Wednesday, October 17, 2012

BRINGING UP PRESTO! Why Presto! Won't Be Neutered, Part 2

For information on the authors of the studies cited here as well as the key to the footnotes, see Part 1 of this two-part series (Oct. 12)

A dog's sex hormones have roles well beyond sex.  For instance, they are essential to timely closure of the growth plates.  Deprive the dog of those hormones and the bones continue to grow, often with abnormal results.  You can spot dogs that have been neutered or spayed too early -- that is, before puberty -- because they have longer than normal legs, often narrower than normal skulls.

Writing in her influential -- but unfortunately not influential enough -- 2005 article, "Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete," Chris Zink pointed out that, "This abnormal growth results in significant alterations in body proportions and particularly the length (and therefore weights) of certain bones relative to others."

She gave the following example:

. . . if the femur has achieved its genetically determined normal length at eight months when a dog gets spayed or neutered, but the tibia, which normally stops growing at 12 to 14 months of age, continues to grow, then an abnormal angle may develop at the stifle.  In addition, with the extra growth, the lower leg becomes heavier (because it's longer), causing increased stresses on the cranial cruciate ligament.  These structural alterations may be the reason why at least one recent study has shown that spayed and neutered dogs have a higher incidence of CCL rupture. (3)

Zink goes on to cite another study that demonstrated that dogs spayed or neutered early were in significantly more danger of hip dysplasia than those who had the surgery later.

So I'm supposed to screw around with hormones that are important in Presto!'s growth and development in the name of . . .   In the name of exactly what?  Oh, something called "standard protocol."

* * *

More recently (2010), Parvene Farhoody, a graduate student at Hunter College (in the City College of New York system) published, with thesis advisor Chris Zink, a masters thesis entitled "Behavioral and Physical Effects of Spaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris)."  By the way, Farhoody is a well-regarded animal behavior consultant in New York City, so she brings a certain weltanschauung to the project.

Farhoody collected information on seven behavioral characteristics from 10,839 dogs -- the largest sample ever used to study behavior in dogs.  The tool she used is a 101-question survey called the Canine Behavior and Resrarch Questionnaire.  She points out that C-BARQ (sorry, guys) is a qualitative behavior assessment instrument created by James Serpell and his colleagues at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania.  At the time her thesis was accepted C-BARQ was the only behavioral assessment instrument that had been peer-reviewed and found to be reliable and valid.

Read Farhoody's study and more reasons not to neuter your canine athlete come cascading down upon you.  (Note that the reasons not to spay are equally compelling but, as I said in Part 1, these posts are male-oriented.)  Farhoody's thesis summary may be accessed at .

Here are a few of the significant things she found:

     -- There was a significantly higher aggression score in neutered dogs as compared to intact dogs regardless of the age at which the dogs were neutered.
     -- There was a significant increase in fear, anxiety and excitability scores in neutered dogs as compared to intact dogs regardless of the age at which the dogs were neutered.
     -- There were significant correlations between neutering and decreases in trainability and responsiveness to cues.

Overall, Farhoody says in her summary, "the trend seen in all these behavioral data was that the earlier the dog was neutered the more negative the effect on the behavior."

* * *

Here's my bottom line.  God gave Presto! balls.  They produce hormones which play important roles in his growth and development, both physical and mental.  Why on earth should I take them away from him?  Add to that the cancer-related culpability of neutering which the data suggest (see Part 1).

In our case I see it as a no-brainer; Presto! won't be neutered.

Now then, many who have read these two posts have sharply contrary points of view, I'm sure.  Following each post there is a place for comments.  Well-documented rebuttals are invited and will be welcomed in the comments space.  If you email your rebuttal directly to me, more than likely the hundreds who read this blog will never see it,



  1. Good for you for making this decision. Layla is my first dog that's been intact and I'm happy I've kept her that way. When researching osteosarcoma after my lab was diagnosed with it over the summer, one of the biggest theories to its cause is early spay/neuter, which unfortunately he'd had. Not to mention a study I read (but forgot the researcher and title) that spaying and neutering increases the chance for muscle tears and sprains, which isn't something any dog needs but particularly one that competes in performance events.

  2. Scorch is the first dog that I waited to neuter (2.5 years). I do feel that he benefited from the hormones for growth, and I am happy with the choice I made. I do feel that I saw an increase in attention/trainability once I did neuter him, simply because he was less distracted by bitches and smelling urine. Those ranked pretty high on his distraction-scale, and about a month after neutering, he had shifted his priorities noticeably. But of course that's just one case.

    I've had a unique opportunity to observe a large population of intact dogs though, working as a trainer at a guide dog organization. I've worked hands-on with "breeder evaluate" dogs. The dogs who were not chosen as breeders and were neutered to continue their training often showed a marked difference once the hormonal influence had been removed. Some dogs, when intact, were uninterested in even high-valued treats; once neutered, they would become more attentive, easy to control, and capable of focusing. You could argue that it was just a function of time, maturity, and training, but the most common denominator seemed to be neutering; sometimes the dogs were different ages or had more hours of training on them, etc.

    That being said, there have been times when the breeding department waited to choose a breeder, and we had dogs nearly complete their training intact with no ill effects. They hardly acted "studly".

    So I guess my conclusion is... it depends on the dog?

    Also, we use the CBARQ in our puppy raising program; since I moved into the puppy department, I've had a chance to review literally hundreds of CBARQs and try to glean useful results from it. I. HATE. IT. There seems to be a lot of room for error on the raiser's part (not understanding the scale, overthinking the questions, etc), and it doesn't give us easy-to-interpret results. That being said, I can see how it is useful as a database of comparable scores... but it's not something I've enjoyed utilizing.