The Fix is in...or is it?
By: Tom Goldsmith
Deciding whether to have a hunting dog spayed or neutered is always contentious.
If you open this can of worms, be warned: you will unleash a number of old wive's tales and entrenched beliefs warning that you can ruin a dog. This is not all uneducated speculation. While researching for this column I crossed paths with a number of different opinions from people who seem to have well thought-out positions on the topic. Professionals sit on both sides of the fence as to when, or if, having your dog "fixed" is a wise move.
Your dog's health should always be of utmost importance, says Dr. Sheila Driver of the Huronia Animal Hospital in Pentanguishene. In her practice, Dr. Driver is familiar with working dogs and understands the tasks and training sessions they perform routinely.
"For those not looking to have their dogs bred, spaying or neutering is often the right thing to do," she said. "A bitch should be spayed before her first heat to guard against mammary cancer and other serious diseases. To get a sense of what's right for you and your dog, the small percentage of reports (of incontinence in spayed female dogs) must be weighed against the life-threatening health issues facing intact females."
Before neutering a male dog, some owners might want to wait until it reaches sexual maturity and is fully developed physically. "If, however, an individual male dog has issues with roaming and aggression, neutering can often show results in reducing these tendencies," said Dr. Driver.
When considering any issue pertaining to your dog, never overlook input from its breeder. Most breeders have a solid plan for future lines of their animals. If your dog falls outside their plans, for whatever reason, the decision whether to fix your dog is made for you through the signing of a non-breeding agreement. Contractual agreements aside, breeders are great resources as to the advantages and disadvantages of the effect spaying or neutering has on their dogs and the experiences of other customers who have gone down this road before you.
Next to health considerations, the most important issue to me is how neutering will affect a dog's ability to hunt. Again, there are mixed opinions.
"If a dog is from good proven field stock, fixing the animal will have little if any effect on the its ability to hunt well enough for the average bird hunter," said Bob Showers of Vanessa, professional breeder, trainer, and field trialer of Gordon setters.
Troy Dobson, a waterfowl guide and owner of Autumn Skies Outfitters, is in another camp. Dobson hunts his Chesapeake Bay retrievers harder than most people do through the ever-lengthening waterfowl seasons here in Ontario and has experience working and hunting with neutered and intact dogs.
"I require my dogs to be hard charging and driven," said Dobson, who owns a male. "Neutering him might diminish his drive, so I've chosen to leave things be for now."
This leaves the proverbial door open to potential chaos, if an inconsiderate hunter should bring his bitch in heat to a crowded boat launch on opening day, admits Dobson. He had his bitch Chessie spayed a few years ago. "With a young, growing family, my priorities shifted and it made sense to remove the complications of my dog's possible pregnancy, not to mention a litter of pups to deal with," he said. The operation had no effect on her ability to work enthusiastically and dependably.
A Personal Decision
After speaking with other dog owners, breeders, and veterinarians, and weighing the facts and opinions on spaying and neutering dogs, making a reasoned and educated decision based on your personal situation seems to be the best way to go.
I'm a big believer in leaving the serious work of producing good gundog pups to dedicated professional breeders. So, I've had all my female dogs spayed. It comes down to the fact that our hunting seasons are short enough as it is, and I simply want to avoid having a dog come into heat and dealing with concerns that go with it when birds are on the move. Ultimately, this choice has worked out nicely for me and my dogs.