I'm sure many of you have researched about dog sterilization - the benefits and risks of doing so, however I do notice that few actually provide proper information on the behavior changes that can happen to dogs after they are sterilized.
In this article I am going to share my personal experience on dog sterilization and the things i notice before and after the surgery, all of these studies are towards behavior (we leave surgical and health to related experts), having almost 15 years of my life handling dogs and animals, I've experienced first hand how hundreds of dogs and mammals change after going for sterilization, all of these dogs had been handled personally by me before and after the surgery. This article may be different from websites that you have read, which has high chance of including myths and fake claims because most writers including veterinarians and bloggers either cherry pick information from the internet and unverified books, or has different motives which aims to benefit services and/or businesses. What I am going to share is my opinion, experience and views on neutering/spaying a dog for the sake of providing educational information to the public.
Once again, if anyone is uncomfortable with anything written here, just do us a favor and discontinue reading.
From my studies, male and female dogs can vary greatly in terms of behavior, this applies to both before and after sterilization, and I believe this is mostly due to the nature and characteristics of both genders. Below will cover popular behavioral topics that most owners would question me when talking about sterilizing their dogs.
Sudden temperamental problem
Female dogs that are not spayed seems to display sudden temperamental problem like whining, barking and aggression, sometimes it can be very sudden, appearing and disappearing randomly.
I noticed that only female dogs that hasn't been spayed tend to be more sensitive especially before and after their heat. Either they are uncomfortable due to hormones or do not wish for others to get near to them (they don't feel ready to mate), although the level of temperamental surge varies with different dogs, I am very certain that it is present in all un-spayed dogs.
General behavioral problems
I've seen dogs that has certain behavior problems, for example oversensitivity, whining, aggression, uncertainty becoming much better after sterilization. Some "Experts" claim that this logic applies to all dogs, that sterilizing helps to remove behavior problems (but they don't explain why), however I beg to differ, in my opinion not all dogs show positive results even after sterilization, I will go further into this at the end of the article.
Gender specific behavior problems
Male dogs that are not neutered tend to have more chance of developing extreme territorial, excessive marking and dominance behaviors. Based on my experience, most if not all male dogs that had the problems mentioned above behaved better after neutering, although the result varies (some owners see big difference, others don't notice any different), there's at least a minor improvement even if they are not noticeable to untrained eyes.
Body and mind stop growing after sterilization
So far I've not seen any dogs having their intellectual abilities stuck at where they were after sterilization. Many tells me that if a dog were to be sterilized too early, their body and mind will stop growing, till date I've not seen a single dog that doesn't grow nor change from 6 months old to a ripe 15 years old. This myth had been going on since the 80s and I am quite disappointed in qualified veterinarians joining in to spread this pointless rumor.
Change of character
I've noticed dogs experiencing change of characters after sterilization, for example an overactive dog may start looking docile and does not move as much as before. When the 1 week healing period is over and the dog is still behaving differently, this is not lethargy from the surgery anymore, it simply means that the dog has changed it's view to certain stimuli, therefore this should be considered a good thing, I will explain more into this later on.
That being said, those that appear to be even more active or display worst behavior after sterilization are probably due to the lack of proper handling during healing period (1 week), which means that owners may have unknowingly trained their dogs to misbehave and develop bad habits during this period, I personally have not experienced this before as I am considered strict in terms of dog training. The only change I noticed are positive ones.
Frequency of urination
More in female dogs than males, some seem to have the tendency to urinate more frequently, some are diagnosed with incontinence while other causes are unknown. This is at the rate of about 1 out of 5 female dogs. However, do not mistake this with marking behaviors, even female dogs mark so you'll have to understand the dog well enough to rule this out.
Loss of appetite
Normal during healing period just like humans after operation, generally this behavior should disappear after a week. I've not seen a single dog that loses its appetite after healing period, rather they seem to be more hungry easily. Those that becomes picky are probably because of owner treatment - giving unnecessary food during healing period, hand feeding unnecessarily etc.
Understanding why changes happen
From the points above, you should understand that in terms of behavior there are much more positive changes than negative ones based on my experience. Why sterilization can be so beneficial to dogs with behavior problems is very simple, because this reduces Stress.
Yes you did not read wrongly, sterilizing your dog reduces stress! There are two types of stress, one is mental stress and the other is physical stress, mental health affects how a dog thinks, feels and make decision, a dog with mental stress will not be able to maximize it's thinking ability, physical stress is when the dogs feels the need to relief frustration using their body, which is also linked to health and physical stability.
