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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.

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

  1. Karen says:

    “and I’m not an organizer intending to fashion a campaign to promulgate my point of view”

    But the way I see it, you have the potential to make a BIG splash in the “dog world.” In the past few months NDT has sort of taken off through the internet, DVDs, books, and so on. It might not be long before you are very influential. Your message may get perverted and misused. I consider myself a pretty smart gal and I’m still not sure I get it.

  2. Seb says:

    “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.”

    I am repeating Kevin’s earlier reply, but the point is not to, above all else, make people stop neutering/spaying. It’s an educational thing, – as in this is the REAL reason you should neuter your dog and this is the REAL reason why you shouldn’t. The problem I have with the mandatory laws is that they ARE above all else, saying you MUST do this thing. They take education out of the equation, and that’s disastrous any way you look at it. So while you say it scares you to think that people would be encouraged not to spay/neuter, shouldn’t it scare you to the same extent to enforce a law which leaves one no options to do what they think is right?

    And in response to your comment above, isn’t that kind of an impossible standard? One should not express their point of view because it may get perverted and misused? I find that this is a common argument of people “pro-neutering” (for lack of better expression). But in reality, that’s true of absolutely ANYTHING in the public realm, and the option you leave for people like Kevin is to, essentially, be quiet. To me, that is both unfair and an impossible requirement.

    But at any rate, I would like to note that I am happy to see the way this discussion has progressed. Your comments, while you disagree, remain very thoughtful.

  3. Karen says:

    Let’s say I’m your average dog owner. I land on this site as I’m searching for advice from an expert on whether or not I should neuter my dog. After reading this article, it seems to me that I absolutely shouldn’t neuter my dog. What I understand from this article is that neutering is the decline of the modern dog. Neutering will cause my dog health and behavior problems. And it doesn’t matter whether or not people spay or neuter their dogs anyway, there will still be the same number of dogs in the shelter system.

    I wish the article had emphasized the extra-responsibility and possible pitfalls that come along with having an intact dog or a dog in heat. (Kevin does talk about what happens in his own household when his female is in heat, but come on, Kevin Behan is NOT your average dog owner.) I volunteer with a shelter that pulls the majority of its dogs from the city shelter. I was working in the shelter last month when a woman drops off a litter of puppies that were just FOUR weeks old!! She said, “I was so scared when I found out Princess was pregnant. Luckily she is ok. But I guess that’s just what happens when you get a male and a female dog.” What??!! NO!!! Get your dog spayed if you can’t keep them apart. We gave her information on a low-cost spay clinic that we partner with. She promised to bring her dogs in. I hope she does.

    I guess I’m just a shelter volunteer who’s having a very hard time coming to terms with the fact that a community I consider myself a member of and really look up to, includes “The Pet Over–Population Myth” as a part of this article.

  4. Seb says:

    The fault then lies on the information that is currently in the market. That if you DON’T neuter your dog, your dog will ABSOLUTELY be aggressive, ABSOLUTELY develop health problems, ABSOLUTELY add to the over-population. That’s what is out there – that’s what owners are faced with when they ask the majority of the vets, owners and the shelters what to do. So one can’t then turn around and fault the article that’s in response to those claims.

  5. kbehan says:

    Your experience is as a shelter volunteer, and I can appreciate how things might look from that perspective. In contrast my experience is looking back on over 50 plus years of the American dog which in my view is in decline. Why? Because we’ve been breeding the heart out of them and judging against the canine nature in the way we think of dogs. For the first time in the relationship between man and dog, what we think about sociability is the chief selective pressure on the canine genome, it’s no longer the hunt and working purpose, it’s no longer a long standing dog sense. We’re drawing down on an account that was built up over tens of thousands of years and the checks are starting to bounce. In my region (NE USA) I constantly hear from people how hard it is to adopt a dog from the shelters because there aren’t enough. They are trucking them up from the south and flying them in from around the world. How then can there be too many dogs, at least in my region? What else could it be but a myth? I was for a time the local dog warden here in Newfane, VT and so many folks neutered their dogs and then let them roam thinking they had done their good citizenship duty and were off the hook. I got the call about dogs killing chickens, menacing people, chasing horses/sheep/deer, getting hit by cars, so I could argue that neutering promotes irresponsibility in some owners. I think the best definition of a responsible dog owner is one who is willing to understand their dog’s nature.
    Also, bear in mind that even if you disagree with my theory that whole males are healthier and more social, you are still welcome in the NDT community. But I have found that in regards to greater dogdom it doesn’t seem to work the other way. Feel free to express dissent as you are simply among people who want the autonomy to do the best for our own individual dog and seek to understand what’s true of dogs in general.

  6. Karen says:

    Thank you all for having this discussion.

