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Sexual Maturity - Spay and Neuter

On the average, dogs reach sexual maturity between six and 12 months of age. This brings on a number of changes, presents some issues that you must face and provides you some choices to make for your companion.

The Female

The female coming into "heat" or "season" for the first time marks the onset of sexual maturity. Though there is considerable variation, most dogs come into heat twice a year, and each cycle lasts for three weeks. Within each three-week cycle there are several days when she is able to breed and become pregnant. If you do not spay your female, you must endure these cycles. You must keep her under absolutely constant supervision, confinement and control. There is a bloody discharge from the swollen vulva. Females in heat tend to be irritable, absent-minded, and difficult to live with. Many people do not want to spay their female because they want to breed her, or because they think that neutering will cause problems. However, please consider the following points:
  • There are simply far too many dogs in this world already. Every year, about five million dogs are legally euthanized (killed) in the United States because they are homeless and/or unwanted.

  • Females do not need to have a litter to be "fulfilled." There is absolutely no medical reason why a female should have a litter. There is no medical reason, or emotional reason, why they should even go through one or two heat cycles before being spayed.

  • Dogs should not be bred just because they are purebred. Being purebred means nothing except that the last several generations were all of the same breed. It says nothing about the health, soundness or temperament of your dog.

  • Breeding your dog will not bring financial rewards. The realities are staggering vet bills, possible loss of puppies or the mother, unsold puppies wreaking havoc, and giving away puppies for little or nothing to people who may not care for them properly.

  • Neutered dogs do not get fat and lazy. Dogs who eat too much and get too little exercise get fat and lazy.

  • Any personality changes from neutering will be for the better. Neutering has no effect on intelligence. Neutered dogs tend to be more gentle and affectionate. They become less interested in other animals, in running away, and spend more time with the family.

  • Spayed females have a lower incidence of certain health problems, especially as they age. Spaying a dog before she is two years of age dramatically reduces her risk of breast cancer. And of course spayed females cannot develop uterine infections.
The Male

During maturity, males tend to become more dominant and headstrong. Please consider the points above, and in addition:
  • Male dogs do not need to engage in sexual intercourse. In dogs, sexual behavior is primarily a reflexive behavior.

  • Neutered males have a much lower incidence of prostate problems as they age.

  • The greatest advantage to neutering males is the positive effects it may have on their personality and behavior. Typical effects are: decreased leg-lifting and territoriality, decreased running away and roaming, decreased fighting with other males, decreased mounting of people, children, other dogs or objects, decreased testing and aggressive behaviors. In general, neutered males are more gentle, affectionate, docile and cooperative.
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Back to Smart Pet Guide to Training

PETsMART Accredited Training Instructors, in addition to their previous experience, receive a minimum of 120 hours of training in a curriculum which includes: Canine Behavior, Learning Theory ("How Dogs Learn"), Problem-Solving, Classroom Management, Equipment, Handling Skills and more. Where possible, hands-on training is completed in partnership with local shelters, using shelter dogs to demonstrate training methods, behavior assessment and handling skills. This enables us to accredit our instructors while contributing to the community, as we help to make these dogs even more adoptable.

Suzanne Hetts Ph.D. is certified as an applied animal behaviorist and co-owner of Animal Behavior Associates, Inc., in Denver, CO.

Terry Ryan is the well-known author of training books such as The Toolbox for Remodeling Your Problem Dog and The Bark Stops Here.

Pia Silvani is the Director of Pet Training and Behavior at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J.

Mary Lee Nitschke, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at Linfield College, an Animal Behavior Therapist and the Director of Training for Animal School in Portland, OR.

Trish King is the Director of the Animal Behavior and Training Department at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, CA.

Pamela J. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified applied animal behaviorist and assistant professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, where she teaches veterinary students courses in Applied Ethology and the Principles of Learning.
Information and advice contained on this site is for your consideration only. Please consult your veterinarian for specific advice concerning the care and treatment of your pet.


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