is desexing the answer, or the question?

Sometimes we can be so influenced by what we see, hear, or experience on a regular basis, that we forget there are other options. Or at the very least, possibilities.

I recently had a very cool conversation with my friend Lisa from Australia, in regards to the desexing of competition dogs. We both own intact males so we talk sex sometimes 😉 If you desex a male dog would you have a more focused dog, or does it boil down to more training, more exposure to new and different, and a strong handler/dog relationship? If you have a problem during competition is it because of the testosterone driving the male, or is it training? Is desexing even necessary if there is no health issue? If you do a great job with your intact male dog in regards to socializing, exposure, training, and the relationship, how can you be sure others have done the same, and your male will be safe?

Then I received a reply to my post THE MALE DOG from one of my blogging friends in Norway, Bente Haarstad. She mentioned that it is illegal to spay/neuter a dog in Norway. W-w-w-w-haaaat?!

In a nation such as America, that is cramming stray and unwanted dogs into every available rescue/shelter, and then euthanizing millions more each year, Norway’s law might make you gasp, or even throw a tantrum! But only at first glance. Their laws make sense, and would make any dog person from America to Australia envious. Respect and relationship seem to be the foundation.

In America it really isn’t IF you are going to spay/neuter, but rather when. While rescues would like to see every dog desexed yesterday because of over population, we are known worldwide as a heavy desexing country, believe it or not. Whether you want the testosterone in your dog longer for healthier growth plates and joints, or buy into the new movement Fix at Four, there are always conversations on desexing, always.

Are we desexing because of our dog over population problem, or to make things easier for the owner? Let’s be super honest about that one!

Norway does not have an over population problem when it comes to dogs. There are rarely strays, if ever. People use leashes and restraints when required. The culture in Norway is such that when you get a dog, you are expected to spend time training and building a relationship with your dog (that is so refreshing!). Spay/Neuter is a case by case basis, based on health, utility, or behavioral concerns.

Is Norway a perfect Utopia for dogs and their owners? I don’t know I don’t live there, but it sounds pretty awesome! In an article by Science Nordic some veterinarians have mentioned that they treat dog to dog bites more often than what they have seen in the United States. Growling, barking, or difficult to walk in public are other problems mentioned. In reality, all Utopian thoughts set aside, I would imagine there are people who don’t follow through with training, don’t understand dogs, or have been abusive,  just like any place else in the world. And for sure, dogs that don’t have great temperaments to begin with? Norway we would love to hear from you!

So here is some really cool information that I think we can all agree is pretty crazy awesome!

The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act (NFSA) makes it clear that surgical procedures are not to be used to adapt animals to the needs of humans, unless strictly necessary. Woop! This means you come at the relationship together and work at it together.This, in and of itself, makes me smile.

They also state that neutering is not a substitute for training. Now if you are reading this and are from America, or a desexing heavy country, be honest and raise your hand if you have neutered because of an unwanted behavior. Here is my hand being raised, I have done that in the past. And it isn’t uncommon.

The NFSA, a government agency, did relax some of it’s spay/neuter laws from what I have recently read. Starting in this year, 2012, they will permit neutering if it helps give a dog a justifiable quality of life, including social contact with other dogs.

As for me, I like what Norway has to say, so does Story! From how I am understanding things, it isn’t just about desexing, it’s about quality of life, and responsibility to another living being, woop! I like that there are no stray animals, and that the culture expects dog owners to be responsible. This expectation being socially acceptable is worth gold in my world. I love that dogs are dogs are dogs, unless there is a problem that needs medical assistance.

I for one have learned something new, which is always a good thing.

Perhaps we can start shifting to higher expectations of dog owners and their responsibility? Perhaps we can truly out law puppy mills, mass breeders, and kennels with twenty breeding pairs to help curb over population? Perhaps we can look at dogs as perfect from the day they are born and not medically alter them? Perhaps we can all find more value in relationship, teaching, and the journey together?

Nancy, who appreciates and loves her neutered and intact male dogs!

25 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa says:

    Great blog Nancy…by the way, Ghost also likes what Norway has to say ;-D

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Ghost and Story might be looking at getting passports, we might need to keep an eye on them! Hope all is going well 🙂

  2. Faith says:

    How interesting. It would be great to hear from some Norwegian locals on the subject and how they perceive life with these guidelines. I, personally, have not had a say with regard to spay/neuter since all of my dogs have been rescues, and were spayed at 6mths, 2yrs and 4.5yrs, prior to our adopting them. I must say that while I love the website for the ‘Fix at Four’, even with my limited knowledge about issues surrounding spay/neuter, I would not want to see a dog ‘fixed’ at 4 months – unless the owner’s could not guarantee unwanted breeding. And, although I understand the ‘why’, I hate to hear about rescues ‘fixing’ puppies as young 8wks old prior to them leaving the shelters. It just seems wrong. But I guess so is pet-overpopulation.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      With these pediatric spays (anything under 6 months) we risk adult incontinence. I understand a rescue not wanting to send out an unaltered puppy, but there are some that require a large deposit that is only returned after spay has been complete at a more reasonable age.

