dog health

Are you thinking of neutering your dog?

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There’s a lot more to neutering than just preventing procreation. A huge lot more. But people seldom consider these side-effects in their dogs when deciding to get them “fixed”.

I actually hate that term “fixed”. It suggests that the dog arrived in some way faulty and has to have his or her insides rearranged to make him or her acceptable. This is crazy!

The dog arrives in a perfect state. If we want to alter our dog to suit ourselves, we should be prepared to admit this to ourselves and not in some way blame the dog for being wrong.

There are times when neutering is a good idea and times when it is a very, very bad idea. I’ll break these down for you, in terms of the effects.

How will neutering affect my dog’s body?

There are some medical issues where neutering is the wisest or only course to keep the dog healthy - or just alive. Infection of the uterus in a bitch, and an undescended testicle in a dog would be two of these. One is acute, the other chronic.

There are arguments that this or that cancer or condition is more likely in an unneutered dog. But there are arguments of equal weight which say that this or that other cancer or condition is more likely in a neutered dog. The percentages are tiny in either case.

The other thing to consider here is how removal of the sex hormones affect the physical development of the dog’s skeleton. The growth plates close with sexual maturity, somewhere around 9-18 months of age. So the effect of early neutering - before this age - can be relative elongation of the long bones and consequent disruption of articulation in the joints. The net result can be less efficient movement (no good if you got your dog for working or performance) and then joint problems in later years (no good for anyone).

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For this reason alone I think that neutering of either sex shouldn’t be contemplated till the dog is sexually mature. For bitches that would mean a few months after the first season at the earliest. Dogs would need to be 10 months to 3 years, depending largely on the size of the breed. The larger the dog, the longer it takes to mature.

I have now reached the limit of my medical knowledge, so I’ll move on to an area where I’m more comfortable!

How will neutering affect my dog’s mind?

The key thing for me is the effects neutering can have on how your dog is, on a day-to-day basis.

Many people believe that neutering their dog will calm them down. In fact, studies have shown that the opposite is true! Your neutered dog or bitch is likely to be more excitable than an intact dog. So please kick that one to the kerb.

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There has been a lot of scientific research over recent years. Studies have to cover a lot of dogs for a lot of years to be of any use, so they take a long time to emerge. I list a load of them in the Resources below. 

My main interest is how neutering can affect reactivity. As you’ll see from some of these studies, neutering can have a big impact on this!

“It has been shown, in a number of recent scientific studies, that neutering - especially early neutering - will increase sound sensitivity, touch sensitivity, fears, and aggression, in both males and females. In some cases that increase is “significant” or “highly significant”. People-directed aggression in females, for instance, was significantly elevated in the neutered bitches studied. (See the Resources Section for chapter and verse on this.) That’s what those studies found. A lot more research is needed to get more answers, and these studies can take years to produce reliable results.

These unfortunate outcomes are - of course - not guaranteed to happen if you neuter your dog! But it’s important to be aware that they just may happen. And if they complicate an already complicated situation, that’s not helpful.

Neutering has the potential to make your dog worse.”

From Essential Skills for your Growly but Brilliant Family Dog

In brief, neutering a dog when he is experiencing fear of anything in the world around him (i.e. he responds to novelty or movement with barking, lunging, trembling, hiding … any action that does not demonstrate confidence) has the potential to make him MORE fearful.

And neutering a female who is already showing fear of other dogs has the potential to make her reactive to people as well after spaying.

You’ll see the facts and figures in the studies below.

If you’ve already neutered your pet, that’s water under the bridge. You can’t change it now.

BUT if you’re happily planning to neuter your dog simply because you think society expects it of you, or your vet suggests it as the automatic next step, please think again.

Once it’s done, it’s done. And if it changes your beloved dog’s nature and makes life harder for both of you, then you’re up the creek without a paddle.

But you have to neuter your dog, don’t you?

