Behavior changes in spayed and neutered dogs are something that dog owners may be concerned about. Will my spayed dog get fat and lazy? Will my neutered dog stop marking? How will this surgery impact my dog's behavior in the long run? Will it get better or worse? There are really no exact answers to these questions considering that there are several factors to consider. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec discusses these factors and provides information on behavior changes in spayed and neutered dogs.
Some Factors to Consider
Routine spaying and neutering are becoming more and more popular among responsible dog parents. The benefits of routine spaying and neutering are countless – starting from improved overall health and decreased risk of certain diseases, through improved temperament and behavior, to declined homeless dog population.
What are some post-spay and neuter behavioral changes to consider when altering a dog? The behavioral changes that develop after a dog is spayed/neutered depend on several factors.
For instance, what's the dog’s age at the time of surgery? What type of post-surgery medications are prescribed? What was the dog's lifestyle like before the surgery? And how is the dog's lifestyle after the surgery?
All behavioral changes can be classified in two main groups: short-term behavior changes in recently spayed and neutered dogs and long-term behavior chances. Following are descriptions for both.
Short- Term Behavior Changes in Spayed/ Neutered Dogs
This group includes the behavioral changes that can be expected in the hours or days following the spaying/neutering procedure. All of the below stated behavioral changes are self-limited and usually resolve in a few days.
- Appetite swings
- Mood swings (mild anxiety and depression)
- Increased clinginess
- Bathroom accidents
- Excessive sleepiness.
Long-Term Behavior Changes in Spayed/Neutered Dogs
The C-BARQ test reviews 100 behaviors condensed into a set of 14 major categories:
- Stranger-directed aggression – hostile responses to strangers that either approach or invade the dog’s personal space.
- Owner-directed aggression – hostile responses to owners and other household members when manhandled, challenged, stepped over, stared at or even approached while possessing food/toys.
- Dog-directed aggression – hostile responses when approached by unfamiliar dogs.
- Dog rivalry – hostile responses to familiar dogs.
- Stranger-directed fear – fearful responses when approached by strangers.
- Nonsocial fear – fearful responses to traffic, loud noises, unfamiliar situations and objects.
- Dog-directed fear – fearful responses when approached by unfamiliar dogs.
- Separation-related behavior – excessive vocalizing and destructive behavior when separated from the owner often followed by restlessness, trembling appetite loss and salivation.
- Attachment and attention seeking – soliciting affection and permanent attention from the owner and showing agitation of denied.
- Trainability – willingness to learn quickly and obey simple commands while ignoring distracting stimuli.
- Chasing – after cats, birds, rodents and other smaller animals.
- Excitability – manifesting strong reactions to arousing events such as going for a walk, doorbells and arrival of visitors.
- Touch sensitivity – fearful responses to common procedures such as grooming, bathing and nail clipping.
- Energy level – playful and always ,,on the go,, or withdrawn and reserved.
All of the 100 behaviors included in the C-BARQ test were examined and it was determined that out of 100 assessed behaviors, only 40 are significantly different between fixed and intact dogs. Sadly, only 4 behaviors were more positive in spayed/neutered dogs and the other 36 were more negative.
According to the study, fixed dogs are:
- Less likely to leave urine marks while indoors
- Less likely to howl when left alone
- More likely to return when called while off-leash
- More likely to fetch tossed items
Unfortunately, the study also showed that fixed dogs are more likely to show aggression when:
- Strangers walk past their homes
- Delivery workers approach their homes
- Joggers and cyclists pass by
- Encountering unfamiliar dogs and people
- Small animals enter their yards.
Additionally, fixed dogs were more likely to manifest fear when:
- Exposed to loud noises
- Exposed to unfamiliar people and situations
- Barked or growled at
- Encountering unfamiliar dogs and objects during walks
- Examined by a vet.
Other frequently observed and unwanted behaviors include:
- Eating droppings and feces (its own or from other animals)
- Rolling in droppings, feces and other smelly substances
- Stealing food
- Obsessive licking
- Excitement induced and persistent barking.
On the Bright Side...
Contrary to conventional wisdom, spaying and neutering is not the universal solution for all behavior issues. In fact, it has been established that in most cases, spaying/neutering leads to increased incidence of aggressive or fearful responses and over-excitability. On the bright side though, neutering helps eliminate several undesirable testosterone triggered behaviors such as:
- Urine marking and spraying (both indoors and outdoors) to inform other dogs of his presence and territories. For example, dogs peeing on car tires, fire hydrants and bushes.
- Roaming (which can be particularly dangerous for indoor dogs that are not capable of surviving on their own).
- Mounting and humping (on people, other dogs and inanimate objects).
- Aggressiveness towards other male dogs particularly if there is a female in heat nearby.
All of the above listed behaviors are ruled by the hormone testosterone. When the dog's testicles are removed these behaviors slowly diminish, and once the testosterone is fully eliminated from the body, they completely stop.
Also on the bright side, spaying helps eliminate few undesirable estrogen triggered behaviors such as:
- Hormone-mediated mood swings
- Hormone driven behaviors during heat.
Debunking Some Popular Spaying/Neutering Myths
Myth #1 Dogs become uninterested in guarding the house after being spayed or neutered.
Fact: The basic temperament and intelligence of the dog are not affected by spaying or neutering procedures.
Myth #2 Spaying/neutering makes dogs feel less like a woman/man.
Fact: Spaying/neutering does not change the dog’s personality.
Myth #3 Dogs become depressed after being spayed/neutered.
Fact: The inability to have puppies is not something dogs feel sad about. In fact, male dogs do not even participate in the rearing of a litter.
Myth #4Dogs become fat after being spayed/neutered.
Fact: Dogs become fat if they eat too much while exercising too little. Although spaying/neutering reduces the metabolic rate, with a proper feeding regimen the unnecessary weight gain is completely avoidable.
Myth #5 Spaying/neutering resolves all behavior problems.
Fact: Spaying/neutering is not a universal treatment for all bad behaviors. The dog’s personality cannot be automatically altered. Each behavioral issue requires an individually tailored approach.
Myth #6 Spaying/neutering is expensive.
Fact: Today, spaying/neutering is considered a routine procedure and its price is not as high as it used to be.
Myth #7 Females should not be spayed until after their first cycle.
Fact: Since each cycle increases the risk of developing medical issues, it is advisable to spay/neuter your canine baby, as soon as possible.
Myth #8 Female dogs should not be spayed before having at least one litter because the process of giving birth makes females calmer.
Fact: When it comes to dogs, giving birth is not a magical experience that leads to calmer and well-behaved dog.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.
Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.