Tucker and I headed up a trail in the ancient redwood forest, enjoying the serenity of the silent wood. A brown dog with black markings around the eyes, white muzzle, and giant smile on his face came bounding around the switchback ahead of us. No human was right behind so I paused to wait for his companion. She appeared around the bend and was about to leash up her dog as she called out to him and he turned to her. She looked at us: “Is your dog okay with him?” she asked.
“Is he neutered?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
I shrugged. “He’s fine. You don’t have to leash him up. Thank you though.”
Her joyful pup came bounding down toward us, greeted Tucker who wagged back, and then he went on his way. As she passed us, I saw the look on her face of someone witnessing proof of a scientific fact she hadn’t believed for her entire life. “Wow. It really does make a difference, doesn’t it?” she asked, not quite rhetorically.
I wasn’t expecting to have a spay & neuter dialogue with a hiker in the middle of the woods, but why not?
“Yeah, it does,” I responded.
“I didn’t get him neutered until later on…” she couldn’t seem to find the words, “…because I didn’t know.” There was regret in her voice. She looked lovingly at her dog who was scampering through the underbrush, and I wondered how many times she had watched her dog be barked at, lunged at, and treated with general vehemence by other dogs.
“He seems super nice,” I said to fill the silence. “And now he has way more opportunities to make new friends.”
She smiled, being taken out of the sad memories. “I like that. Never thought of it that way. Thanks,” and she carried on, following her dog.
It’s one aspect of spay and neuter not often talked about. Although there’s plenty of data and hard evidence about the health and behavioral improvements of neutering your dog, there’s only anecdotal evidence, as this one woman experienced, that it can also have a profoundly positive effect on his social life.
Imagine if every time you walked into a room, every single person yelled at you: “Get out!” “Go back from where you came from!” “No one wants you here!” Some might even threaten, “If you take one step closer, I’m going to punch your lights out.”
While no formal studies have been conducted on why an unaltered dog often causes a negative response in neutered dogs, it is believed that the higher level of testosterone in intact males may make neutered dogs feel threatened. Given that a dog’s first impression is through scent, it seems like a reasonable explanation. However, we’re just beginning to learn about canine social interaction; it’s possible a different hormone or pheromone is the offending scent, or there’s another explanation altogether. Whatever the cause, people who live and work with dogs can attest to the high frequency of this reaction. Despite the fact that that an intact dog may be gregarious and outgoing and whole lots of fun, there’s just something about him that causes many neutered dogs to go on high alert and, at times, even lash out at him.
That’s what an unaltered dog encounters. He has no idea why. He just wants to play and have friends. Granted some dogs are totally okay with unaltered dogs, but they’re not in the majority. Your dog is going to face a lot of rejection before finding a dog that doesn’t mind his physical status.
Many public dog parks don’t allow intact dogs. Most dog daycare and group-boarding facilities also do not allow unaltered dogs over a certain age. There are a few that do—but keep this in mind: your dog will not be treated the same—nor will the other dogs who cannot be around your dog. Some facilities only allow an intact male to play with the human staff; they cannot come in contact with other dogs. Some facilities allow them with other dogs, but they can never be in the play yard simultaneously with dogs who cannot be around intact males. This means that because they need to be rotated in and out, both your dog and the other dog are spending half the day in a kennel alone, rather than in the play yard all day.
Life is easier for the neutered dog. He can go more places, stay more places, and most importantly, he’ll be judged like the other dogs at any canine social gathering: on the contact of his character, not on the presence of his genitalia.
We all want our dogs to succeed. We want them to live balanced, happy lives. Having friends is a part of that. Being neutered isn’t a surefire way for him to be liked by everyone. After all, dogs are like people: not every dog likes every other dog. But why not give your dog the best chance possible for success in a social environment? Neutering your dog can make a huge positive impact on your dog’s social life.
Your dog is amazing. He’s funny and smart and loving and playful. He’s a good dog; he’s the best dog. And there’s a whole lot of other dogs out there just waiting to get to know him and be his friend.
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.