And what about the chief reason usually given for choosing to neuter? It’s to do with reproduction. Preventing unwanted puppies. It could also be to prevent bitching, wandering, fighting in males. But responsible management will do this for you! If you’re reading this post, it’s unlikely that your dog is wandering abroad without you knowing where he or she is.

Since neutering became the big thing - the answer to the stray dog problem - has anyone noticed the shelters getting empty? Irresponsible dog-owners will neither neuter their dogs nor contain them. I’m afraid there’s a lot of “preaching to the choir” here. And the fallout is that a lot of dogs’ lives have been unnecessarily altered for the worse, because of only partial education.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

You need to see the whole picture before making what is essentially a fundamental and momentous decision about the future of the dog in your care.

I’m suggesting that you need to change your mindset from neutering being an automatic next step for your puppy to seeing that you have a choice in this.

In some European countries it is considered barbaric to mutilate dogs, and neutering of either sex is usually only done for medical reasons. At the other extreme we have cultures where people are vociferous in declaring that all dogs should be neutered and it is our duty as a citizen to do this. I’ve had people writing to me from these countries asking if that’s a thing? You can actually NOT neuter your dog? Unheard-of.

In case you think I am on a mission to ban neutering, I can tell you that only one of my four dogs is entire at the time of writing. You have to decide what is right for your situation. I just want you to realise that there’s more to this than meets the eye, and you do have a choice.

RESOURCES

The effects of neutering on health and behaviour: a summary



Neutering Causes Behavior Problems in Male Dogs

Behavioral and Physical Effects of Spaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris)

Summary of findings detailed in a Masters thesis submitted to and accepted by Hunter College by Parvene Farhoody in May, 2010

 

Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas

AVMA, Vol 244, No. 3, February 1, 2014

M. Christine Zink DVM PhD, Parvene Farhoody MA, Samra E. Elser BS, Lynda D. Ruffini, Tom A. Gibbons MS, Randall H. Rieger PhD

 

Non-reproductive Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Behavior in Dogs

Deborah L. Duffy PhD, and James A. Serpell PhD

Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

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Why should I pay for training my dog?

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Well, this is a question I hear a LOT!

And it’s a bit puzzling to me. I’m sure that many of those who query a cost on dog training are happy to pay their dentist or their doctor, their pharmacist or hairdresser. They buy clothes and food from shops …

Imagine if they stood at the supermarket checkout saying “I can’t afford this at the moment, so either give it to me free or we won’t eat till next month”!

It’s a question of priorities really. You got yourself a dog. And you’re expecting it to train itself. All those things that annoy you about your dog are not figuring in your list of priorities to fix.

But is this a short-term thought?

The sooner you get to grips with your new puppy, or any newly-developed thing your dog is doing that you don’t like - the faster you can fix it. For a puppy and a new rescue you have to invest a lot of time in the early months. And your older resident dog? You’ll have to pick up on any new thing he’s doing and decide straight away what to do about it.

I know there are a lot of expenses with a new puppy. But people happily cough up large sums at the vet, possibly paying for a monthly program. The purchase price of the dog (especially if it’s one of the popular breeds or a “designer” crossbreed) can be very high. They pay loads for insurance, more for kennelling for holidays, they buy expensive beds and toys, get good food … but for some reason I can’t fathom, think that while their puppy won’t vaccinate himself, shop for himself, or pay his own insurance - he can train himself!

The hidden costs of failing to train your dog

Perhaps if people could see what they’re risking by missing out on this, they may move puppy training from “maybe” to “essential and urgent”.

It’s not just a question of having a dog who is a good citizen, doesn’t upset neighbours or other dogs, can be trusted round your food and belongings, and is not under your feet all day annoying you. There are real costs involved in abdicating your responsibility in this.

Hear what Laura had to say:

“As the manager of a busy veterinary practice, I’ve seen countless examples of how training can mean life or death to a dog. The most obvious examples are the dogs hit by cars because they haven’t been taught a reliable recall. It’s always heartbreaking, and especially traumatic for the owners who watch in horror as their beloved pet is hit by a car.”

