Desexing - Good or Bad ...???

Reprinted from Dog Victoria Magazine February 2019                                            Re: Mandatory Spay / Neuter Legislation

 POSITION STATEMENT - Dogs Victoria

Dogs Victoria recognises there may be benefits to spaying or neutering dogs that are not part of a responsible breeding program, or that are not being shown, and where an owner has been informed of and considered the benefits versus risks of the procedure.
Dogs Victoria believes that these important decisions should be made on an individual basis by the owner of the dog, in conjunction with his or her breeder and veterinarian, where the convenience and advantages of neutering dogs is weighed against the possible risks associated with neutering 1, 2, 3
The decision of when and whether to spay or neuter a dog is not one to be taken lightly.  There are many important factors to consider, especially when it comes to the long-term health of the dog.

 Therefore Dogs Victoria opposes mandatory spay / neuter legislation.

Dogs Victoria’s position is consistent with the ANKC’s opposition to mandatory spay/neuter approaches 4, and takes into account published and peer reviewed scientific studies.  These find that desexing a dog, particularly before it has fully matured, can lead to significant long-term health impacts, including cancer (such as osteosarcoma, mast cell cancer, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, and lymphosarcoma), hip dysplasia, ligament damage, patellar luxation, incontinence, cognitive decline, fear and/or aggression and other behavioural issues, and even a shorter lifespan 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.
Mandatory spay / neuter legislation targets all dog owners, regardless of their level of responsibility or the behaviour of their dogs.  By legislatively mandating surgical procedures without consideration of the individual dog and its circumstances, the approach obviates a veterinarian’s professional case-by-case judgement.  This is in direct conflict with professional standards of care required of veterinarians.  Routine neutering, especially in the case of non-free-ranging companion animals, raises significant ethical questions, and from some ethical perspectives, looks highly problematic 2.

 Shelter Population

Mandatory spay / neuter legislation is usually promoted as a solution for animal control.  Proponents advocate that mandatory spay / neuter legislation will reduce the number of animals at shelters.
Mandatory spay / neuter legislation has not proven effective in reducing the number of unwanted animals or shelter populations.  Moreover, research indicates that the majority of unwanted dogs in the United States (where similar legislation has been considered) come as a consequence of owners who are unable or unwilling to train, socialise, and care for their dog 21.

The Australian Veterinary Association’s position concurs that Mandatory desexing has not proven an effective strategy for reducing the number of unwanted companion animals 22.
Imposing mandatory spay / neuter legislation will not resolve the issue of irresponsible ownership.  Effective solutions instead require addressing the larger issue of irresponsible dog owners, and irresponsible breeders who place puppies indiscriminately.  These types of comprehensive preventive strategies address the underlying cause of animals arriving in shelters in the first place.

Dogs Victoria advocates public education about the need for long-term commitment and responsibilities relating to dog ownership and welfare.  Dogs Victoria also advocates education of breeders in how to screen and select owners who are in the best position to train, socialise and care for a dog.

In support of this proposal is an analysis of RSPCA’s Yagoona shelter in Sydney, which showed that 98% of dogs destroyed during 2004/05 were unfit to be re-homed due to poor health, old age or unsuitable temperament 23.  
Of 79 Victorian councils zero euthanasia of adoptable and treatable dogs is widely quoted 24.  Research also shows that pure bred dogs are extremely low in numbers in shelters 25.
Some advocates of spay / neuter legislation also propose that desexing dogs reduces aggression and therefore the risk of being surrendered, however research exists that concludes spaying and neutering does not reduce aggression in dogs 26, 27, 28.

Consequences of a mandatory approach

 Research has shown that mandatory spay / neuter is not an effective solution for reasons including 21, 29:
Difficult to enforce
May result in owners failing to register their dog with the council
May result in owners avoiding exercising and socialising their dog, and routine veterinary appointments, to hide their non- compliance
Increases the work load of council rangers who are responsible for dealing with the enforcement of animal control legislation
May result in an increase of animals surrendered to pounds rather than owners incurring the cost of desexing to comply with mandatory spay/neuter legislation
Impacts purebred dog gene pools and places downstream pressure on health of resultant puppies
Impacts the ability of consumers from being able to obtain a healthy, well-bred dog from a responsible breeder

The approach also has the risk of punishing responsible breeders and those who choose to keep their dogs entire for their health, or to participate in conformation and other similar activities.
The approach sends a clear message to Dogs Victoria members that any political party or council who adopts it is not dog friendly and does not support their activities and rights as responsible dog owners to make informed decisions for their dogs.

Dogs Victoria members and affiliates generate a significant amount of revenue for the local economy through their activities such as conformation shows and trials.  Dogs Victoria members make a serious commitment to their dogs, and to ensuring the future health, welfare and breed type of their individual breeds.

 Alternatives

  Public education programs to promote responsible dog ownership 29.
Breeder education programs focused on screening potential owners.
Enforce existing animal control and welfare legislation 29.
Implement low-cost spay/neuter programs in targeted locations with a high intake of dogs in shelters 24.

Dogs Victoria can assist in advising on effective evidence based animal welfare policy, and public education programs that address the issue of irresponsible ownership while still protecting the rights of responsible owners and breeders.
Dogs Victoria acknowledges the work and detailed position of the American Kennel Council (AKC) on the topic of mandatory spay / neuter laws and their ineffectiveness, which has greatly assisted in the development of this paper.

 1 Belanger J, Bellumori T, Bannasch D, Famula T and Oberbauer A (2017), Correlation of neuter status and expression of heritable disorders, Canine Genetics and Epidemiology 2017 4:6
2 Palmer C, Corr S, Sandoe P (2012) Inconvenient Desires: Should we routinely neuter companion animals? Anthrozoös 25 supplement: 153-172
3 Root Kustritz MV, Slater MR, Weedon GR and Bushby PA (2017) Determining optimal age for gonadectomy in the dog: a critical review of the literature to guide decision making. Clinical Theriogenology Vol 9, No 2 June 2017
4 Australian National Kennel Council Policy Statement (2013) Responsible Breeding http://ankc.org.au/media/9141/17-responsible-breeding_oct-13.pdf
5 McGreevy P, Wilson B, Starling M and Serpell J (2018), Behavioural risks in male dogs with minimal lifetime exposure to gonadal hormones may complicate population-control benefits of desexing, PLoS One 2018; 13(5)
6 Balogh O, Borruat N, Meier A, Hartnack S, Reichler I (2018) The influence of spaying and its timing relative to the onset of puberty on urinary and general behaviour in Labrador Retrievers, Reprod Domest Anim. 2018 Jul 5
7 Zink C, Farhoody P, Elser S, Ruffini L, Gibbons T and Rieger R (2014) Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioural disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas J Am Vet Med Assoc 2014;244:309–319
8 Spain CV, Scarlett JM, Houpt KA (2004). Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;224:380–387
9 Duerr FM, Duncan CG, Savicky RS, Park RD, Egger EL, Palmer RH (2007) Risk factors for excessive tibial plateau angle in large-breed dogs with cranial cruciate ligament disease, J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2007
10 Torres de la Riva G, Hart B, Farver T, Oberbauer A, McV. Messam L, Willits N and Hart L (2013) Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers PLoS One 2013
11 Slauterbeck JR, Pankratz K, Xu KT, et al. (2004) Canine ovariohysterectomy and orchiectomy increases the prevalence of ACL injury. Clin Orthop Relat Res 2004;429:301–305
12 Ware WA, Hopper DL. Cardiac tumors in dogs: 1982-1995. (1999) J Vet Intern Med 1999 Mar-Apr;13(2):95-103
13 Cooley DM, Beranek BC, Schlittler DL, Glickman NW, Glickman LT, Waters D (2002) Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Nov;11(11):1434-40
14 Ru G, Terracini B, Glickman LT (1998) Host related risk factors for canine osteosarcoma. Vet J. 1998 Jul;156(1):31-9
15 Hart BL (2001). Effect of gonadectomy on subsequent development of age-related cognitive impairment in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001 Jul 1;219(1):51-6
16 Stocklin-Gautschi NM, Hassig M, Reichler IM, Hubler M, Arnold S (2001) The relationship of urinary incontinence to early spaying in bitches. J. Reprod. Fertil. Suppl. 57:233-6, 2001
17 Aaron A, Eggleton K, Power C, Holt PE. Urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence in male dogs: a retrospective analysis of 54 cases (1996) Vet Rec. 139:542-6, 1996
18 Howe LM, Slater MR, Boothe HW, Hobson HP, Holcom JL, Spann AC (2001) Long-term outcome of gonadectomy performed at an early age or traditional age in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001 Jan 15;218(2):217-21
19 Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Willits NH (2016) Neutering of German Shepherd Dogs: associated joint disorders, cancers and urinary incontinence. Vet Med Sci. 2016 May 16;2(3):191-199
20 Hart B, Hart L, Thigpen A, Willits N (2014) Long-term health effects of neutering dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers, PLoS One. 2014; 9(7)
21 Salman MD, New Jr JG, Scarlett JM, Kass PH, Ruch-Gallie R and Hetts S (1998) Human and Animal Factors Related to Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats in 12 Selected Animal Shelters in the United States, J App Animal Welfare Sc vol 1(3) 207-226
22 https://www.ava.com.au/about-us/policy-and-positions/topics/unwanted-companion-animals
23 Lawrie M and Awad M (2007) The issue of unwanted animals: an unemotional approach? In: Australian Institute of Animal Management Conference Proceedings 2007, Canberra: Australian Institute of Animal Management
24 Rand J, Lancaster E, Inwood G, Cluderay C, and Marston L (2018) Strategies to reduce euthanasia of impounded dogs and cats used by councils in Victoria, Australia, Animals 2018, 8(7), 100
25 Gunter L, Barber R and Wynne C (2018) A canine identity crisis: Genetic breed heritage testing of shelter dogs PLoS One August 2018
26 Bamberger M, Houpt K (2006) Signalment factors, comorbidity, and trends in behavior diagnoses in dogs: 1,644 cases (1991–2001) JAVMA Vol 229, No. 10, November 15, 2006
27 Reisner I, Shofer F and Nance M (2007) Behavioral assessment of child-directed canine aggression. Injury Prevention 2007; 13:348–351
28 O’Farrell V and Peachey E (1990) Behavioural effects of ovario-hysterectomy on bitches. Journal of Small Animal Practice (1990) 31, 595-598
29 Australian Veterinary Association Policy Framework (2008), What to do about unwanted dogs and cats, https://www.ava.com.au/sites/default/files/documents/Other/AVA_policy_framework_unwanted_dogs_cats.pdf  

Breeding & raising puppies

Raising Puppies The Alfoxton Way

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I am very lucky that I don't have to always rely on various studies to tell me how dogs learn or how to raise pups. At Alfoxton over the years I have been using the experience and knowledge gained from many sources that have built a system for our babies.

Nowdays there are friends who have become involved and embrace the concept of an open mind with each litter so we don’t lock ourselves in to any published Puppy Development Calendar as we feel it limits our potential to develop new concepts. But perhaps it is partly to the fact that I don't like being told by others what is best, instead I love to find out for myself....

My Introduction:

When I started out I was lucky enough to become a great mate with the late Margo Haines from Ashlon Kennels. She not only gave me my first German Shepherd bitch but also helped me learn what was required for breeding and understanding bloodlines. We spent many hours drinking coffee at her table with pups at our feet or visiting other breeders to view their babies. She was there to hold my hand when my first litter of German Shepherds hit the whelping box in 1982.

Now 30+ years on and 20 litters later I find that I have discovered more ideas with every litter. The lesson learnt thru this, have meant that now we start the social program with our newborn pups much earlier than most breeders or studies seem prepared to recommend.

Here we are happy to share this practical information with others dog enthusiasts who might be interested. The following is the Alfoxton Way, but remember as stated previously, this is an ongoing internal study and there will no doubt be further additional discoveries in the future.

Get Ready, Get Set, Go.....!


When we built our home we had always planned to have dogs living amongst us, so our house is an open plan layout with slate floors that are very dog friendly (easy to clean and not too slippery). The open plan means that the mum bitch never needs to feel locked away from our family as she is right in the heart of the action.

Bitch is mated and the due date (60 days from first mating) is marked on the calendar – the heated whelping box is set up 3-4 days before due date and my schedule is kept flexible for that week. Pups are born, often by surprise, we then throw a big quilt over the table to create a snug cave for the litter and we keep things quiet for 3 or 4 days. Once mum and pups are settled then if needed a vet inspection is held and any pups not developing will be put to sleep – as in the wild we do not expect all to survive. 

