I had Rush’s testicles removed last week. He has been healing well, although he’s not thrilled to have his activity limited to walking on leash. Making the decision to neuter him was challenging, and I’m all too aware that I may regret the decision down the line.
Neuter and spay have been normal procedures, so commonly performed that most people I know–not dog people–wondered why Rush wasn’t neutered earlier.
Dog people, however, know that early neutering and early spaying–with “early” loosely defined as “before one year old”–is associated, in a long-term study of golden retrievers (referenced in this article) with an increased vulnerability to hip dysplasia, joint problems, and certain cancers. I knew I wasn’t going to neuter Rush before adolescence long before he was born.
Rush is part of a diversity project in poodles; his father is a poodle imported from Russia specifically because he doesn’t carry much Wycliffe genes (details of Rush’s genetic background are given in this article). His genetic testing has been excellent; he doesn’t carry any of the common poodle genetic problems. His hips are OFFA good and his elbows are normal. There are all kinds of good reasons to keep Rush intact and available for breeding. In fact, his semen has been collected and frozen, just in case Vikki thinks he could be used in a breeding program at some point.
So why neuter him now, at age three-and-a-half?
Vikki and I spent several hours talking about Rush and his suitability for breeding in October, when she came and watched us do agility at the Top Dog trial, the one where Rush got his C-ATCH and Dancer got her CS-ATCH. We went over his testing; we were both thrilled with the results. BUT we kept circling back to his temperament. Rush is driven. He lunges at me at the end of an agility run when he has to stop. He yells at me if I make a handling error. He growls at male dogs that look at him directly (which is considered quite rude in the canine world). He reminds me, in these moments, of a twenty-something male who keeps getting into bar fights. The kind of guy who stands around waiting for someone to say something.
This is not what people want from a poodle. I am hard-pressed to think of ten people who would want a puppy like Rush. He’s fast and he’s furious and he’s everything I’ve dreamed of for agility–and then some–but he’s fast and he’s furious and he yells at me when I make a mistake and he barks at dogs in the neighborhood and has attempted to get into fights with the poodle mix who lives around the corner (who is obnoxious, but really, so what?).
So Vikki and I decided to wait a while to see if we wanted to breed Rush, and I stopped for gas on the way home, and Rush was being his territorial self about the car, and the guy pumping the gas (this is Oregon, they pump your gas for you) says “I’ve never seen an angry poodle before.” (Rush was yelling at him for getting close to his car.)
I thought about that the next day, and then I went off and read–and reread–all the articles I could find about the effects of testosterone on behavior. My reading varied over a wide range of subjects, from gelding horses to castratos (Italian singers in the 16th and 17th centuries, who were castrated before puberty so their voices didn’t change) to articles about Lance Armstrong’s use of testerone while riding in the Tour de France. I read articles about the quality of steer meat as opposed to bull meat (steers have more fat and better marbling, but heifers are even better). I even ran across a few articles by veterinary behaviorists about behavior changes in dogs. This is one of the more sensible ones on that topic. I even found an article that did a double-blind research study on the behavioral effects of adding extra testosterone to the system of healthy young men (whom, I would assume, already had plenty of testosterone).
The consensus was this: late neutering wasn’t particularly dangerous for joints and cancer risks (and apparently is less of a problem in Labs than in Goldens) (and no one has looked at standard Poodles, yet). Neutering before puberty in cattle, horses, dogs, and humans delays closing of the growth plates and makes the male fatter, taller, and easier to deal with. Adding testosterone definitely can cause anger and hostility issues in humans. In dogs, neutering does appear to make a difference in the behavior of male dogs, especially with regard to marking and fighting. In horses, even late gelding generally works to improve behavior and reduce fighting.
I went off and thought about all that for a few days, and then I took Rush for a walk one day and had to drag him backwards, using all my strength, to keep him from getting into a fight with another male dog who also wanted to get into a fight with him–as far as I could tell, they both were pissed off about how they were looking at each other, and neither of them was willing to back down.
I went to an agility trial and I talked to a few trainers who had decided to neuter their mature male dogs. I didn’t hear any regrets. I heard “more focus” and “easier to deal with” and “needs to eat a lot less” and “needs to be brushed more often” but I didn’t hear “I wish I hadn’t done it.”
I made an appointment for Rush for a month out and I kept reading. It really seemed like Rush would be easier to deal with once he lost the testosterone. His joints are mature.
Last week he was neutered. So far, I haven’t noticed huge changes in his behavior, but it does take four weeks (or a bit more) before testosterone levels go down completely. He is, however, considerably less interested in marking every telephone pole and fire hydrant in the neighborhood.
His interest in squirrels is unchanged.