She lists lots of examples of occasions where simple training could have saved the pet’s life - and saved possibly thousands in vet care.

“I remember Jake, the young Golden Retriever who got out of the yard when one of the kids left the gate open, and was hit by car. We did all we could to try to save him, but his injuries were too severe, and the owner ultimately had to make the decision to end his suffering. We all cried as we put him to sleep.”

“Then there are the euthanasias after a bite. These often involve children, and are gut-wrenching because of how preventable they usually are. In almost every case, the owner says that the bite “came with no warning”, but we know that actually there’s always signs that weren’t recognized. The body language that says clearly, “I don’t like what this child is doing to me,” or the averted gaze that says, “I’m anxious and feel threatened”.  Often the owners tell a story of escalating aggressive behavior that was unrecognized or excused until something tragic happened. Behavior that could have been much more easily handled had it been addressed at the start.”

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She is so right!

It can be simple to deal with what people perceive as aggression if we trainers are invited in to help. But we can’t do it by thought transference! We have to show you.

Here’s a great story from Laura that had a happy ending:

“We treated a young Lhasa Apso who growled when his owner tried to get him off the bed, or when anyone came near his food or water bowl. The vet tried to convince the owner that Jack needed training to address these behaviors. The owner would say, ‘Jack is a good boy. He just doesn’t like some things’. Unfortunately the owner’s grandchild tried to lie down on the sofa near him one day, and Jack bit her on the lip. She required sutures, and Jack was brought in to our hospital the next day to be put to sleep for aggression. He was adopted by our lead vet and after a few months of training, he became the favorite “example” dog at the puppy training classes. Unfortunately, they don’t all have happy endings like this one.“

It just shows that a bit of knowledge of how to train a dog can turn even the most serious cases round. But why wait till your child is bitten? Why not teach your dog AND your children how to behave round each other from the start?

Bites cost money

And you should know that if your dog does bite someone, it could end up costing you a massive amount of money in legal fees and fines. In UK law a dog doesn’t even have to bite! It’s enough for them just to frighten someone. Your dog could be taken away from you and killed because you didn’t understand him and his motivation.

This sort of expense far outweighs the costs of some simple training! Not to mention the distress all round.

Accidents in the home

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You don’t even have to venture out to find that a little training could save a lot of upset and sadness for your family and your dog - and even save your dog’s life.

Debbie the animal first aid trainer told me of:

“A Jack Russell who was a window barker - he got caught in the blinds and hanged himself.”

What a thing to come home to …

Then there was the bin-raider Debbie came across who ate a cooked chicken carcase and got a blockage - this is a life-or-death issue, and the vet treatment will be urgent and costly.

What training would have saved all these dogs?

  • Recall is an obvious one. It’s not just a question of yelling the dog’s name and expecting a result - it has to be taught methodically!

•    Correct socialisation with children, management, and education about this new species in your home for the whole family.

  •    Resource Guarding: can easily be made worse by the owner if they plump for a method they saw on the internet that involves challenging the dog and coercion. It’s a simple issue when you know how!

  •    Window-barking can be quickly solved by a bit of in-home management and Impulse Control training for the dog.

•    And stealing, countersurfing, hoovering - all can be fixed with teaching Impulse Control, and the owner learning to read their dog and manage situations safely.

Should I push dog training up my to-do list?

From all this you should be able to see that there is a real material value to training your dog! Not only will she become more amenable in the house and on walks, more fun, more rewarding, more entertaining for the children, but you should avoid the catastrophes listed above.

You don’t hesitate to get schooling for your child. Why should your dog not get the same courtesy and privilege?

A quick Google search will reveal that the costs of employing a professional force-free dog trainer - whether in group classes, 1-1 consultations, or online courses - is a lot less than you may expect. In most cases it’s much less than what you pay to have your car or your teeth serviced, much less than the purchase price of your dog, and sometimes cheaper than the fancy bed you bought!