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Start the Socialising:

All of our dogs, cats and humans have access to the whelping area, however it is up to the mother to determine when the dogs and cats are allowed in to the whelping area. The mother dogs have always allowed known humans to handle pups from birth and will accept most introduced humans under guidance. We hold/cuddle pups for 10-15 minutes each pup at least 3 times a day - snuggle them into our neck where our scent is easy for them to smell along with the vibration from our voice box to imprint the human to the puppy (after all these dogs are going to be human companions). Pups always seem to relax very quickly against our warm skin.

By the start of second week the mum allows the other house bitches to come over to visit and by the end of the second week these bitches are cleaning the puppies. Around the 11 days point some pups start lifting themselves up on their legs but just stagger like little drunks. Pups are now responding quickly to our human smell even prior to eyes and ears opening at around the 12-14 days.

Around 16 days they start to play box and mouth us the same as they do with their litter mates, at this stage they look like baby hippos at play yawning and staggering. Now is the time that outside known dogs will become very curious about what is in that box and come in and smell the pups, usually under mums supervision.

Around 19 days pups are starting to react to us when we make noises in the room - some even start to look up waiting for the movement. At this point we bring pups out of the whelping box and place them on mats spread around the lounge to investigate new smells. Now is the time that we start to introduce a bit of food, usually raw kangaroo mince smeared on our fingers, just so they get the taste.

At 21 days pups have started feeding from group bowls as well as having short outings outside to the garden to explore. The adult male dogs are not taking much interest prior to this point but now will wash puppies and help toilet, however they move away when pups want to climb onto them, yet the other bitches will actively encourage this play behaviour with minimal fuss. We also start outside socialising, so with a few into a crate they get their first car ride and visit down to friends houses where they get used to new experiences such as new dogs and different floor surfaces.

Four Weeks and Now the Work Really Starts!


Pups are now getting really active - their senses really start to kick in and are now very open to loads of variety in their life. We still try to work them in small groups when we go anywhere different however after having our J litter with only one pup, we discovered that pups are more resilient than we initially thought. Jabbah coped just as well going out on his own and in fact perhaps he became more independant thru need.

Between 4 & 5 weeks pups are eating four solid meals a day - meat, a muesli mix, egg, yoghurt and have about 3 or 4 quick drinks from mum which keeps their immune system strong. By six weeks they have had leftovers added to their diet, even some pizza crusts, a bit of rice or pasta. We also add small strong bones to strengthen their ear carriage and clean their teeth. At this point the male dogs really seem to get involved teaching the pups by offering gentle play techniques and showing the pups how to dig in the sandpit – all the adults start to share sticks and toys, often chewing an object and push to puppy to encourage the same response. The adults also start to offer some light discipline to the pups at about 5 weeks.

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Puppy School:


We are lucky to have our own puppy classes running at our farm, this allows us to explore an early social package more than most breeders would, hence we bring our pups down from about 4 weeks into the class. 3 or 4 pups at a time and we take one of the carry baskets so they can retreat into their own cave when they wish.

The first week they are reserved to begin but then they will sit eagerly at the crate door and watch and lick the dogs that poke their head in, sometimes they venture out to have a little play if the energy level of the dogs is low.

At their second class they are much more outgoing sometimes even getting stood on before they rush to the feet of a human and then venture out again. But by the 6-8 week stage pups are more than happy to meet the new dogs and often show themselves as more experienced and outgoing than pups that are 12-14 weeks old.

By the time Alfoxton Pups go home to their new families they have got a head start. Ready for new challenges.

Notes: In our experience small litters of 4 or less seem to be even quicker to have eyes and ears activated often at 11 days. But perhaps that is because they get more stimulation than my current litter of 9 pups. Our litters are medium sized dog so it is likely that there are variations in development of the different size dogs or even different breeds. Very large breeds for example, may take much longer to get on their feet so social development would not occur until later in their puppyhood.

But either way the lessons I would like to impart is to read the studies but also trust your own gut feeling. Remember that perhaps the litters being studied are being raised by over protective humans or perhaps in a sterile clinical environment without the stimulus we provide here at Alfoxton?