When you bring your puppy home it is like a heart explosion of sorts, caring, nurturing, snuggling, getting to know each other, and maybe the last thing your thinking about is sexual maturity and all that that entails. But the reality is, puppies are merely a puppy for a blink in time, and as they mature the hope is that ALL of them matures.
Along with physical and mental growth, there is also deeper social understanding, a level of emotional balance, and sexual maturation. This is all good, as nature intended.
An intact dog is also referred to as whole, sexually mature, or unaltered, meaning the genitals and hormones have not been removed.
For the most part, our country is set up for altered dogs, also referred to as desexed, spay, or neutered. Dog parks, off leash walking areas, neighborhoods with pocket parks, and multi-use trails are primarily used by dogs that have been altered.
Have you ever stopped to ask why this is?
Well it’s multi-layered actually –
- Our country euthanizes upwards of tens of millions of dogs each year from overflowing shelters, no person is cheering for unwanted or mistake litters to continue this cycle
- Organizations promoting a lower population of dogs has bombarded pet owners and pet healthcare professionals through powerful marketing, for decades, that altering a dog is responsible
- Dog parks are off leash romper areas where hormones can cause conflict, and people like dog parks and their convenience
- Altered dogs appear to have less opinions, more convenient for some owners
- People are use to altered dogs and unfamiliar with intact dogs
- Intact dogs have a purpose and that is procreation, just like all other intact mammals on the planet, and many households aren’t looking to breed or have this level of responsibility
- Management of home, property, and outings is a reality with an intact dog, and most homes don’t want this level of management or responsibility
- Training and competing with hormones takes skill, understanding, trust, and time, and a lot of households don’t want to even go there
But the more we know the better we can do, and our dogs deserve our efforts.
There now exists a mountain of empirical data that has overwhelmingly found that altering dogs while they are maturing causes a host of health issues, immediate or latent –
- joint, tendon, ligament issues
- abnormal bone growth
- adult incontinence
- noise phobia
- fearful behaviors
- adverse reactions to certain pharmaceuticals
- precocious puberty – hypersexual behavior
But there are those that are not reading, observing what is happening, and watching the dogs before their eyes, even with all of this information out there.
Some states have laws and ordinances that all puppies must be altered before leaving a shelter, even if it requires a pediatric spay/neuter, eight weeks or younger.
Some breeders have requirements that their puppies must be altered by six months of age.
And then there are some veterinarians that still follow Fix at Four, an old marketing gimmicky program where all dogs are altered at four months.
Read, all you have to do is read, search, and read more, for all involved.
And in the mountain of empirical data, there is also information on the health benefits of keeping a dog intact up until eighteen months, or for the life of your dog –
- vibrant muscle development
- healthy joints, tendons, ligaments
- stable emotional health
- full development of all sphincters
- hormonal support of all body functions
- the whole dog
But is this really for everyone?
Here are my considerations for living with a puppy that is coming into sexual maturity, and that you would like to develop whole, until eighteen months or later –
- The Female Canine Reproductive Cycle – you should understand what is going to happen to your female as she matures
- If you have a female puppy, contact your breeder and ask when her mother had her first heat cycle, that will be your puppies first heat cycle as well, and mark your calendar
- Females tend to mature best if you let them go through 1-2 heat cycles before you consider spaying
- If you choose to spay, it is best to spay 2-3 months after the heat cycle, when hormones are at a normal level
- Your puppy will start to get moody, flaky, or distracted about 1-2 months before their first cycle, an estrogen bump of sorts
- Your puppy should have a dance card with friends for one-on-one play dates. Once they start to get close to or are in their first cycle, NO playdates for a month or longer. Hormones are high, opinions are high, and play takes on a different meaning. This is your downtime together, great for bonding, training, and other at home activities
- Sexually intact dogs should not go to dog parks after six months of age, preferably never, but I’ll be a bit generous here
- Leash, yes you must when out in public
- Training, yes you must, to the Nth degree, because you are working with a whole puppy who is going to mature into a whole dog and with that comes the obligation to form a trusting relationship where you are working together not against each other
- Management in a multiple-dog household should include – a gated area, a crate, NO dog doors
- Some females when they come into heat clean themselves nicely and there is no mess to clean up, while other females need in-house bitches britches, be prepared
- Some female dogs will dig out of a fenced area and go looking for male dogs, but it is more common that unknown male dogs will start showing up on your property, so NO alone time in the yard, even if it is fenced
- Whole females mark, and they mark a lot, usually not in the home, but outdoors
- A budding male dog will have obvious genital changes, testicles descending, which is a good thing and healthy
- From about six to eighteen months young male dogs have 5-7 times more testosterone than an adult male dog, and are referred to as Ultra Males
- Ultra Males cause conflict with unknown adult male dogs, intact or altered, just by their testosterone scent, kind of like young jerk on the rise
- Ultra Males should NEVER go to dog parks, they won’t be looking to fight, but adult males will put unwarranted pressure on them and they will learn how to defend themselves or fight back, which is totally unnecessary
- Young male dogs are usually somewhat needy of their people, and need to be protected when they feel vulnerable
- A whole male can smell a female dogs hormones up to seven miles away, through variable surface terrain, and find her. Hence the reason for male dogs roaming and taking a walk about
- NO time alone in a yard, fenced or unfenced
- NO off leash in public places
- Playdates should be started at a young age and there should be a list of friends to meet and play with one-on-one as your male dog matures. NO female playmates when sexual advances become more important than play
- Training, yes you must. A trusting relationship, time spent together, an understanding of what life is throwing their way in the way of hormones in the environment is imperative
- Male dogs mark, some inside, most just outside. With a young developing dog they should never be left in a room alone, and should be taken outside often and praised for going outside
- NO dog doors
- Some young male dogs become melancholy when they can smell hormones but can’t access them, they sometimes go off food for a bit, drop a little weight, and become mopey, this does pass with age
- Some young male dogs can become hyper-sexual, pushy, and aggressive with other dogs because their hormones have basically high-jacked their system, not common, but it can happen
So, know who you have, understand how life happens, and look at your dog as an individual and what would be best for them. You are their voice in the human world, use it wisely and with care.