    2. Sarah says:

      It’s also not good for the joints. We have seen it in Siberians where people have neutered below 6 months and they have a much higher rate of ACL and other knee injuries. I do believe intact dogs have healthier joints in the long run. That those hormones continue to feed the joints throughout their life time. Just look at people, when do we start getting and increase in arthritis? Often once we passs menopause or we have a great decrease in our hormones. Sure there are a lot of factors that come into play such as diet but I do believe much of our aches and pains go hand in hand with our hormone levels.

  3. Right, so I’m from the “rescue” side. Obviously, as you mentioned, our concerns are the amount of animals desperately seeking homes. I am not, however, one to recommend sterilization in place of training and effort put into the relationship. I love this article. If your dog is in a controlled environment and you have the correct relationship, then there is no need to sterilize. It’s the “unwanted” puppies that are the issue. As it is impossible to know, for certain, what an owner is going to do, I agree with shelter animals being sterilized. I would love to see more emphasis on responsible ownership and working against puppy mills etc. In South Africa, we have a huge stray problem and some fantastic organisations go out of their way to run sterilization programs for areas where the community cannot afford it. This, I feel, is fantastic, as many of these dogs are “owned” and loved but are not in enclosed yards.

    PS – I just read the comment previous to mine and would like to add that, although from a rescue point of view we insist on sterilization, we do not have puppies fixed before they leave. People sign an agreement and get vouchers (which we can then follow up on) to have the animal fixed at a later date.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      It is so refreshing to hear someone invested on the rescue side, mention that sterilization should not take the place of training. Yes it is the unwanted puppies or the ‘away’ populations that are producing and producing and that is a problem. And these seem to be the same puppies that usually crawl into my heart! Are the sterilization programs helping with the street/stray/village populations, or education towards over population? In Montana most shelters desex before adoption, some as early as 8 weeks. They don’t rely on the people to take care of that. I wish we could culturally ‘expect’ more responsibility for dog owners.

      1. The sterilization and education programs are certainly helping but, unfortunately, where there is poverty (of which we have a lot), there will always be problems. There is only so much any organisation can do with the limited private funding.

        It concerns me to think of animals being sterilized as early as 8 weeks. I am sure there are shelters here that do the same but certainly not the ones I work with.

        I agree that the ultimate would be that we could, as a standard, expect more from any pet owner. I wish expectations could be that high. In the mean time, we all just carry on trying our best to educate. No one can fix the whole problem but, if enough of us are trying to help in the areas that we can, it all makes a difference.

  4. Kim says:

    Interesting…I had no idea that Norway had such a law. Since the law states that medical procedures shall not be used to adapt animals to the needs of humans, that it also bans the practice of cosmetic surgical procedures such as ear cropping, dew claw amputations, and tail docking? I certainly hope so…I wish it were banned world over.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Kim, i think cosmetic surgeries have been illegal over seas for upwards of 25+ years. The AVMA came out with a position statement about 2-3 years ago saying they no longer support cosmetic alterations, now it’s up to breeders and AKC and other kennel clubs to change their standards, and for veterinarians to refuse doing it.

  5. Camilla says:

    ok, so I am not from Norway but from Denmark and I am a bit surprised about the law in Norway. I have never actually looked into the law in Denmark in regards to neuter/spaying but since all of our dogs were neutered, I am guessing it is not illegal in Denmark. I think neutered male dogs are quite common. But what I do recognize is teh approach towards being a dog owner. YOu will “never” see a dog being chained outside. Dogs are considered members of the family..which is probably why you mainly see German Shephers, Golden retrievers, Boxers and Labradors in Denmark. YOu walk your dog at least 3 times a day and do not let them run free. Now that being said, I am sure there are a lot of bored dogs in Denmark waiting at home for their family to return, but that is probably very common in households where both adults are working officejobs. One thing to remember is that Scandinavian countries all have a very high level of education,and a very high living standards. As mentioned earlier in one of the comments above by one of ther rescuers, you just see more stray dogs in poor communities.
    Just my 2-cents :o)

    Camilla and her mutt Jackson and labrador puppy Cedar (who is still intact)

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      It’s interesting isn’t it? What would Montana be like if we had these standards and quality of living to go by? I don’t think it would be all that bad, not at all! Congratulations on your new puppy! I thought for sure you were going to get a border collie!

      1. Camilla says:

        Well, by definition it is my husbands puppy and his choice BUT I am the trainer, feeder and walker :o) ..unfortunately our timing was not very good – we simply do not have the time it requires. Doing the best though and he is getting a lot better, but I must admit I have never before met a puppy with the need to bite this much and a lack of “intimidation” (probably not the right word to use , so please don’t misunderstand, but it does worry me how fearless he has been since we got him!).
        He is really smart and VERY food motivated (surprise with a lab, uh? :o)so he picks up his new behaviours really fast. Still working on the self control, and no jumping on kids. So tempting and self-reinforcing , when the child is walking by with a sandwich just in same level as your mouth. Accidents are bound to happing and foo dwill “disappear” fast :o)

      2. Nancy Tanner says:

        yes and that is like me saying my dogs are really my children’s dogs! hahaha.Enjoy YOUR new puppy 😉

  6. Kim says:

    Nancy, this post has had me thinking the last few days (good job!). Having nothing but a household of female pets (cats and dogs), I don’t think I feel the same way between owning an intact male as I do about owning an intact female. I’m okay with never neutering (unless for health or behavior) a male dog in the future, but I do not want to ever raise a litter of puppies. Between the health of the female (during pregnancy and delivery), the cost of care, the cost of complications, and not to mention having to find GOOD homes for the entire litter. I think it’s easier to sit back and say it’s okay to leave a male dog intact since that person doesn’t have to deal the consequences of an unplanned litter (unless you are an upstanding person!), but I think it would be less easy of a decision for owners of intact female dogs.

    I found my dog Casey running the streets of Syracuse, NY 14 years ago. Our kill shelters felt she’d never be adopted and I couldn’t find an owner (given her condition it was doubtful she ever had an owner), so we kept her. Now, she was somewhere between 6-9 months old and when I found her (okay, she found me), she had followed my neighbors intact male home from a walk. Given her age and the uncertainty of possibly being pregnant already, we spayed her. We did not, could not, and hadn’t the education enough, to allow a litter of puppies to be born. Fast forward to today, and I still feel the same way. Unless an intact female dog owner is at all times of that dogs life prepared to deal with an unplanned litter, I think they should spay (timing of a spay is a whole nuther topic). So either I never own another female pet again, or I spay.

    Thanks for the great topic! This was thought provoking for me and it helped me clarify how I felt about it all. Awesome! Thanks 🙂

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Kim, when I heard about Norway’s laws it made me think for a few days too. What would it be like to manage and live with all sexually mature animals in our homes and neighborhoods? I would love to go and visit and see what it is like first hand!

  7. metisrebel says:

    I think that opens up a good question, Nancy.

    From personal experience I have to say that every “de-sexed at a young age” dog I’ve had showed far less dog maturity than those that were left intact. It’s as if de-sexed dogs remain in perpetual puppyhood and never achieve that adult dignity to the same degree. The only Bouvier I had neutered when young was the only “playful” Bouvier I ever had. The rest were very dignified, intelligent, regal dogs.

    Protection dogs are rarely, if ever desexed before full adulthood for that reason.

    The one issue for females is of course, pyrometre [sp?] which is prevalent in cities due to the use of parks.

    Nor have I, as a responsible dog owner, ever had, or caused, an unwanted pregnancy.

    I think there needs to be follow-up information, though. In Norway, what happens if there IS an unwanted pregnancy? What are the results? Why is this NOT happening? What are the leash laws? Is there some form of birth control that isn’t surgically based?

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      thats interesting, we were just talking about maturity, socially and emotionally, in an intact vs desexed dog. I would have to say that my intact male carries himself with more ‘oomph’. My desexed male, who was kind of serious by nature, is still somewhat of a goof ball when it comes to play, and he is five years old now.

      1. metisrebel says:

        I think someone above me also brought up a salient point about Scandinavian countries having a higher standard of living.

        I’ve been saying for decades that it would be cheaper to keep poor people’s dogs *in their homes* than to keep rescuing them and that many dogs wind up in shelters as “brat dogs” because the owners couldn’t afford the training fees and they’re not going to risk NOT feeding the children if they become financially unstable and training a biting or bratty dog can be an expensive proposition.

        That would include low cost desexing clinics, reduced vet fees, pet food banks and scholarships or such like for dog obedience and emergency rescue boarding for those who become ill or need to be re-housed.

        As for neutering, since this dog is a rescue he came neutered but I honestly believe he’d be less of a “puppy brain” if I’d had the opportunity to wait until he was fully mature at 3.

  8. How interesting descussion, and how different the dog world is in different countries. I know spay/neuter is necessary many places, because or overpopulation or stray animals, much of it connected to poverty. I learn about this from Animal Planet, and I know the good work and at the same time hopeless work volunteers do in countries like Egypt with millions and millions of stray dogs,
    By the way, I was at a bird hunting dog competition last weekend and a lot of intact males there. Absolutely no problems, the male dogs hardly even look at each other, not even when the are running free, they are doing their job: serching for grouse birds….

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Bente, this has opened up such a cool discussion. I don’t think many of us know what it would be like to own a dog in a different country. When I go to stock dog trials it is about the same. If work is present and they know they are going to work, there is no problem with the males at all.

  9. Denise says:

    Another option for rescues is tubal or vasectomy which can be done on pups as young as 6 weeks old. It would allow hormones to the jobs they were meant to and the pup to have every chance to develop strong and healthy. It is much cheaper to do once equipment and training is paid for and is much less risk of infection.

  10. John Carston says:

    It helped when you mentioned that sometimes we have options that we can choose but we forget because we can be so influenced by others. My cousin mentioned to me last night that she wants her pet to have a pet desexing service to reduce unwanted behaviors and asked if I have any idea what is the best option to do. Thanks to this informative article and I’ll be sure to tell her that she can consult a trusted animal hospital as they can answer all her inquiries.

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