Why Is My Dog Aggressive Towards Intact Males?
Some dog owners are often puzzled by the fact that their dog is aggressive towards intact males. Often, these are neutered dogs who do well with all other dogs except for those with that little extra detail; they haven't been neutered. Yet, you may wonder how your dog knows whether another dog is intact or neutered? All it takes for us is to ask the owner or bend down and take a quick look under for missing parts. The truth is, dogs simply know and don't need to ask or look.
If you think your dog is the only one with this behavior quirk, rest assured, you are not alone. Many dogs for a reason or another seem to not tolerate dogs who haven't been neutered. The reasons may be several and we will look at some below.
Why Is My Dog Reacting Aggressively Towards Male Dogs?
If your dog reacts aggressively only towards intact male dogs, you may wonder what floats his boat. The causes for this behavior may be several. Let's take a look at some possibilities. However, keep in mind that at times, digging into what may cause certain behaviors is wasted time and also keep in mind that at times we may never know why Rover reacts in certain ways for sure. Behavior modification for aggressive behavior towards intact males is often the same regardless of the underlying cause.
It could just be your dog had a negative experience with an intact male dog and now he is generalizing his bad experience with all intact dogs. It's important to note that your dog doesn't need to have been bitten or growled at for him to develop reactive behavior towards an intact male. Remember that it's about what your dog "perceives as negative" and not what you may perceive as negative.
All it takes at times is something as small as being stared at or an intact dog leaning over your dog for making him feel intimidated and fearful. Remember that a great percentage of what looks like aggressive behavior, in reality, is based on fear.
Lack of Socialization
It's very important for puppies to receive a good dose of socialization during that critical window which is open until the pup reaches 12 to 16 weeks of age. During this time the puppy should be exposed to all kinds of dogs of different sex, color, shapes and sizes. Same goes with exposing the pups to people and different environments.
If the dog was never exposed to the scent of a in intact male before, it could likely be that this is something quite new to him and he may react negatively. Some dogs are truly neophobic, which is the term used to depict dogs who are fearful of new things.
A Different Scent
Rover won't need to ask the owner if that dog is intact, nor will he have to take a peek under to check for any missing parts. His nose just knows. How? Intact males have a different smell than other dogs.
Indeed, " . . . intact males retain the ability to mate and give of the scent of male, which can be considered a threat to neutered males" explains trainer and behavior consultant Karen Fazio. The hormone testosterone is what gives a dog his "maleness" scent. Interestingly, when dogs reach 10 months, there's a peak in this smell as testosterone levels in the adolescent male dog may be five to seven times greater than the levels of an adult!
This "male" scent may cause neutered dogs to react negatively towards them causing tension and even aggressive displays. When an intact male enters a dog park, you can almost feel the tension in the air. There is the belief that neutered dogs, on the other hand, seem to smell quite similar to females, yet it would be interesting to know if there's any actual proof of this. How can we know if we can't ask dogs?
A Word About Neutered Dogs
Something else to consider is what statistics have to say about neutered dogs. According to two different studies (see references under Reference section) it was actually found that, contrary to popular belief, spaying and neutering dogs may actually cause an increase in canine aggression. So it could be that, neutered dogs may just simply be more reactive towards unfamiliar dogs.
Did you know?
Tail wagging is a way dogs communicate friendliness, and at the same time, the movement of tail spreads the smell of pheromones found under the tail.
How Can I Help My Dog?
With many shelters and vets advocating spaying and neutering of dogs, exposure to intact male dogs should be limited. Also, intact dogs are often not accepted in dog parks. Could this have caused an increase in reactivity to these fellows because they are rare? Could it be that because it's so different it immediately raises a red flag?
Interestingly, there are many countries where neutering is not much in vogue as in the US, yet, some owners are learning about neutering now. In any case, if your dog is reactive towards intact dogs, and exposure to intact dogs is a common occurrence, you may wonder how you can help your dog. Following are some steps:
1. Seek the Advice of a Professional
The best approach would be to consult with a dog professional such as a certified applied animal behaviorist or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. These are the experts on the field. Yet, some reputable trainers are well-versed in dealing with dog behavior problems. You can for a trainer using force-free behavior modification methods on the Pet Professional Guild website.
2. Manage Your Dog
The more your dog is allowed to rehearse aggressive behaviors towards intact dogs, the more this behavior will become ingrained and will put roots. Managing your dog will keep him safe, others safe, and will prevent rehearsal of unwanted behavior.
3. Use Force-Free Methods
If you hire a professional he/she will show you some effective methods to help your dog deal with his emotions. Great force-free methods are desensitization and counterconditioning. Other possible used methods based on classical conditioning and counterconditioning involve open bar/closed bar, Look at That, and COR training. Operant conditioning by teaching alternate, incompatible behaviors with acting reactive may also later be added into the mix. Always work under your dog's threshold levels.
- 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.
- Deborah L. Duffy and James A. Serpell (2006, November). Non-reproductive effects of spaying and neutering on behavior in dogs. Proceedings of the Third International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods for Pet Population Control. Alexandria, Virginia.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli