Neutering my German Shepherd

I’m going to do it. Actually (remembering my childhood, where our family actually gelded our own pony, and it was common in those days to do that, maybe it still is, with elastic bands) I’m not going to do it, but my veterinarian is going to do it. She’s also going to do a gastropexy while she is at it, hopefully protecting him from torsion/bloat risk.

It’s hard to decide to neuter a dog. With Tigerlily, I waited til she was 3 years old. She was a rare breed (barbet) and in spite of how shy and prey driven she was, how she was really smaller than her siblings, I held onto that dumb desire to maybe breed her til she was three years old. She had a pretty miserable spaying procedure. Poor Tiger. I slept with her, holding a hot water bottle on her incision that night, and that helped. I wished I had spayed her earlier. Surgery doesn’t get easier as they get older.

M’Ocean is 3 years old too now. I am getting him neutered because I am realizing, I never want to breed him. I guess it takes me 3 years to realize that. Too many people use shock/prong/choke on these dogs and I don’t have a long list of people I would trust who want a GSD puppy. Also, a shock collar to teach him to avoid sexy coyotes seems like a worse training plan than neutering. As Denise Fenzi said, “If someone told me I could never eat another meal again, and there was a way to get rid of my craving for food, it seems like a no-brainer.”

M’Ocean is fully mature. 94 lbs. He’s basically a very confident assertive funny and friendly dog. I hate to do invasive things, but being a dog owner is invasive. Leash walking is invasive. The dog/human symbiotic relationship is as invasive as the hills. That dog has already left the doghouse. We’ve domesticated and changed dogs and we continue to do that.

It’s weird. Weird to have dogs who really feel like they are part of the family. My dogs feel like they are humans, kinda. They seem to believe I am their mom, or their Guru. They worship me, kinda. They aren’t looking to start another family. Well… my spayed older dog Bee is DEFINITELY not looking to start another family, but if I let M’Ocean spend a few days out in the woods this week, especially if I left bowls of food, probably he would go start another family, unless the male coyotes killed him first. But he’s living a good life amongst the humans, and in general he seems satisfied and well adapted to this domesticated dog arrangement.

I’ll let you know how it goes, and if neutering him changes anything in our lives, in good or bad ways. It’s going to cost me maybe $1000.00 which is just one more aspect of the ordeal. I really don’t like doing it, but after thinking it through, our risk versus benefit analysis, neutering him feels like the more responsible, safe, smart thing to do. And then next year, when we are hiking the Appalachian trail, I won’t have to worry quite so much about the dangerous ways sex hormones can influence coyote and dog behavior.

Resource Guarding, part one

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Picture the behavior you want to see.

“Resource guarding” is aggression that occurs around a dog’s possessions. The possession might be a food dish, dog bone, a soft space on the couch, or it could even be YOU. It’s the opposite of what we want, which is  a relaxed attitude, a dog who isn’t worried about anything.

IMG_0124IMG_0192Resource guarding is the dog saying “Stay away!” It might mean stay away from my bone, my pups, my corner of the room, my human. It’s one of the most common behavioral problems I see, but fortunately one that is highly responsive to training.

First off: Why do dogs do this? Like almost all aggression, resource guarding typically starts as insecurity, and a lack of confidence, a dog who can’t predict what’s going to happen with a resource. Over time this can develop into aggression. Some dogs might be genetically more prone to this. I saw a puppy once that was scary aggressive, resource guarding at 16 weeks, and I was told euthanized by 6 months. Something was wrong with that pup.  But that is very rare. Far more typically, resource guarding is triggered by the environment, regardless of genetics.  Resource guarding is almost always a learned behavior. The dog has learned to act aggressively, because it allows them to control access to limited valuable resources.

IMG_0251This is why trying to pick up and control all potential triggers often fails.  You can’t eliminate every possible resource in the environment. When you limit some resources, you’re making every other resource in the environment seem more important,   MORE valuable, and this has potential to escalate things a  dog may choose to guard. We will never be “done” with our mission to  prevent development of resource guarding in all of our dogs. Behavioral health requires a  sense of  resource security throughout the lifespan.

When you’ve  flooded your environment with other resources,  the stinky spot on the rug doesn’t stand out so much. Space is an important resource. Six dogs,  24 tennis balls, half acre, half an hour. Begin with balls just laying there, don’t throw them right off the bat! Give beginner dogs several sessions to not worry so much about balls.  Let the balls just lay there. Ignore the balls, let them do what they want. Add more balls.  I’ve seen dogs learn how to relax, again and again, in a resource flooded environment. They sometimes collect maybe six tennis balls, plus two bones and a rag, but then  settle down and feel foolish because none of the other dogs cares a bit about what they’ve got. All the dogs have all the balls and chews they need. What does this tell you about the world?! I don’t know, but maybe something!

These ideas are not a prescription, but  reflective of experiences I’ve had with dogs who  stayed with me. As an old friend used to say to me when talking about bee keeping, “you need to think like a bee!” The same thing is true regarding resource guarding in dogs. We have to think of how we would feel if someone came and took our iphone out of our hands! IMG_9288