DEAR DIDI: We are in love with a little 9 week old puppy at a local rescue group. We want to adopt her but the rescue says she has to be neutered first so we will have to wait another week. We expressed concern and promised we would have it done but they said it is safe and standard practice. She is a little golden retriever looking thing. What are your thoughts on surgery at this age? -Soon 2 B Dog Mom
DEAR SOON 2 B: Congratulations on your decision to adopt a 4 legged kid! So many adventures await you as you build memories through the good and bad times of raising a puppy. I have developed a very strong opinion on neutering dogs after 30 years of consulting with behavioral issues.
In 2013, UC Davis reported higher incidences of cranial ligament tears, hip dysplasia and cancer amongst golden retrievers that were neutered young. Young in this study is defined at under a year old. Since then larger studies and the American Veterinary Medical Association have recognized that it may not be physically healthy for a dog to be sterilized at a young age. There is no “one size fits all” age, however, and it should be discussed with your dog’s veterinarian. That said, there are still a ton of local veterinarians stuck in the spay and neuter drive by 6 months old. In the 1970’s the push began with the idea of controlling the population growth. We see rescues daily touting the benefits and quoting statistics of how many dogs are euthanized daily at animal shelters in the name of their spay/neuter agenda. Sounds good BUT the facts are that we have been neutering dogs for 50 years now and the population has not been controlled one bit.
Furthermore, pediatric neutering of a dog at a young age removes all hormones from the puppy’s system. They NEED those hormones to develop properly. I am not speaking of their joints, bones, tendons and muscle structure because UC Davis covered that already. I am speaking of their minds and psycho-social development. Without hormones an animal cannot mature. It is akin to subjecting an 8 year old child to a full radical hysterectomy. It is a horrifying thought when put in those terms but yet we do it to dogs by the hundreds of thousands monthly. All with good intentions, indeed. As a behaviorist though, I see it as animal cruelty. These dogs develop a variety of behavioral problems as they enter doggy teenage-hood that lead to poor quality of life or even LOSS of life. They are frequently difficult to manage and can end up surrendered back to shelters, re-homed repeatedly, get dumped in orchards, or die from accidents like racing out of the house into a street. It is easy to say that it is about training and proper socialization before 14 weeks old but the reality is that I have had clients do everything right and still they have ended up with overly fearful dogs who have no self-confidence. Perfectly happy, playful, healthy, and confident puppies turn into adult dogs that bark at everything, hide, back up, startle easily or even bite. Neutering a dog rarely solve aggression issues, marking behaviors, barking, jumping OR calm the dog down. Those are wives tales.
I understand that responsibility goes up with an intact dog and many owners may not rise to that challenge. There is already a law on the books though that provides a $1500 fine for allowing your dog to have a litter without a permit so we need to avail ourselves of it. Growth plates in a dog’s bones close around 16-18 months of age. Current science indicates this is the healthiest time to neuter. Neutering then negates many of the sex related cancers like prostate cancer and ovarian cancers. I am absolutely in favor of neutering but at an appropriate age.
I am petitioning our local representative to considering making it illegal for rescue groups to abuse dogs by forcing pediatric sterilizations. We must overcome our old fashioned notions and realize that these poor dogs’ quality of life months down the road is suffering for these decisions and therefore, the rescue groups are not truly helping or improving anything. You have a hard decision to make with this puppy if the rescue group will not budge on their “policy”.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. Like Didi’s Facebook page: California Canine. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to Didi@californiacanine.dog.