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  • Writer's pictureThe Dogzbody

Does neutering a dog change it's behaviour?

A question we as dog trainers get asked over and over again, often driven by profit-hungry veterinary surgeons looking for a quick buck to neuter a dog because a dog owner wants to eliminate an unwanted behaviour quickly. They ask their vet (who may be qualified medically but not a qualified dog behaviourist or trainer) for wrong advice or recommendations, often making the behaviour worse.

Dog Behaviour is driven by environmental exposure experiences, their historical interactions with the world, their current state of health, their age, their genetic factors and social learning. It is a mix of many aspects of a dog's world that creates a wanted or unwanted behaviour.

There is currently conflicting evidence, but neutering dogs particularly before puberty might be associated with increased aggression toward strangers and unfamiliar dogs. More research is needed to confirm this. Historically, neutering was seen as essential for treating all dogs with unwanted aggression. Now, it's recommended to carefully assess the aggression with a professional dog behaviourist first before even considering neutering, as it might worsen fear-related behaviours in some dogs.

The hormone Testosterone influences the mating drive and related behaviours, such as seeking mates to reproduce with, territorial actions like urine marking, and aggression between males. It may also impact confidence and fear responses in some dogs, but certainly not all dogs.

Neutering a dog doesn't always change their behaviour for the better for several reasons:

Behaviour Rooted in Training or Environment: Many behavioural issues stem from a dog's learning (deliberate or accidental), socialisation, and environment rather than hormonal influences. If a dog has learned certain behaviours due to poor training or a stressful environment, neutering alone won't solve these issues.

Age and Development: The age at which a dog is neutered can impact the effectiveness of behaviour changes. If a dog is neutered after certain behaviours are well-established, those behaviours may persist as learned behaviours regardless of the hormonal changes brought by neutering.

Genetic Factors: Some behaviours might be influenced by a dog's genetic makeup. Traits like aggression (as in Rage Syndrom) or anxiety can be inherited, and neutering will not change these genetic predispositions.

Underlying Health Issues: Behavioural problems can sometimes be linked to medical conditions such as thyroid imbalances, pain, or neurological issues. Neutering does not address these health problems, which might be the actual cause of the behaviour.

Type of Behaviour: Neutering primarily affects hormone-driven behaviours such as roaming, marking, and mounting. It has less impact on behaviours like fear-based aggression, separation anxiety, or behaviours learned through experience and reinforcement.

Individual Differences: Dogs, like people, are individuals. Their responses to neutering can vary widely. While some dogs may show noticeable behavioural changes, others may not show any change at all.

Delayed Behavioural Effects: Sometimes, the behavioural effects of neutering are not immediate. It can take time for hormonal changes to influence behaviour, and during this period, consistent training and behaviour modification is necessary.

In summary, while neutering can help reduce certain hormone-driven behaviours, it is not a comprehensive solution for all behavioural issues. Addressing a dog's behaviour effectively often requires a combination of proper training, socialisation, environmental enrichment, and sometimes medical intervention.

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