    I want to clarify that I do not condone mandatory spay/neuter laws. I do support an individual’s right to do what they believe is right for his or her dog.

    I just can’t get behind “the pet over-population myth.” It’s a little wounding to those people who work tirelessly to save these animals. (I am only a volunteer, so I’m just speaking for the real heroes.) You say that accidental pregnancies are rare. That is just not true. I see it all the time.

    “In my region (NE USA) I constantly hear from people how hard it is to adopt a dog from the shelters because there aren’t enough. They are trucking them up from the south and flying them in from around the world.”

    I am also from the northeast, and I can assure you that there isn’t a dearth of dogs waiting to be adopted in our shelters. Just spend 5 minutes on and you will see that. Go onto craig’s list and you will see pleas from shelter workers, begging people to foster dogs who are going to be euthanized in the morning. My dog was on the euth list before he was pulled by a no kill shelter. He was lucky. Most pit bulls aren’t so lucky.

    But I have also helped out with a group called Southpaws Express, an organization that transports dogs from the south to northeast. The south is simply bursting at the seams. It is so overburdened that many dogs have no time to get adopted. Dogs are being gassed and it’s just plain ugly. Southpaws helps to rescue dogs who in are immediate danger of being killed and transports them to areas that are LESS burdened. But let me be clear, it isn’t easy.

    Again, thank you for hearing me out.

  7. Seb says:

    Perhaps I look at the pet over-population myth differently. In that experience you described earlier, about the woman coming in with the puppies from her male and female dogs, — did any of those puppies end up euthanized? How long did it take to find them homes?

    I’m sure there are dogs who spend their lives in shelters, however, it is the 5 year old dog with aggression problems who’s going to have the tougher time finding families than the puppies. Who the shelters are going to need to plea for. Wouldn’t you agree? And in my experience, an intact male does not qualify a dog to be automatically aggressive. So that’s where I believe the stronger argument lies, and where the more important argument lies as well.

  8. kbehan says:

    I’m not arguing that irresponsible people shouldn’t neuter their dog, my argument is how do you identify irresponsible people, and then who gets to decree who is or who is not responsible? (We could also pose the argument this way to test its merit. Someone lets their neutered dog roam and it causes a car accident, or kills a cat, or gets struck and killed by a car, and then we attribute this statistic to the supposition that there are too many pets. Yes, there was in a way one-dog-too-many in the middle of the road at that particular moment, but that doesn’t therefore mean there is a causal relationship between the number of pets and that dog being hit by a car.)
    And the noble sentiments of shelter workers such as yourself notwithstanding, that is not going to prevent compulsory legislation. If there are indeed too many pets, if neutering is indeed healthful and behaviorally remedial, then compulsory laws will immutably follow. We already see it happening as it is the inescapable consequence of the argument being made by the mainstream for neutering and this is why I am presenting the counter argument in the way that I do and I don’t see how the term myth is inaccurate. If there are too many pets then where are the imported dogs going if the Northeast is saturated? I have to conclude they are ending up in homes, with the aggressive ones being euthanized and so we come back full circle to a lack of understanding and behavioral issues being the key problem rather than demographics.
    There is so much more going on in the relationship between man and dog that mirrors deeper issues in the human experience and which the neutering debate brings to the surface. I constantly hear of the “pit bull problem,” but since I believe that the real problem is our inability to understand the nature of dogs, the most social, sexual, AND AGGRESSIVE animal on earth, which is concurrently the problem about not understanding the nature of emotion and feelings, it is not coincidental to me that so many ill-equipped (but well-meaning) people are now driven to own Pit bulls. In the sixties and seventies everyone wanted labs and goldens, and they used to say of people like me training a family GSD or Rotty for protection, “There’s no crime in Fairfield County, Connecticut, why would anyone want to own a dog like that?” But now those same kinds of people go to shelters, see the pit bull quiet in the corner and take it home and then expect it to act like a lab. And after it bites someone or mauls their neighbors dog and they seek me out, I find myself asking them, “Why did someone like you that wants a lab get a dog like that?” Could this be due to a denial of the nature of aggression in our own culture and therefore people are turning unconsciously to such dogs to compensate?

  9. christine randolph says:

    so are we all in agreement ? less spaying and neutering, more euthanizing ? if people can be more OK with euthanizing then we will not have an overpopulation no matter what factors come into play: neuter, spay, stupidity of people.

    which means, that dogs who have had incidents of aggression combined with low Acquired Bite Inhibiton, and have a bite history of multiple occasions of injuries requiring stitches, will probably end up with a legal requirement to be euthanized, stuff like that.

    euthanizing, like spaying.neutering. can help remove certain unwanted traits from the genetic …..

    white border collies used to be euthanized at birth by the breeders, this is why they are rare. it was said that white ones are more prone to developing skin diseases etc.