So have sense and include dog training in your list of outgoings, before your dog makes your life an emotional and financial misery. And do keep in mind that dog trainers - like plumbers, mechanics, and doctors - need to eat and pay rent, and deserve a decent return for all the training and study they’ve put in.

If you like playing Russian Roulette, carry on saying you can’t afford training

But when you can remove all the petty annoyances so easily - not to mention the major disasters - resulting from lack of training, you’ll all enjoy a much better life with your dog.

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The Weekly Once Over can save you a lot of vet’s bills

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Run your hands over your dog’s body. It’s key to maintaining your dog’s health. Reach every nook and cranny! You want to check up for cuts, scratches, foreign bodies, hot areas, sore bits, tangles and mats.

You can do this methodically, once a week. Or you can do what a lot of people do - that is to use cuddle time as an opportunity to feel all over your dog and check him out. 

It’s surprising how many people miss this. It can lead to nasty problems, especially where ears and feet are involved. The fashionable fluffy dogs have lots of fluff-related problems. 

One fluffy dog I was boarding for the day was squatting to poo but nothing dropped to the ground. I checked him out. He had a basket of hair matted with dried poo covering his whole anal area. Yuk! Ten minutes with sharp scissors was all that was needed to remove this, trim the surrounding hair back neatly, wash him, and expose his very sore red bum to the air to heal. Fluffy dogs really need a lot of grooming to keep them healthy, and I think a lot of those who fall for these designer dogs don’t realise this before they purchase.

Learning how to get the best from your puppy or dog is a key part of these video mini-courses

Click the one that fits your dog’s age and check out what you get

Did you know that an innocent-looking grass seed can become a time-bomb? If it penetrates the foot - and its pointed, torpedo shape makes this easy - it can actually work its way up the leg and reach the internal organs. That last is rare. But a rampant grass-seed loose inside your dog’s body can only lead to trouble. 

Hairy dogs have hairy ears, with hairs sometimes growing right down the ear canal. Did you know you have to pluck the hairs out? Untended, these ears can be a source of constant pain and infection.

There are lots of less dramatic things to check for, but they can all add up to a lot of discomfort and misery for the helpless dog. I met two cocker spaniels once, whose coats were so matted that they had dreadlocks and huge mats all over them. These mats were like large balls that swung as they walked. Their feet were like soup-plates. Where the hair had matted tightly, at armpits and round the ears, the skin was being pulled and pinched. What else was harboured in these mats doesn’t bear thinking about! These poor dogs were suffering constant pain and aggravation. The tragedy is that the owner just couldn’t be bothered. She had plenty of money to pay for a groomer, but couldn’t be bothered. These dogs needed to be completely shaven so their coats could start again. 

Even small mats behind the ears and between the legs can cause constant irritation. Some dogs’ hair is soft and wispy and very easily mats.

Ask for permission!

It’s important that your dog should be happy with this interference. If you’re starting with a puppy it’s standard practice to get them happy about being handled all over - lots of treats for standing still for a split second while you touch them. Time will gradually stretch out.

For an older dog, or a rescue who may have a history of fear of hands, you need to progress in the same way, but take your time. Ask permission to handle your dog, in the same way you would ask permission of a person to touch them - even if you were brushing a spider off their neck you’d still ask! So afford the same courtesy to your dog. Don’t just grab and yank and pull!

I’ll take you through a checklist here so you can ensure that none of these horrors ever befall your dog. 

The Weekly Once Over - how it’s done

I’ve alerted you to some of the dangers of neglecting the weekly once-over. So here’s how to do it.

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Start with his mouth - especially the corners. Check there’s nothing jammed between his teeth or pressing into the gums, like shreds of a twig or bone shards. 

See that his eyes are clean and not runny. Trim excess hair from bushy eyebrows that may be poking into his eyes. Ensure he can see clearly. Don’t be a fashion victim!

