Castration of dogs is a widespread practise with clear justification in population control and knock-on benefits for animal welfare. Deleterious behavioural consequences of castration are believed to be negligible. Gonadectomy is widely recommended as part of a multi-factorial approach to prevent problems including aggression in dogs. However, the consequences of early castration on health are still being debated. The current study focused on the reported behaviour of 6,235 male dogs castrated before 520 weeks of life for reasons other than behavioural management, and calculated their percentage lifetime exposure to gonadal hormones (PLGH) as a proportion of their age at the time of being reported to the online Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ). Forty behaviors differed between entire and castrated dogs, of which 25 were associated with PLGH and 14 with age-at-castration (AAC). Only 2 behaviours, indoor urine marking and howling when left alone, were significantly more likely in dogs with longer PLGH. In contrast, longer PLGH was associated with significantly reduced reporting of 26 (mostly unwelcome) behaviours. Of these, 8 related to fearfulness and 7 to aggression. The current data suggest that dogs' tendency to show numerous behaviours can be influenced by the timing of castration. They indicate how dog behaviour matures when gonadal hormones are allowed to have their effect. The differences reported here between undesirable behaviours of castrated and intact dogs were in the range of 5.04% and 12.31%, suggesting that, for some dogs, partial or complete denial of puberty may reduce indoor urine-marking but have many other undesirable consequences. Veterinarians may use these data to discuss unwelcome consequences with owners of male dogs before castration.
McGreevy PD, Wilson B, Starling MJ, Serpell JA (2018) Behavioural risks in male dogs with minimal lifetime exposure to gonadal hormones may complicate population-control benefits of desexing. PLoS ONE 13(5): e0196284. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0196284