    …I personally think that going back to more euthanizing would be sort of OK…

    …but them i am german and people will say that is typical, just like what the nazis tried to do…

    …I guess i am also pro death penalty on the same grounds, for multiple offenders with no or little chance of rehabilitation….timothy mcVeigh…for example

    I still would have my dogs spayed.neutered or, more likely, adopt dogs that are already so. i do not want to personally have to decide which puppies to euthanize etc…

    …it would have to be too difficult to kill puppies and kittens, no kidding !!!! human brain is not made for that. maybe a good job for closet nazis and sociopaths who want to stay out of trouble…

    i agree with Karen that accidental pregnancies are not rare.

    i.e. i went to a sled dog race at the weekend and the same people that had puppies for sale last year, had Puppies AGAIN !!!! i asked them if they will have puppies next year. they said No More Puppies Ever. I asked if all their dogs were neutered.spayed. they said, about half of them. (as i said before, people who have many sled dogs, i.e. 30, 40 or more, have not set enough funds aside to neuter.spay all their dogs even if they no longer want to breed and are determined to prevent any further unwanted pregnancies)

    They said their idea of preventing unwanted pregnancies was having a male and female kennel, separated by fencing. I said that is not good enough !!!!!! a wolf or coyote can come in, as well as a male that is accidentally loose, jump the fence and impregnate any female in heat, after all she is tied to her house and cannot refuse. it will be interesting to see if these owners will have puppies again next year… aunt in Germany did not have her dog spayed because she was told that the dog would be healthier…the dog is not in contact with other dogs, so the chance of an accidental pregnancy is nil.

    anyway, she could probably make a bunch of money from breeding, she has a cavalier king charles spaniel. she is an apartment dweller though, does not like messy stuff like births..anyway those dogs sell for 1500 euro easily over there.

    in canada, dogs can live a long time in shelters because most of them are no-kill (see the statistics, Calgary 44 pet euthanasias for a HUUUUGE city)

    I think there are a lot of unwanted dogs everywhere, i am not sure i would call it overpopulation.

    People do not want just any dogs, they want a poodle or a cavalier king charles or whatever they have set their minds on, so they cannot make themselves take a dog that is already there.

    so they will go to a puppy mill before they go to a shelter.

    like people want a baby of their own, not adopt one, especially not one that is already 5 years old etc. even though there are thousands of kids in orphanages.

    when I adopted my dogs, i did not mind that they were already 10 months, 5 months or 18 months old and i had no papers for them and I had to spay them as a condition of the adoption.

    other dog owners would not consider such a dog…they want papers, they want breeding standards, they want to take their dogs to shows and be in the kennel club etc. they might want to breed their dogs at least once, etc.

    I think that even if there were no accidental pregnancies, there would still be a ton of unwanted dogs…lots of dogs are born from great parents, from “wanted” pregnancies, with a heart murmur or stuff like that is a KO criterium for further breeding. should they be euthanized or neutered.spayed. what about dogs who have a disability, blind, lost a leg etc.what about dogs who are quite old, getting a little bit incontinent ?

    Sled dog breeders say only 1 dog in 10 is born to be a good sled dog. so they have a lot of relatively “useless” dogs all the time….

    they have to find pet homes for them etc, just like shelter dogs, for people who are maybe not so concerned about the breed of the dog, they just want a companion animal.

    a while back I saw an article in a silly hair dresser waiting room magazine about a lady on the Kenai Penninsula who is taking in sled dogs that were rejected by the owners as “no good for pulling” and is trying to build teams from them, race them even if they are not superb.

    she lives in a 600 square hut and her 10 or so dogs, all live in that 1 room cabin with her and her husband. in crates mostly, so they are not in a outdoor kennel…very funky !

    yeah ! I think there will always be SOME unwanted dogs where someone would have to decide if they need to be euthanized so this phenomenon is NOT a convincing argument to neuter.spay.

  10. Heather says:

    I think the point is that spaying/neutering and euthanization are not in that sort of causal inverse relationship, that is an incorrect assumption.

    Likewise, euthanizing for aggressive behavior may be having the unintended consequence selecting for dogs with no heart.

    And that all of it is more of a human problem of not wanting to look at our own aggressive nature, wrongly believing that if we can all act outwardly in accordance with rules x, y, and z, our dogs can too and there will be perfect harmony – no need to deal with all that aggression, it is so uncivilized.

  11. Heather says:

    Also, most people WILL adopt a dog, with the best intentions. Rescue organizations are pulling dogs in serious need of rehabilitation from shelters and adopting them to naiive, unsuspecting owners, who go from trainer to trainer trying to find help.