Ears - these are very important - especially if you have a flop-eared dog, and/or one with a lot of ear feathering. Very hairy dogs, e.g. fluffy poodle types, will need to have the hair inside the ear removed from time to time, to prevent infection. The easiest way to do this is with a haemostat.

Fluffy puppy, long-haired dog, dog grooming, dog health | The weekly once-over can save you a lot of vet’s bills! | FREE GUIDE | #hairydog, #doggrooming, #activedog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com


Spaniels are notorious for getting ear problems. This is because their long hairy ears sweep up foreign bodies into the ear canal. The ear flap then clamps down and ensures a nice moist hotbed for triggering infections. So these busy little dogs, with their snuffling habit and love of deep cover, need their ears checked after every walk. 

The spaniel we had as our childhood family dog would go out foraging in the snow and be quite unable to get back through the fence gaps he’d gone out through. The snowballs which formed on his ears and flanks made him twice as wide and he looked like a Christmas tree! They had to be broken up and melted off before he could come back in the house and lie in front of the fire to dry.

Burrs, grass-seeds, insects, dirt, mud - all can create problems. So a quick once-over of the ears after every walk is a habit which will take no time and could prevent a lot of suffering. The best natural remedy I’ve found for this? Thornit. You’ll find it on Amazon. It will also dry up wet skin patches and helps to draw splinters. Invaluable.

Move further back

Keep working back down the neck. Check there’s no collar damage, and that his collar is still comfortable. We tend to put them on the dog and forget them till they drop off. Wear and tear can produce sharp bits which chafe. And has he got a bit tubbier since you last checked the fit?

Feel the ribs. You can feel them all? Good! That means your dog is not secretly gaining weight under his coat. 

If your dog regularly plays with other dogs, check over his flanks carefully. This is where grabs happen in a chase game. As it’s often only a skin-rip there may be no blood and no obvious sign without feeling for it. A dog’s skin is not like ours - it’s more like a loose-fitting overcoat - a breach in this protective layer can let infection in.

Check the tail for lumps and bumps. If your dog’s tail is magnificently feathered, you’ll need to hunt for twigs, bramble spines, thistles, thorns, burrs, and probably a mouse nest or two! Check anus is clean and trim the hair there if necessary.

Legs - run your hands down the legs firmly, checking for any reaction or flinching from your dog. Move the joints (only the direction they’re meant to move!) and see that there is freedom of movement. 

Feet - these should be clean, claws nice and short and blunt, the hair between the pads regularly trimmed away, and no mats or mud between the digits. This last can lead to painful “scalds” - chafed red sores between the knuckles which make walking painful. Once you remove excess hair from the pads you reduce the danger of thorns and grass-seeds penetrating the foot. These little torpedoes can actually travel up inside the leg. They may emerge again further up the leg, or in rare cases they can get into the bloodstream and cause havoc.

Best thing for trimming foot-hair? The little handheld gizmo your hairdresser uses to shave hair on the back of your neck. Very quick, very easy, no danger of cutting the webs.

My collies regularly have their feet shaven and neatened up. The poodle needs to be shaven regularly. The only one who escapes these ministrations is Cricket the Whippet who has fine hair and neat feet. Check this page for more info and some remarkable before-and-after photos on what you might consider a short-coated dog.

Underside: check his belly, armpits, genital area. Some dogs have very soft wispy hair on their undersides which mats in a moment, tweaking the skin painfully. So scissoring the wispy parts fairly short will prevent this.

All over: while you’re at it, part the hair in a few places (back of neck, rump, base of tail, for instance) and check for flea-dirts, spots, scabs, and any evidence of scratching.

 

This sounds a lot! But it actually takes a fraction of the time it takes to read all this. If you do this regularly this once-over should only take a minute. You can be towelling dry at the same time.

Anything you discover that needs fixing will take longer - schedule a time to deal with it the same day. A lot of things can be dealt with on a first aid basis. A stitch in time saves nine, and this regular once-over can save you a lot of vet visits! And there are natural remedies you can have always on hand. They work for the rest of the family too.