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Friday, January 25, 2013

Should tracking and hunting dogs be spayed and neutered?

by John Jeanneney
Full Cry, 2010
Jolanta was in our vet’s waiting room the other day, when a woman asked her,“Why do you have a girl dog that hasn’t been fixed?” “I’m a breeder”, my wife said. There was a long silence. Then “Oh”. Another silence, “Why do you do something like that?”

There is a suburban world out there, and population-wise it’s much bigger than ours. It's filled with people who have no idea that some dogs are  bred for a purpose. If they ever gave it a thought, they would become convinced instantly that a Cockerpoo would serve  just as well for coon hunting as a Bluetick. But of course they would be against coon hunting too. The problem is that ignorance and misinformation about bred-for-a-purpose dogs doesn’t end in the vet’s waiting room. All too often it extends right into the vet’s examination room.

I’m not writing about our own veterinary group; they are country vets with a farm animal practice and good common sense. But the people we sell tracking dog pups to often select another kind of vet, the suburban, 9 to 5 type of “practitioner” who makes the bulk of her or his income from giving shots ($40) and of course a mandatory physical  examination that goes with the vaccination, another $40. Neutering and spaying fees also help them cover their large overhead expenses.

We vaccinate our own puppies and dogs, but when our pups leave at about 12 weeks of age they usually need one or two more puppy shots. The new owners take their pup to their local veterinarian, and then the trouble begins. In a stern authoritative voice comes the word: “This puppy should be spayed (or neutered). When can we schedule the surgery?” One justification given for this pitch is that millions of dogs are put down in rescue shelters every year. The solution to the problem, many suburban vets believe, is to spay/neuter everything and encourage people to take rescue dogs. The shelters will always have dogs from trashy folks who still let their dogs breed. The other argument for spay/neuter is that it’s better for the health of the dog. More on this later.

Those of us who breed dogs that are needed, dogs that are bred to do a job, are never going to change the prevailing suburban mentality, but we can take precautions. One of these is to prepare inexperienced puppy buyers for the propaganda they are likely to encounter at the vet’s office.  Buyers with a promising puppy should not be pressured into spaying or neutering right away. They should be encouraged to wait and see how the pup turns out before they make any irrevocable decision about the breeding future of their dog.

 A couple came up from North Carolina last weekend to buy their second pup from us. Their first wirehaired dachshund, “Jackson” is now ten years old, and they wanted a successor to continue blood tracking work. As a pup Jackson had been a very good looking prospect, and he developed into an outstanding worker. Over the years a number of people from the Southeast  asked us about the right stud dog for their good tracking bitches. We referred them to Jackson until we learned that he had been neutered very young at the hands of an over-enthusiastic vet. At present wirehaired dachshund bitches with tracking talent in the Southeast  have to travel out of the region to get together with an appropriate stud.

In our opinion, about one male dog in ten is truly of breeding quality, and then of course not every good stud dog is good  for every bitch. You shouldn’t double up on physical  faults, and on top of this there is temperament and working style to consider. If a tracking bitch is a bit hyper and too fast and rough on the scent line, you don’t want to breed her to a dog of similar tendencies. Breeding strategies differ from breed to breed, but in my own  breed, wirehaired dachshunds, it requires careful planning and research. Early in the years of Deer Search a group of us tried winging it with any “teckel” that came from Germany. I discussed the results in “Breeding Disappointments”.

For the good of a breed, quality dogs have to be available for breeding in different parts of the country. This can’t be done if some of the best dogs and bitches are being castrated or spayed. Buyers of your good pups should be encouraged to realize that they have a  responsibility to maintain the quality of the dogs they admired when they came to you.

As readers of this magazine know, breeding good dogs is not like breeding pet rabbits. Not every first-time buyer realizes this. We get quite a few calls from people who want to buy a “breeding pair” of pups. They figure that any two pups, male and female and not brother and sister, are all that’s needed to make some easy money. We don’t sell to these folks.

Breeders of hunting dogs should prepare puppy buyers to reject the suburban vet’s advice: “spay/neuter/adopt from the pound”. This is not too difficult! But some vets use another argument. They claim that spaying and neutering is healthier for the dog, and some of them may actually believe this.

The health aspects of spay/neuter are complicated because it varies from breed to breed, and from disorder to disorder. Thousands of pages of scientific studies have been written on the subject. Fortunately there is a very good digest of this research available, but even this paper is 12 pages long. If you are interested, read “Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs” by Laura J. Sanborn. Her article is posted at is

Sanborn states that in bitches the risks of eventual mammary cancer increase with each heat cycle up to the age of thirty months. If an owner waits for a couple of heat cycles to evaluate his bitch before he decides to spay, the risk of mammary cancer does increase but very little. In the case of most other disorders of intact bitches, they are healthier if not spayed. In any case, the risk of gender-related diseases is very low to begin with.

With dogs the reasons to neuter for health reasons are even weaker than for bitches. For example prostate cancer is four times more likely in neutered dogs. Keep in mind though, that prostate cancer is much rarer, to begin with, in dogs than in humans.

As I said above the health implications of spay/neuter are complex; these two paragraphs of summary can’t do justice to the subject. Just prepare your puppy buyers to resist the vets who lean on them with “professional authority.” Most of us would prefer to deal with others already in our country world of hunting dogs. In the new reality, where most people live in Suburbia, we can’t be that exclusive. We have to communicate our values and our point of view to some people who didn’t grow up in the country.


MTWaggin said...

Nicely put! There is a stigma out there in the general public about people that are breeders - funny as very many of the general public don't get their dogs taken care of....sigh...

Claire said...

I love that "Suburban World" term!

I have been very lucky with my puppy people. Many of them are quite willing to wait until after a heat cycle in bitches not meant for breeding and those with males I'm finding are very receptive to letting them grow up before neutering them.

If you think YOUR gene pool in wires is small, well mine in smoothes in the US is microscopic compared to yours!

We might as well enjoy the subculture in which we live and stay underground as long as possible. We'll never win this particular fight with the masses, not to mention far more issues even more important than breeding dogs. But that has been the way of the world since day one: the tyranny of the majority.

Off to read your other article mentioned!


Brady said...

Another great post Jolanta!