  12. Seb says:

    That is a good point, that there will probably always be unwanted dogs. But I do disagree that less spaying and neutering means more euthanizing. If that’s what you meant by your first couple sentences.

    Are there even any shelters in America who don’t spay/neuter when they can? Those who don’t neuter/spay their dogs are definitely not the majority. In fact, it seems NDT is the only training method that argues against it. But it seems that instead of analyzing why so many dogs are still being euthanized, the tendency is to lean towards laws that would eradicate ALL intact males and un-spayed females. That the problem is, okay, we haven’t gotten ALL of them, so this won’t be solved until we do. To me, the red flag should be the exact opposite. That maybe it’s not the un-neutered/spayed dogs that are creating the problems.

    Karen, are there a lot of dogs in the shelter that you volunteer at that aren’t neutered or spayed? (Besides puppies.) I’m curious if anyone has ever read statistics on that as well?

  13. Heather says:

    Anyone see the movie “Fight Club?” It is an interesting social commentary re: aggression.

    I don’t know if Kevin is saying don’t spay or neuter, just that compulsory spay/neuter isn’t the right way to go.

  14. Karen says:

    Wait, wait, wait…Now I feel like everyone here is saying all neutered dogs are aggressive, or will be eventually, and that is just ludicrous. It’s just as terrible as saying all unneutered dogs are aggressive. And there are many reasons that a dog might be aggressive and it isn’t just because they are neutered.

    Seb, the shelter where I volunteer neuters dogs as soon as they are adopted out.

    Seb wrote: “In that experience you described earlier, about the woman coming in with the puppies from her male and female dogs, — did any of those puppies end up euthanized? How long did it take to find them homes?”

    Yes they were adopted out and it wasn’t difficult to find them home, after all, they were cute fluffy puppies! But does that mean all’s well? Absolutely not. This woman bred two dogs she got from a pet store!! And what about the health of the mother who was only a still a puppy herself?? I think it’s time to stop spinning these arguments in favor of this theory. And simply own up to the fact that if you are going to argue that a whole dog is physically and emotionally healthier, then a lot of work is going to have to go into educating people how to responsibly keep these intact dogs. Period. You also need to realize most people are equipped to do that and will be better off spaying and neutering their dogs.

    Kevin wrote, “We could also pose the argument this way to test its merit. Someone lets their neutered dog roam and it causes a car accident, or kills a cat, or gets struck and killed by a car, and then we attribute this statistic to the supposition that there are too many pets.”

    Huh? When a dog gets hit by a car, it doesn’t produce more dogs.

  15. kbehan says:

    No one is saying that all neutered dogs are aggressive, I’m saying that sexuality is part of a healthy social disposition and physical system, and that the inverse mainstream position promulgated everywhere that whole males are more anti-social and inherently unhealthy are myths. My point with the dog getting hit by car is that it produces a dead dog, which I thought is the main reason why people advocate for neutering, by way of the linkage to overpopulation, in order to reduce the numbers of dead dogs. I’m saying the two concepts aren’t linked so that even if every male pet dog in America is neutered, we will still have an unnaturally high kill rate and this is because the nature of dogs is not being accepted, its sexuality being an important facet of its nature.

  16. kbehan says:

    That movie is a compelling social commentary. I believe it’s showing that we deny the proper role of aggression within a social nature at our peril. I’m suggesting that since all things are connected, if we don’t come to grips with such matters in terms of our dogs, it will play itself out on other levels. I think it’s a completely enlightened position to say “I am going to neuter my dog because this is what I feel is right for me and my dog, but I’m not going to judge against others who feel differently.”

  17. Seb says:

    “the shelter where I volunteer neuters dogs as soon as they are adopted out.”

    Sorry, I should have been more specific. I mean, how many owners abandon intact dogs? It seems to me, given the reactions/arguments, that the majority of dogs that come into shelters aren’t neutered. So I’m curious what your experience is,- if that was true where you work?

    “Yes they were adopted out and it wasn’t difficult to find them home, after all, they were cute fluffy puppies! But does that mean all’s well? Absolutely not… I think it’s time to stop spinning these arguments in favor of this theory. ”

    I’m not quite sure what the spin is. My point is that if talk to anyone about neutering, they will tell you that if you don’t neuter/spay, dogs will have puppies left and right, they’ll end up crowding our shelters, our streets, getting killed, etc. When, as you mention yourself, they will pretty much always find a home. I did not intend that people can continue being careless with breeding, or that that doesn’t exist. Not at all. I just meant to illustrate that the majority of people are actually the ones who spin the over-population argument. That that’s why I see it as a “myth”. And this connects to that point as well:

    “then a lot of work is going to have to go into educating people how to responsibly keep these intact dogs.”

