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February is National Spay/Neuter Awareness Month. Spaying or neutering your pet is important for a number of medical and behavioral reasons. In the United States, millions of animals are put to death because of overpopulation – there are not enough good homes to go around!

The traditional age for spaying/neutering is before a dog reaches her/his sexual maturity at six to nine months. Older dogs can be altered too, although the risk for complications is greater, particularly if they are overweight.

Medical Reasons

  • Because neutering removes the testes, your male dog will be at a lower risk for testicular cancer. Spaying females prior to their first heat cycle will help eliminate the risk of breast cancer and prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer.
  • As your male dog gets older, his prostate will enlarge which can make urination difficult. If his prostate becomes infected, it is difficult to treat without neutering.
  • Carrying and giving birth to puppies can be both physically dangerous and stressful for your female dog. Spaying eliminates these potential risks.

Behavioral Reasons

photo credit: Richard Jackson Bad Dog- OCMA, Newport Beach, CA

  • Marking. Male dogs mark their territory by spraying urine. This urine can have a strong odor, particularly in cats. Neutering helps eliminate the odor and incidences of spraying.
  • Roaming. Male dogs that are not neutered often roam around looking around for females in heat. Conversely, female dogs in heat will roam to look for male dogs. This can cause them to get lost or injured. Male and female dogs that have been spayed or neutered often live longer, mainly because they engage in less risky behaviors like running away.
  • Aggressiveness. Some research suggests that neutered male dogs display less aggression towards other dogs, while other studies dispute this. However, it is known that other male dogs can easily detect an unaltered dog’s high testosterone level and become aggressive. Females may be less aggressive toward both dogs and people after they are spayed. Unaltered females may try to get the attention of a male dog by fighting. Spaying can reduce or eliminate this behavior. Spaying your dog can also eliminate the possibility of hormonally driven guarding behavior.
  • Irritability. Dogs experiencing estrus may become irritable or nervous when they ovulate.
  • Mounting. A dog that is neutered is less likely to mount other dogs, furniture and inanimate objects. Although mounting can reflect a sexual behavior, it can also be a display of dominance. Neutering will only eliminate sexual mounting.

A common myth is that neutering can adversely affect your dog’s personality. Not so! It may change behaviors related to male sex hormones (such as aggressiveness), but not your dog’s friendliness or playfulness. Additionally, if you have more than one pet in your home, your pets will generally get along better if they are neutered.

Neutering will not eliminate all of your dog’s behavior problems. It will help reduce testosterone levels in male dogs, but it will not eliminate the hormone completely. If your dog continues to have behavior or obedience problems, your Bark Busters Behavioral Therapist can help eliminate these unwanted behaviors.


Jeri Wagner is a canine behavioral therapist and master trainer. Jeri uses a natural training system leveraging the same communication methods – body language and voice control – that dogs follow as part of their instinctive pack mentality. Training takes place in the home where the problems generally occur. Jeri trains in western Montgomery County, northern Chester County and eastern Berks County. For more information, call 1-877-500 BARK (2275) or visit www.barkbusters.com. 

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