at their own decision and then accept responsibility for their decision. Our lack of understanding about the nature of dogs is precisely what would lead a shelter worker to order the death of a mother dog that growls when one of her puppies is removed. I contend that even if every dog is spayed/neutered, we will still euthanize millions of dogs a year for behavioral problems because we don’t understand and know how to work with the true nature of the dog, the most social animal on earth.

  42. Seb says:

    There are some valid points there, but then on the flip side, if the average dog owner can’t be responsible enough to keep fights from happening at the dog park, why would you bring your dog to the park? I know how that may sound, but if there are valid reasons not to neuter your dog, wouldn’t the avoidance of these often volatile parks be a better solution than a mandatory law??

    Second, take a look at this site:

    http://saveourdogs.net/category/population/

    “Here’s some comparisons (dogs+cats euthanized in 2007 in public animal shelters per 100,000 population)

    Lake County, CA: 4560
    USA national average: 1000-1300
    California average: 1066
    Nevada County, CA: 163
    Calgary, Canada: 44”

    Lake County has a mandatory spay/neuter law.

  43. Seb says:

    *Lake County has a mandatory spay/neuter law (in shelters).*

  44. Christine says:

    Amen, Brother! People will not spay/neuter their dogs even if it is mandatory simply because people tend to be cussed and don’t like being told what to do! Anyway, knowledge is power so education really IS the key as long as the information is accurrate and true. Which is where NDT comes into play and can be very useful in this respect.

    I can’t imagine how a shelter person who works with dogs on a regular basis could be so ignorant as to euthanize a bitch protecting her pups; I don’t know any in my area that are so ill-informed, thankfully!

    I do regret having Bodie neutered. I didn’t see a need for it but when I knew I was going to adopt Duncan (Bodie was 4.5 years old at the time), I was strongly encouraged to neuter Bodie to avoid aggressiveness towards another male dog. If I’d had the connection with NDT at that time I would have left him intact. My other 2 dogs were already spayed/neutered when I adopted them but even so, Duncan has developed aggression issues and he was neutered by the shelter at 3 months of age! Bodie has NEVER shown any aggression, neither before/after being neutered; his nature has always been that of a lover not a fighter.

  45. Karen says:

    But some of these arguments are like saying “there will always be lazy stupid people who will buy from a pet store, so what’s the point in in doing a national campaign to inform people about the horrors of puppy mills?”

    Kbehan writes…
    “I understand your point but if someone is irresponsible enough to bring a dog in heat to the dog park, why would they be responsible enough to spay their dog in the first place?”

    II would agree that the woman who brought the dog in heat to the park will probably not get her spayed. What I am saying is that there were actually many other responsible dog owners at the park that avoided getting that dog pregnant because their dogs were neutered.

    Yes, this dog might very well get pregnant by another dog, but I will continue to support the mission to spay and neuter. I don’t think it’s a lost cause.

    I would love to see NDT get the same kind of attention that other forms of training get, but it really scares me to think that people would be encouraged NOT to spay and neuter their dogs.

    Are you guys really advocated that nobody spay and neuter? I’m really just trying to imagine if not one single dog in my neighborhood being spayed or neutered. It just seems to me that that would be utter chaos. And I don’t think you can just argue half way on this. Please try to imagine a place like NYC, where people must take their dogs to public parks to exercise them daily because the majority of people do not have backyards or lots of land.

    I mean you can’t say, “well some people should ad some people shouldn’t.” Where do you draw the line.

    I look at the kind of influence Cesar Milan has, and try to imagine what it would be like if he encouraged people to keep their dogs intact. As it is, very smart people are doing very stupid things based on his show. They are alpha rolling their dogs left and right. I hear people talking about alpha, dominance, and pack leader constantly. If he told them not to get their dogs spayed or neutered, there is a good chance they wouldn’t. The park where I take my dog to would totally chaotic and my neighborhood would have MANY unwanted litters.

    I really do understand that using behavior to make an argument for neutering is silly, but to me, the pros of spaying and neutering outweigh the cons.

  46. Karen says:

    Ahhh–so many typos above! I was just writing with too much emotion I guess. 🙂

  47. Karen says:

    One more anecdote…There was a guy at my park that had a young intact pit bull that was developing some aggression problems. He was considering neutering his dog, but wanted his dog to have just one litter of puppies before he did it. (Just what we need, more pittie puppies.) He was basically a nice guy that wanted to make some money off of puppies like his cousin had. He wasn’t try to fight dogs or anything like that.

    Anyway, everyone is pretty friendly with each other at the park, and people were trying to convince him to get his dog neutered to help with the aggression problems. They also explained to him that breeding an aggressive dog is a big no no. Finally, enough pressure was put on him and he did it!

    Did it help with the aggression? Nope, not one bit. He has to bring his dog to the park really early to avoid the dog park rush hour.

    But frankly, I don’t really care why he neutered his dog. I’m just glad he did it and will never be able to breed him.

  48. Karen says:

    “I can’t imagine how a shelter person who works with dogs on a regular basis could be so ignorant as to euthanize a bitch protecting her pups; I don’t know any in my area that are so ill-informed, thankfully!”

    You can read Bella’s story here:
    http://www.dogster.com/forums/Shelters_Rescue_and_Fostering/thread/656664

  49. kbehan says:

    I have no problem with a campaign that ADVOCATES neutering/spaying, and I’m not an organizer intending to fashion a campaign to promulgate my point of view, I’m saying that a whole dog is potentially healthier, calmer and more trainable and that I will resist a COMPULSORY campaign to neuter/spay MY dog. It’s fine with me what other people do, but I can’t tolerate misinformation (in terms of how I see things) when it comes to my own dog or the people I come into contact with in regards to raising their male puppies. I will also point out that the health and social constitution of the modern dog is in decline because we are killing off the dogs with the most heart, and we’re not learning to work with the heart of the dogs we are left with and in this regards we aren’t recognizing how sexuality/sensuality is how heart creates social energy. There is so much judgment against aggression and this plays out to mean male energy, and so now we see neutered male dogs attacking whole male dogs on sight reflecting this societal judgment. It is also not coincidental that because the immune system is an aggressive response to foreign antigens, that this same judgment is now manifesting in my opinion as an amazing increase in auto-immune disorders, i.e. aggression against the self as well as congenital disorders. So if someone really wants to address the issues that neutering is supposedly addressing, euthanasia rates, behavioral problems, health matters, they might want to rethink the paradigm and look again at the well-being of the modern dog. Things are not the way they seem.

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In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
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