    As I see it, right now that is EXACTLY what is being side-stepped, and dogs are neutered and spayed instead of having to provide that education. That’s exactly why Kevin’s article should exist.

  18. kbehan says:

    Exactly right on all counts.

  19. Heather says:

    I neutered Happy and I think it was the right thing for us. He had an umbilical hernia that needed to be repaired, and I also had his hips x-rayed so I could be proactive in case he had hip dysplasia, which is common despite generations of non-dysplastic animals. I did not want to anesthetize him more times than absolutely necessary – my contract with his breeder mandated neutering by age 2 and I simply did not want to risk his life in surgery multiple times. It was a hard decision though, and one I didn’t take lightly – he is a male dog and the loss of a large quantity of his hormones is significant.

  20. Seb says:

    I’m definitely not against decisions such as those. I guess the point to make is that any frustration is not from whatever the individual decides to do, — it’s certainly not that if you neuter your dog, you’re irresponsible — it’s what you’re met with when considering the alternative to the mainstream. Because 9 out of 10 times, that’s when you’ll be called irresponsible, etc.

    Do you mind going into detail about the contract with the breeder? Is that because of the breeder’s own perspective on neutering, or could it have been licensing purposes? (Or however that aspect of legitimate breeders works?)

    I imagine there are lots more breeders out there who require such contracts, again adding to my point that refraining from neutering/spaying may not be the reason for the problems that ‘pro-neutering’ arguments claim.

  21. Heather says:

    I believe the contract is because the Newfoundland breed has a lot of genetic health problems (heart, kidney, hip dysplasia, eye, and others) and there is a lot of planning (and testing of the parents and offspring) that goes into each breeding. The responsible breeders are theoretically in the best position to make decisions about which dogs should be bred, and have reasons for each breeding. Also there is a big business with people who obtain dogs and breed them to make money, without doing the testing that would ensure that the parents are as free from structural or genetic defects as it is possible to ensure. Good breeders truly love their breed and have the dogs’ best interest at heart. Still, they are breeding dogs as a hobby and I am sure there is some amount of angst about that – the good breeders also seem to be heavily involved in rescue and insist that any dog they breed comes back to them if the owner can’t care for it for any reason. The breeder actually thinks neutering should be done later rather than sooner.

  22. Heather says:

    I forgot to add that the contract goes along with a “limited” AKC registration – any offspring of my dog cannot be registered (aka have papers) without getting the rights from the breeder. It is sort of a dog monopoly, with only a few breeders who all know each otehr controlling most of the breeding stock.

  23. christine randolph says:

    I was thinking about a “What If” situation, where shelters no longer spay or neuter and breeders no longer request mandatory neutering at a certain age etc…because they understand better the energy of aggression.sexuality and do not want to deny the animal this energy, so any neutering would be volontary.

    i think that would lead to more euthanasia..and more dogs being killed/mamed by cars..
    ..educating owners about how to be careful with their dogs so that their intact dogs do not breed, is never going to have the desired results…people are just not that responsible.

    anyone can have a baby, our society does not restrict pregnancies with individuals that have proven to be particularly irresponsible. we do not give out baby licences to
    particularly responsible individuals, in fact someone who feels very responsible and wants to bring a child into the world only if and when they can really care for such a new being properly, has a lesser likelihood to become pregnant than a happy-go-lucky, “oh i feel like having another baby because they are so cute” kind of a person.

    so would we introduce a Puppy Ownership Test, like a driver’s licence ? I cannot see it happening.

    Dogs’lives are not taken that seriously by our society. I think we should take them seriously, but I feel very alone with that opinion.

    the best society can come up with is shelters who spay and neuter to give the impression that they are keeping some sort of a lid on the problem.

    shelters receive many intact dogs because spaying and neutering costs money. a dog is abandonned because the owner does not care enough about the dog, definitely not enough to make an appointment with a vet, and pay big bucks.

    we as an intelligent technologically savvy species could learn more about DNA, and maybe breeders can come up with healthier dogs….

    right now, mixed breed dogs seem to be healthier, not only with fewer congenital problems but other health problems too seem to affect them less.

  24. kbehan says:

    I prefer to live in a society where people are encouraged to think for themselves, are held accountable for their actions and all options are considered on their merits. I prefer this to a state religion no matter how well intended its dogma may be.

  25. christine randolph says:

    haha i prefer to live in such a society too. maybe need to buy an island

  26. christine randolph says:

    i think this one is full up, the links no longer work from the side bar and…i have to click on Older Posts to see any posts

  27. christine randolph says:

    ha now no one is posting any more.
    how can i figure out about my rss subscription alerts if you folks do not post comments ?
    got Kevin’s 1992 book yesterday, really like it !

