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Is a neutered dog better behaved?

Does neutering a dog influence its working ability? Vet Tony Buckwell ponders the question.

black working cocker spaniel

Neutering should only be carried out if there is a compelling reason to do so.

Unfortunately, I am not aware of any definitive scientific evidence to indicate whether or not neutering per se directly affects working ability in gundogs and whether a neutered dog is better behaved. What we do know, however, are some of the unwelcome effects of early, prepubertal neutering. Hormones serve a number of purposes apart from the more obvious ones, and one of the most important is that of helping control correct development, both mental as well as physical. (Read more on neutering dogs here.)

Neutered dog better behaved?

Adolescence in social mammals is a time when hormone development rewires the brain and the puppy goes from a self-centred youngster through the inevitable extremes of fluctuating hormones, then stabilises into a cooperative adult. Prepubertal neutering fixes a dog in permanent puppyhood, so training it is very much harder. There is certainly evidence from work carried out in German shepherd dogs indicating that neutering adversely affected training and that intact male and female German shepherds were significantly more trainable than the neutered ones.

We also know of the physical changes that are the effect of neutering and might, indirectly, influence working ability. Neutered dogs have a tendency to put on weight and dietary management is essential if the dog is not to become overweight and therefore more lethargic.

Neutering also affects coat type and neutered dogs tend to grow a softer, and, in many cases, a more wavy coat, which may not assist the dog withstand the effect of inclement weather.

My overall advice is that dogs should only be neutered when there is a very good reason to do so, and that if a working dog is to be neutered, it is best left until the dog is fully trained and fully mature.