3 Frequently Asked Questions About Intact Dogs — and the Answers

The first time I kept a dog intact it was for medical reasons. She had a health condition that made elective surgery of any type inadvisable until it was resolved.

At the time, the idea of living with an intact dog was both daunting and a bit scary. I mean, how was I going to keep her safe? Avoid unwanted puppies? Prevent health problems?

Fortunately, what seemed like a curse at the time ended up being a blessing in a Malinois disguise.

What I learned through that experience I've since applied to many dogs. And, as I became more serious about competitive sports, and even started breeding the occasional litter, keeping my dogs intact has become my go-to choice.

More than 15 years later, living with multiple intact dogs—both male and female—has become second nature to me. And wouldn't have it any other way.

Keeping dogs intact is becoming more common in the performance sport world, but there's still a lot of confusion and worry about the decision. I have people contacting me all the time with questions and concerns as they struggle with this decision.

Living with an intact dog is easier than you might expect. No, it's not all rainbows and daisies. Yes, it requires forethought, management, and understanding.

But it really isn't any more difficult or complicated than living with altered dogs. It simply requires a different set of skill:

  1. An understanding of the intact dog
  2. A mindset shift
  3. A knowledge of how to implement key best practices

If you are considering keeping your current or future performance dog intact, here are my answers to the three questions I am most frequently asked:

1) How do I avoid unwanted puppies? 

Avoiding unwanted puppies is generally quite straightforward, as long as you have the knowledge and engage in correct management.

While a male dog is fertile all the time—starting typically around 8-9 months of age—a female is only fertile for a few days at a stretch, roughly twice a year. Having a solid understanding of the female canine heat cycle is critical, for owners of both female and male intact dogs.

If you understand how to identify the female window of fertility, keeping your dog separate from opposite dogs during that window is all you need to do.

Pro tip: Always keep two barriers between unattended intact female and male dogs during the female's fertility window. That way, if one barrier fails, you have a second in place. And trust me, at some point, one barrier will fail.

2) Will my dog end up with aggression problems?

The answer to this question is not as straightforward as the first. As with much in the dog training world, the answer is: It depends.

Specifically, it depends on whether the behaviour challenges you encounter are caused by the sex hormones.

Here's something to consider: Testosterone makes a dog (or human) more confident. Dogs who develop aggression issues usually do so because they are uncertain, not because they are overly confident. Very confident dogs tend to be less aggressive, not more.

Similarly, estrogen makes females more congenial. The worst aggression problems I've heard of have been between two spayed bitches.

3) Will keeping my dog intact limit what we can do together? 

Once again, the answer to this question is: It depends.

Yes, it's wise to keep your intact female close to home during her window of fertility. And yes, there are a few sports venues where intact dogs are forbidden completely, or where females may not participate while in season.

Fortunately, there are many more options for intact dogs than there are restrictions. And, as the number of dogs being kept intact for performance reasons grows, these restrictions are becoming fewer and farther between.

E209: Erin Lynes - "Pulling and Diving Dogs"
E208: Denise Fenzi - "The High Drive Dog"

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