  28. Christine says:

    Is that what happened? I keep checking in for more interesting posts and wondered why it all of a sudden went “dead”. Ah well, I guess that makes me “technilogically challenged” then, yes?
    I have read his book through once and am on my second read. Hopefully I’ll be able to follow-through and integrate his techniques. The little that I’ve used so far has made quite a difference in Duncan. Diva is also doing better but her issues are different than Duncan’s.

  29. kbehan says:

    Please stay tuned, I’m working on a new article. Thanks

  30. Heather says:

    I was wondering what happened when Christine got down on the ground with Duncan, and what response Kevin would be looking for to release the energy. I tried just lying on the floor belly-up with my dog, and he laid down perpendicular on top of me and started mouthing my hand. I rolled him off, but he would like to wrestle with me if I would allow it. I have not ever done it, I see how he plays with other puppies his size, they have a blast but it is pretty rough. He is bulky but is a slow runner so even small dogs will play with him once they figure out that he is a dog and not a bear. He doesn’t play with other dogs regularly though, every 3 weeks he might get the chance, it seems like he needs more of the body-contact play outlet.

  31. christine randolph says:

    ha, yes it makes a lot of difference… it made a difference in me since I am no longer mad at my husband for teaching the dogs to jump up on him….

  32. Christine says:

    Hi Heather! To answer your question: I did this outside with Duncan, per Kevin’s suggestion. I wasn’t sure what to expect either, or what Kevin was looking for but here’s what happened: Duncan at first was quite excited and, in his excitement, he bumped the bridge of my nose hard enough (he has a very hard head!) to actually bruise it! (It’s still quite tender and a little discolored.) I continued the play, pushing into him and wrestling (great fun for me!). I don’t think he quite knew what to do because at one point he just sat down beside me when I was belly-up on the ground. Twice during our play session he grabbed my hat and ran off with it. The good news is that it was easy to get him to drop and leave it (that’s new, he usually insists on playing keep away!) Anyway, he didn’t seem to have a lot of interest in play so I quit and we went back inside.
    I’m going to try this with each of my dog’s, one-on-one of course. Kevin, what am I going to learn from these play sessions? What should I be looking for in each of them, if anything?
    I do lay down on my back in the house and it really seems to excite Diva and Duncan. They’ll come right over to me and usually start licking at my face or pawing at me. Diva will lay on me and/or roll around on me.
    I do have to say that Duncan and Bodie’s interactions are changing. I’m making it a point to be an observer only when we are outside playing. Bodie seems more inclined to initiate play with Duncan by bouncing at him and then running away. At one point Bodie was chasing Duncan and then he turned suddenly and started running away. Was this “flipping polarity”. Diva is also less intense in her interactions with Bodie. Duncan will also snif Bodie quite thoroughly when we are inside. This is new, what’s up with that?

  33. christine randolph says:

    i find the more i roughhouse with my dogs, the more they get into it. i guess in the wild, wolf parents would do this with their pups, develop their habits thusly. so, they have to learn how to play. they also seem to know that they cannot play in the same way with each and every dog they encounter, so they suss each other out a lot before they start really playing.

    I was watching them playing together, there is usually a moment when they are still, then one of the makes a bow and shows excitement, this gets them started again.

    so if there is a break and they are on the verge of maybe losing interest, if i imitate a play bow myself or some such invitation to start play again, that is a trigger for them to start more all out roughhousing.

  34. Heather says:

    Christine and Christine 🙂

    I suspected that my dog, who is just about 8 months, might be “too” into the one-on-one roughhousing. I might’ve waited for Kevin to check in, but I was too curious, and I found out that my suspicion was correct – he likes to sumo wrestle. He seemed to want to get my pony tail and sleeves and bite down harder than I was comfortable with, so it was a short experiment.

  35. Heather says:

    I had an item for him to bite on instead of my pony tail and coat, but he wasn’t interested in it.

    Last night he did go get an oven mitt on his own (this is what I started using as something soft to mouth in the house, he doesn’t rip it or play with it and I think it smells good to him) – he brought it over to where I was sitting watching TV and laid down next to me for a long time – in the past he’s been more interested in chewing my sleeve at that time than the oven mitt so I usually put him in his pen to chill out.