Now don't underestimate this seemingly minor word, stress alone can cause a dog to be extremely frustrated, which can easily destroy their mental and physical health in the long run.
How sterilization affects stress
Now this part can be a bit tricky, I'll try my best to explain using laymen terms, feel free to read through everything again if you did not get it on the first read. Do understand that in this article I am just sharing what dogs are thinking from their perspective, things like ethical breeding are not taken into consideration here.
Like all living things, dogs are programmed to reproduce once they mature, but because most families can only accommodate limited number of dogs and do not wish to have unnecessary offspring, they are not allowed to breed. Most puppies are already separated from the wild before they are even born, which means that they would probably be living in human created environment throughout their lives, this also means that they'll never be able to meet other dogs at will, a life like this greatly limits the chance of dogs getting to meet opposite genders, hence reducing their chance to reproduce. Simply put, once the puppy is born, their fates are already destined to live in controlled environment created by humans.
Once a dog reaches maturity, it's mind will tell them to start searching for opposite genders and reproduce, male dogs uses marking to create territories and tell females that they are nearby, female dogs produces a scent during heat to hint male dogs that approaches. However with human controlled environment, these poor dogs will not be able to understand why they are unable to find a mate after searching for a long time, this is when stress starts accumulating - behavior problems appear, male dogs start to mark even more aggressively, female dogs start showing abnormal reactions and so on. As this goes on throughout the years, they will soon become very frustrated and may start venting this anger on themselves, humans, other dogs and/or things around them.
If a dog is sterilized, you remove the stress caused by reproductive genes, bear in mind again that sterilization does NOT remove every single stress and behavior problem, it simply removes the need and urge to reproduce, which already very important by itself. Whenever I train a problematic dog, I would advice the owner to consider sterilizing their dog first, because by doing so we remove the chance of the dog misbehaving due to the need to reproduce, then we can start focusing on specific behaviors with an ease of mind. Doing this is much better than having to take reproductive gene into consideration during behavior alteration, which could actually worsen certain behaviors if owners are not experienced and patient enough.
Pardon for my straightforwardness (no offense intended), there are some people who thinks that their dog should be as pure and natural as possible, meaning that they would try and make the dog feels as if it is in the wild, for example feeding raw meat, not vaccinating their dogs, avoiding medical help and so on. This thinking although is beneficial in some ways, can actually backfire if one is not experienced enough to make correct and accurate decisions. You need to understand that once your dog is inside your house, it is never in a natural environment anymore, their body and mind will change and become different from stray dogs you see on the street. Knowing that the dog in your house is not in a natural environment, it will be wise to understand that human intervention and technologies are sometimes needed to make our dogs feel better and healthier, if you throw a pure breed dog into the jungle it will probably be unable to survive, compared to a stray dog that had been in the wild throughout it's life.
Isn't sterilizing a dog cruel?
If you had read through the information above, sterilizing a dog is absolutely beneficial in terms of behavior and stress related problems. In fact, I will say that not sterilizing your dog without the intention to breed is very cruel, I can't imagine letting my dog feel the frustration and urge of not being able to mate, resulting in it suffering for the rest of it's life. Simply put, removing the reproductive organs helps a dog to feel better not having to worry about mating, which is so much more comfortable than the other way round.
So sterilizing all dogs are recommended now?
No it's not, dogs that are having medical conditions or too old have no need to go for sterilization. Medical conditions are already affecting their lives so mating is usually not a priority for them anymore, for dogs that are too old, they have already suffered a large part of their lives, sterilizing will not be beneficial in this situation.
Also, if you do intend to breed and allow your dogs to mate, then there is absolutely no need to consider sterilization. For male dogs mating should be encouraged every 3-4 months, each mating period should last a few days. For female dogs, mating should be encouraged yearly, or twice a year if they are strong enough. Remember that allowing a dog to breed is just removing the stress and urge to reproduce, it does not magically remove all behavior problems. Allowing male dogs to hump objects and human does not equal to mating, it only reliefs temporary stress, therefore you may notice most male dog's humping behavior worsening after a period of time.
Will all mating behaviors disappear after sterilization?
No, sterilization removes the need to reproduce, which means that any other mating behaviors present after the surgery are due to bad habits and owner's part for not teaching them properly. Meaning if your dog is still marking and humping after sterilization, it is now a problem with bad habits and behavior, not because of reproductive gene unlike before, so you should be confident and start eliminating this habit with an ease of mind.