Castration and Behaviour
21st Jun, 2017
We tend to neuter most dogs in our society although this policy is starting to come under scutiny. In Norway it is now illegal to neuter your dog without a proven reason. The health benefits of spaying female dogs fall in favour of spaying. Unspayed bitches can be prone to womb infections, and just like for women who don’t breast feed, mammary cancers are more common in bitches who don’t have pups. Add into the mix, the inconvenience and loss of freedom for the bitch when they have their season, not to mention possible unsettled behaviour and false pregnancies and in balance, it is often in the interests of the individual to be spayed. However, when it comes to male dogs, the health benefits fall in favour of remaining entire.
In the UK we sucecessfully castrate male dogs to prevent unwanted pregnacies but we also castrate for other, often spurious reasons. Even when castration is relevant, there is only a percentage chance that it will work. This varies from 90% for some problems, such as roaming to find potential mates, down to 50% for others such as inappropriate scent marking. This is because the male brain is programmed to display male behaviour by testosterone even before birth.
The statistics show that entire male dogs are more likely to show aggression than female dogs or neutered males. Testosterone is implicated in competitive behaviour and entire male dogs are more likely to be competitive over things they value than are either females or neutered males. As a result, they are likely to be more confident in their ability to control things they think are important and as a result more likely to use aggression when confronted. In addition, whilst neutering can help with competive, testosterone driven behaviours, once a dog is already acting out these behaviours they become ‘learned’ removing the testosterone isn’t necessarily effective in resolving them. Neutering is not a staight forward fix-all for male dogs with aggression problems, in fact there is evidence to suggest that removing testosterone can reduce confidence and actually increase agression problems if the aggression is motivated by fear. Accurate diagnosis is therefore essential to determine whether castration is appropriate.
It is generally accepted in the behavioural profession to advise against castrating a dog displaying fear related aggression or other fear related behaviour problems for this reason. It is wise to allow a dog to mature and for his confidence to develop before considering castration. If the accurate diagnosis of a problem shows that castration is likely to help, the chances of success are greatly improved if the operation is done in conjunction with behaviour modification therapy.