  36. christine randolph says:

    haha ! yes Happy is one for wrestling and biting a bit…that is very cute, normally those big dogs are too slow for all this mano a mano…

    definitely offer a toy as a re-direct each time the sleeves and pony tail become under attack. eventually he will become interested. oven mitt is a good start if you can spare it. eventually you will find out which types of toys he likes best.

    if he bites down harder, Kevin says that makes him more of a leader.
    He has DRIVE !
    a lot of people dream of such a dog. they want drive and the breeders just give them looks.
    if he bites you even a little bit, you should yelp to make sure he knows this hurts you. also if he grabs the sleeve you can yelp in pretense that it hurts, pony tail the same.

    this is how puppies who play among each other get the message, because the other puppy yelps.

    another exercise is, you could say Gentle and let him try to get food from your closed fist without biting, just using his tongue. if he uses his teeth, even a little bit, you could yelp. so Gentle would end up meaning No Teeth

    If no one yelps, the fight gets more and more intense.

    this is why a dog fight never starts if one of the parties makes calming signals and yelps when the other dogs uses its teeth.

    my little female yelps even when the other dog is not even near.

    just a little preventative yelp to make sure the other guy keeps his teeth to himself.
    the other dog owners hear that yelp and they get all scared, thinking that their dog has already bitten Josie, but she just is such a profilactic yelper.

    it surprises me how many adult dogs DO NOT yelp even if they are clearly inferior in a fight. too much heart, fight to the end..

    I think we should all make video of our roughhousing and put on youtube, how fabulously embarrassing that would be.

  37. Heather says:

    The yelping or “ouch” does work most of the time. Maybe not at that moment, but the next time he modulates his bite. It never worked when he was a young puppy, but it works much better now.

  38. kbehan says:

    One thing that stands out for me is that you may be trying to keep him occupied at all times, entertained and engaged in constructive activities. This is too much dog management and will keep a dog overly stimulated. So you can give yourself and the dog needed down time by relaxing with the family without the dog because he’s fast asleep in his crate. Remember, a dog needs 18 hours of sleep a day, a young dog even more. So if he’s getting a good workout each day, then don’t feel guilty about letting him get back into dream time.

  39. Heather says:

    Thank you so much Sang and Kevin for the replies.

    I need redirecting too when I get focused on the little stuff. One thing that I do know for sure, is that Happy is a good dog. As an owner I feel I may have fallen short in some areas, but I guess it is the same with kids, not good to get bogged down in guilt, they are always watching and learning.

    It is funny that you used the term penance, we are preparing our son for a first reconciliation (I’m learning, it is new to me too).

    Luckily with working from home and 2 young kids that need lots of attention, Happy does get a good dose of benign neglect every day (and at least 18 hours a day of sleep.) It is a relief to know that this is a good thing!

  40. Edna says:

    Why is only neutering males talked about? Did I miss the other half, the article is long, and so many comments. Females are also seriously affected by de-sexing. In large breed dogs early de-sexing means the adult horomones don’t kick on “telling” the bones to stop growing and other body changes. While more pronounced in males, females can end up taller than normal, bodies improperly proportioned from the juvenilization. Some believe this has caused a rise in osteosarcomas and other cancers in both males and females.

    Another point I didn’t see addressed, I’m sorry if it was covered already: vasectomies and tubal ligation- still get the adult hormones in the system and no worry about unwanted pregnancy.

  41. kbehan says:

    Good questions however the article is primarily focused on behavioral issues, and since neutering is primarily focused on male dogs for behavioral benefits I didn’t broaden it to include females. With female dogs most owners will be overwhelmed with the convenience factor rather than the behavioral issue so it’s a different article. I encourage people to allow their female dogs at least two “heats” (or more if their vet will let them get away with it) so that they can mature properly. Since I don’t think male dogs need to or should be allowed to roam the neighborhood, and since the vast majority of all female dogs are already spayed, I don’t see the need for vasectomies or any unnecessary medical intervention. However on the other hand, if someone is not going to assume responsibility for where there dog is at all times, then those kinds of approaches could be a good option but then a little pointless because the dog could be causing car accidents, getting hit by car itself, chasing horses, killing sheep/chickens, ripping up neighbors garbage and dragging the dog warden all over town on wild goose chases. (As has happened to me as local dog warden.) Thus I hesitate to advocate an approach that gives someone license in that regard. At any rate, the article isn’t pro-male versus con-female because it focuses on the male dog part of the dynamic.

  42. christine randolph says:

    would it be better for the female doggie to be spayed if she is in heat every 3 months or even more often ? my aunt’s Cavalier King Charles seems to be getting into a rythm when she is in heat even before she has recovered from being in heat last time.

    she is still very young..what do you all recommend ? could she be seriously sick and this is not a heat cycle but some internal bleeding that is super serious ?

  43. Louise says:

    I would suggest that a partial spay or vasectomies might solve a lot of the problems that some have with not neutering as they dog would be sterilized but still have the hormones for better health etc.

