Making the decision to neuter Rush

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.

6 thoughts on “Making the decision to neuter Rush

  1. Cherie Batt

    Very interesting Diana. It certainly sounds like that you made the right decision for you and Rush. The guy at the gas Station I bet it was the icing on the cake. People don’t think of poodles as being aggressive or even being good watchdogs they are so wrong. Louie, The poodle I watched For a year was a big Guy who liked to stick his nose where it often didn’t belong . It was manageable but Definitely had to be on my toes and much more challenging then Riley. I like to take my dogs with me wherever I go And when I had Louie it was just not possible. Louie was neutered but he was just a Handful. A more laid-back dog is just more relaxing And flows easier with life.
    However I am glad you were able to collect him so you and Vicky can make the right choice for you guys down the road.
    Fuego Is two years old. I want to neuter him so I can Allow him to play with Other dogs under my supervision. He is not an aggressive dog just the opposite But he still gets the stink eye from some male dogs and I just don’t want to chance him getting injured. To me you’re research was beneficial and very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
    You & Rush are a wonderful team I just see you guys getting better and better.

  2. Vikki kauffman

    We’re in trouble with our poodles’ future. The gene pool is so tight, if we don’t find ways to increase their genetic diversity the breed could be lost. As Diana mentioned, one of the reasons a group of dogs were imported from Russia was to bring in some lost lines. We’re walking a tight rope when we do this. There are unknowns that are brought in with the rare ancestors and it’s our job as breeders to make the tough decisions about who is used and added back into the mix. Rush, IMHO, has a fantastic pedigree. On the dam’s side he has healthy and sound temperament as well as some of the slightly more unique Haplotype. Rush’s dad has genetic and poodle personality uniqueness (for lack of better words).
    When I started breeding 10(ish) years ago I sat down and thought about what my criteria were. They were: health, temperament and structure. Then I had to decide in what order I was going to place these criteria. I realized that, for me, temperament had to be number one… something I wasn’t going to negotiate. I think Rush forced me to think long and hard about this choice. Poodles shouldn’t be edgy dogs and how much drive should we be breeding into the breed? As Diana mentioned, Rush is a dog who needs expert handling. He is a dynamic agility dog because of the very part of him that makes him difficult in day to day life. I’ve had people tell me that he is the most talented agility poodle that they’ve ever seen (and this is coming from people who don’t give praise lightly). So the temptation is to breed more agility dogs out of him. However, when you do a breeding you are creating 5-13 puppies… are we going to have 5-13 homes for all of the high drive, dynamic and potentially difficult to handle puppies? How many people can handle a dog like Rush? If we breed a dog like Rush to a bitch with an edgy temperament (or one who simply carries genetics for such) how are those puppies going to turn out? What about introducing this temperament into the poodle gene pool? Do we want this personality type influencing the breed? Again, IMHO, I think poodles should be easy to live with family dogs. I think the ‘show world’ is already doing a great job in changing the poodle into a less focused and flighty temperament, do we need ‘unique’ genes that add to this problem? How do we balance all the parts that make up a good poodle? I guess, for me, the answer is breeding for moderation and selecting out those ‘once in a life time prodigies’ for those once in a life time killer performance owners and having the rest of the litter perfect for your more typical pet and performance homes.
    I know it was a hard decision for Diana, how could it not be? I applaud her for seeing the big picture and as she said, in time he might be used but the pressure is off for now and they can just enjoy life and each other…. which what it should really be all about.

  3. Amy

    Great comments Vicki!! Wish more people had a more balanced approach to breeding…AND realized what a responsibility it is.

  4. Sherry in MT

    Well thought out and well written Diana. I had the same struggle with Sterling on the decision to neuter although he had NO issues with behavior. I’m also glad Vikki commented at length about her breeding and why she has bred the way she has (and I’m thankful). I hoped to leave Epic in tact but he is having many of the issues you mentioned with Rush and add to that his BIG personality and drive anyway (even before hormones) he just is struggling to deal with it all. Add a stupid neighbor with at least one in tact female and underground fence and Epic’s fate was sealed. Healing thoughts for Rush and Epic sends his love!

  5. Carol

    Fabulous Fabulous blog post Diana for all the reasons everyone else has mentioned. One of the reasons I desperately wanted one of Vikki’s puppies is because of her approach towards breeding, her love for the breed, and how involved she is with all of her puppy owners. It is so hard to not get wrapped up in our human ambitions and lose sight of what’s right for the animals, both current and future generations. It sounds like Rush is a lot like Clooney (though I imagine with higher drive and less environmental sensitivity). I would love to have a bunch of little Clooney’s running around, but I also know that the average dog owners aren’t willing or able to put the work into raising those little Clooney’s into happy/well-balanced pups. It takes a LOT of work to keep up with dogs like the Absolut boys. Kuddos to you for making this decision and even larger kuddos for embracing Rush and all of his awesomeness. I have yet to run into an agility person who doesn’t know of Rush and gush about his talent.

  6. Vikki kauffman

    It’s hard to see all the dynamic pictures of Rush (and see him in the flesh) and not want to make more of him. I’m glad Diana collected him , I’m glad we have many years to evaluate his usefulness to the breed and I’m particularly glad that Diana and Rush have many more years of a wonderful working partnership and tons of fun to come.

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