My July article about traveling with our dogs prompted a couple of comments from Bay Woof readers:
“It boggles my mind that someone as prominent as Ian Dunbar would flunk the responsible pet-ownership test by not having his dogs spayed and neutered…”
“Shame, shame, shame on Ian Dunbar for having an intact male, Dune, and that ZouZou’s first appointment the week after adoption wasn’t a trip to the vet to be spayed.”
Personally, I think that it would be irresponsible to have an unplanned breeding, or to plan an unwise breeding. I can assure you that there will be no unplanned or unwise dog breeding in our household. However, just as there are many good reasons to spay and castrate, there are also good reasons not to. I have had many dogs over the years and most of them were neutered. Three were not, for different reasons.
The advantages of neutering are pretty obvious. Neutering renders animals sterile so they can’t contribute to pet overpopulation. Neutering decreases the frequency of urination and urine marking. Castrating male dogs makes them less of a target for other male dogs and hence the number of fights is reduced. Male dogs (neutered or otherwise) threaten, harass, and attack castrated males much less than intact male dogs, probably because they perceive castrated males as females and, therefore, as less threatening
The most obvious reason for not neutering would be an intention to consider breeding at some later date (see below), but I had other reasons for not castrating my first Malamute, Omaha. First, I wanted to compete with him and at that time rules dictated that testicles were mandatory for AKC competition. I got Omaha as a puppy right before I started teaching off-leash puppy socialization and training classes, nearly (yup!) 30 years ago. This was the time when I was developing the notions of teaching bite inhibition and re-popularizing the use of classical conditioning and progressive desensitization techniques. I wanted to prove that you could take a male dog of a wild and woolly breed (and from quite a sparky line) and train him to be super friendly to people and to other dogs, especially towards other intact males. If I had had Omaha castrated, I reasoned, everyone would have dismissed his trained friendliness — “Oh yeah, but he’s castrated. Of course he’s friendly.”
Actually, I was hoping to breed Omaha at one point, but since he died when he was just five years old, I’m glad I didn’t (see below).
I care very much about both purebreds and mixed-breeds and I hope that dogs will be around to keep us company forever, which of course means that dogs need to be bred. I am especially concerned about which dogs are bred, however. At the moment, the pet dog gene pool is in danger of becoming dysgenic. Rather than supporting programs that promote neutering all pet dogs, I think there should be some clear-cut guidelines about which dogs to neuter right away and which dogs to consider as future breeding prospects. My proposed guidelines are:
Owners who are not absolutely certain they will be able to prevent unplanned breeding should neuter right away.
Only exceptional bitches and ultra-exceptional males should be bred, always with an eye to improving the physical and behavioral health of the breed or type and of dogs in general.
We should be much more rigorous when selecting which males to breed for a pretty obvious reason: whereas a bitch can only produce so many puppies in her lifetime, a male dog could father dozens nearly every day of his life.
Any breeding candidate (plus his or her parents) should be healthy and free of any breed-specific medical conditions.
Bitches should be at least three years old and male dogs at least ten years old before breeding. We want to make certain that we are breeding healthy adults – and that we selectively breed for longevity. Longevity is the best indicator of physical health as well as stellar behavior and temperament. We want companion dogs to be friendly and to live long healthy lives, and we should selectively breed for those outcomes.
Our veterinary bills for Claude and Hugo have been astronomical. They are not mega-healthy and therefore we would not consider breeding them. Hence, they were both castrated, as were Phoenix, Ivan, and Ollie. However, aside from one or two foxtails, Dune’s veterinary bills have been virtually non-existent, plus he has an absolutely brilliant temperament with people and other dogs. He is especially wonderful with children and he has never been in a dogfight. He has been jumped on and attacked many times but those events never escalated.
And that’s why Dune still has his testicles. He’s just about to celebrate his eighth birthday. In two years we shall consider breeding him, to add positively to his breed’s gene pool.
Similarly, Zou Zou is not yet spayed. Her temperament is simply stellar, she’s amazingly athletic, and she’s incredibly enthusiastic in training. She has a healthy amount of drive and focus, enormous resilience and patience, plus the friendliest and happiest disposition of any dog I have ever met. She is also one of the oldest breeds on record and it is relatively rare here in the U.S. We’re hopeful that she’ll perform well in competition, too.
We might at some later date breed Dune and/or Zou Zou, or we might not. Any decision to breed would be based on eugenics and improving the overall physical and behavior health of companion dogs.
Until that time, there will be no unplanned or unwise breedings. Our dogs are absolutely always under our supervision and control, which is why I am so sure of this. If you cannot make the same guarantee, please spay or neuter your dog ASAP.