  44. kbehan says:

    That would seem a reasonable compromise on the surface, but I wonder if it would give people a license to be less concerned for their dogs’ whereabouts at all times. For example in my case, since I don’t let my dog roam and since there are no whole female dogs in my area, I see no need to subject him to any medical procedure so as to redress a non-existent problem. Now if someone is going to let their dog makes its rounds then that might be the way to go except it makes bigger problems than an unwanted litter that could probably be placed, as the shelters in my region import most of their strays from the south and from all over the world. Apparently not enough unwanted pets in the state of Vermont to keep them supplied.

  45. AZDogermanStu says:

    What problems could be greater than unwanted litters as a result of partial spays or vasectomies? I have thought about what Louise mentions before and it seems like a good idea as long as owners keep an eye on their dogs. I have wondered about the state of dogs in other countries, do intact working dogs just work all day and then are put up in a kennel so they don’t roam?

  46. kbehan says:

    I’m thinking of wandering dogs chasing/killing livestock, causing accidents or getting hit by car, harassing neighborhoods, etc.

  47. Lisa-Marie says:

    I think the discussion about spay/neuter is like talking about religion….at the end everyone has their feelings on the topic and these are not easily changed. That said, I agree on the health aspects of keeping your dog intact, there are many long term side effects to spay/neuter that are not discussed with pet owners. In an ideal world we would have responsable pet owners that would be able to care for their intact dogs, not let them breed accidentally, understand the nature of the dog and work with their pets to regularly work off thier pent up energies and therefore reduce the chance of behaviour problems and thus reduce the number of dogs that end up in shelters due to behaviour issues. However in reality there are many more irresponsable pet owners out there than responsable. In reality there are millions of dogs and cats euthanized every year in countries around the world. I live in a country (Chile) where there are thousands of street dogs roaming in pathetic states of health primairly due to irresponsable owners that let their female/male dogs out to roam and then they abandon the female with the pups in the streets in order to “solve” their problem. In my opinion I don’t think that its in the dog’s best interest to spay or neuter it and in the future I will personally opt to not alter my dog. But I am a very responsable person and so capable of handling all that entails owning an intact dog. Many people are not willing or able to take on such a responsability and in their case I believe it best to spay/neuter. I do believe that the sale of animals in pet stores and from puppy mills should be outlawed. They are places of suffering. I don’t believe in making spay/nueter mandatory but instead educate and offer low cost or free spay/neuter programs. In the end spay/neuter can be a necessary evil, it may not be in the best interest of the dog but in the big picture I believe that it is necessary given the fact that many people are still a long ways away from being the ideal pet owner. Another viable option to have both benefits of respecting the dog and being responsable would be to spay/neuter without removing the testes and ovaries. Just my take on the topic.

  48. kbehan says:

    This is what I’m in essence saying. Neutering should not be an article of religious dogma and keeping a whole dog can also be part of responsible dog ownership.

  49. Cinnamondog says:

    “With female dogs most owners will be overwhelmed with the convenience factor rather than the behavioral issue so it’s a different article. I encourage people to allow their female dogs at least two “heats” (or more if their vet will let them get away with it) so that they can mature properly.”

    Coming in late on this, but I can attest to both these points: I did not spay my youngest Sheltie (who is now 9) until she was 3 1/2 years old. She was working in agility at that time (retired recently due to arthritis in an elbow), and is a shy dog by nature. Each time she went through a heat cycle, she displayed after it was over, increased emotional and mental maturity. Her ability to focus seemed to improve; her problem-solving ability was sharper; and she worked better with fewer emotional melt-downs. Both my trainer and I commented on it. This was particularly true of the first few heat cycles, or until she was about 3. After that, the last heat cycle she had did not seem to make much difference one way or the other. She comes from a kennel line, I know, that matures rather late. Allowing her to remain intact and not interfering with her hormonal balance for those first few years was a great benefit to her.

    I finally did have her spayed when she needed to have a cracked tooth removed and I figured that as long as she was under anesthesia for that, I might as well have the spay done. Pyometra was of some concern to me, and she was never bred nor going to be bred, so I wasn’t opposed to spaying her. But the procedure was very much for my convenience. It’s a lot easier to own a spayed female.

    However, I did learn from that and I will absolutely not spay/neuter my dogs at early ages when the choice is mine. (My rescue dogs were already s/n when I adopted them, so that’s a moot point.)

  50. Jenna says:

    I thought this was great! I fought forever with the decison of neutering my dog or not. I read up on it and asked a lot of people did my own research. I couldn’t see why I should when he’s already perfect so I didn’t.Why would I preform a surgery on a healthy dog. It just didn’t seem right to me and if anything unhealthy but of course I’ve got a million people in my ear telling me I’m doing the wrong thing. Reading this made me feel better! Now I want to hear your opinon on vaccinations! I am scared to put that stuff into his body as well.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

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.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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