The Dog and Cat Management Board in South Australia made a proposal that hit the news this weekend. You can read all about it here, but basically the sub headline sums it up nicely: Every dog will be desexed unless they can pass a test proving they are good natured under a proposal aimed at reducing attacks.
I find it hard to start where this type of proposal is concerning, but I’ll try!
What temperament test?
Who will determine a fair temperament test? (Hopefully it’s nothing like the widely criticised RSPCA temperament test). According to this article, Melbourne’s La Trobe University currently is trying to develop a reliable temperament test, though I am pessimistic that any test will be able to determine the intrinsic genetic nature of the dog rather than it’s environmentally-developed behaviour (the nature versus nurture debate). What criteria will be used? When will the public be consulted? Who will conduct this test? Just one person on a panel? How will consistency be established?
Administration, Enforcement and Accessibility
How would such a scheme be paid for?
Considering that councils fail to enforce leash laws, litter laws, and dog registration, how can we have faith they will be able to enforce desexing laws?
How will this scheme be accessible to regional communities?
How do we ensure that people don’t dope their dogs up for the test?
If a dog fails, how does one plan to make that individual desex their pet?
Temperament Changes Over Time
Young dogs and puppies almost always have amicable temperaments. It is likely that most dogs aged 6-12 months would pass a temperament test, but this is not indicative of their life-long temperament. This requires a temperament test, to be truly indicative, to take place when the dog is approximately 2-3 years old – which would allow many dogs to be bred before they even undertake the test.
Implications on Breed Health
Dogs should be selected for breeding based on a bunch of factors, not just their temperament (like my thought process in breeding my 2012 litter). Healthy dogs need to be bred from, especially if they have health characteristics that are lacking in the breed. My concern is that with a temperament test determining the suitability of dogs for breeding, that animal health may become a secondary concern to breeders. For a breed with problems with hip and elbow dysplasia, a dog with perfect hip and elbow scores may be eradicated from the breeding program because he temperament didn’t pass the test. Is this loss really justifiable?
Implications on Genetic Diversity in Breeds
Furthermore, this proposal would effectively lead to less dogs being bred from in given breeds, which is likely to lead in reduction of genetic diversity within breeds. Indeed, this lack of genetic integrity may lead to a breed being forced into extinction.
Extinction of Breeds with “Less-Than-Amicable” Temperaments
Clearly, not all dogs have a Labrador temperament, which is generally enthusiastic and pleased to be in the company of people. Some breeds are aloof or reserved, some breeds are bred to be ‘fiesty’. This article says that breeders should be producing dogs with ‘more amicable and socially acceptable temperaments’, but that ignores the jobs that dogs are bred to do. Terriers are bred and kept, even in this modern day, to hunt vermin. Livestock guardian breeds are currently used, as they have for many years, to guard livestock. Many breeds are bred to have a purpose beyond family pets. My biggest concern is that only ‘amicable breeds’ would be allowed to be bred from, and so breeds would become extinct. I acknowledge that I am biased here, being a terrier person, but there are countless other breeds with standard-specified breed traits that are not in keeping with ‘amicable’.
Ignores Socialisation as a Factor in Temperament
There is no doubt that temperament is a produce of an animal’s genetic makeup and it’s life experiences. For dogs, puppy socialisation and ongoing social interaction is crucial for producing ‘safe’ dogs. Indeed, our whole Dunbar series focussed predominately on the importance of early life experiences. The implications are that ‘bad pets’ are often made by socialisation and training, and aren’t necessarily ‘born bad’. A temperament test only assesses the temperament, and not the root cause of the temperament. Genetically ‘good’ (sociable, amicable) dogs will be removed from the gene pool if they were raised in ‘bad’ ways. The opposite is also true: Genetically ‘bad’ dogs (anxious, aggressive, reactive) dogs will be included in the gene pool if they were raised in ‘good’ ways. Both of these outcomes are very possible, but neither is desirable.
Implications on Health of Individual dogs
When individual dogs are forced to be desexed, this has implications on the health of that particular dog. Though there are health benefits associated with desexing, there is also a great number of problems that have been linked with desexing, too. In Laura Sanborn’s 2007 report, she found that desexing in both sexes was associated with:
- increased risk of bone cancer,
- increased risk of cardiac hemangiosarcoma,
- triple the risk of obesity,
- increased risk of orthopaedic disorders, and
- increased risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations.
She also found that, in bitches, desexing:
- sometimes led to spay incontinence (up to 20% of spayed bitches),
- increases the risk of persistent or reoccuring urinary tract infections,
- increases the risk of recessed vulva,
- increases the risk of vaginal dermatitis,
- increases the risk of vaginitis, and
- doubles the risk of urinary tract tumours.
In boys, desexing:
- triples the risk of hypothyroidism,
- increases the risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment,
- quadruples the risk of prostate cancer, and
- doubles the risk of urinary tract cancers.
Considering this, is compulsory desexing ethical?
Poor Track Record of Mandatory Desexing
Mandatory desexing is a fallacy and does not have a good track record. It is not supported by the AVA (Australian Veterinary Association). (On an unrelated note, mandatory desexing was not successful in the ACT in reducing shelter euthanasia.) Cost is a barrier for many people who want to desex their pets but cannot afford it. Introducing legislation that makes them desex their pets does not increase their ability to afford surgery. These people are either turned into law breakers, or they choose to surrender their animals to animal rescue groups. Neither outcome is desirable.
Poor Science – On Desexing and Temperaments
Statistically, a correlation has been demonstrated between dog bites and entire dogs. That is, dog bites are more likely to be delivered by entire dogs. However, that does not mean that entire dogs are more likely to bite because they are entire. Causation cannot be extrapolated from this data.
There are also temperament risks associated with desexing. Duffy and Serpell (in their paper ‘Non-reproductive effects of spaying and neutering on behavior in dogs‘) found: Desexed female dogs are more aggressive and more fearful than entire female dogs, and desexed dogs of both sexes are more likely to exhibit all forms of aggression (dog directed aggression, owner directed aggression, and fear aggression). In another study (‘Behavioural effects of ovariohysterectomy on bitches‘), O’Farrell and Peachey found that some bitches became ‘dominate aggressive towards family members’ after desexing. There are articles that show positive changes in behaviour, too, but what I want to illustrate here is that the effects of desexing on behaviour are not fully understood. The jury is still out on whether desexing is better for dog behaviour.
Good dogs bite! – A false sense of security
Another concern with this temperament test is that people may be lulled into a false sense of security, believing their dog ‘safe’ because of passing the test. ”My dog passed a temperament test – it won’t bite!” But all dogs can bite, and inhibited bites are good (says Dunbar). Will the temperament test acknowledge and celebrate the discretion of a dog able to deliver an inhibited bite?
Leading to Registering of ‘Aggressive’ Dogs?
Another concern is that this temperament test may be leading to ‘bigger things’. Is it possible that the government is trying to collate a register of ‘failed’ dogs? Will they be subject to current dangerous dog laws? How do we know that this is not the case?
Implications on Commercial Animal Breeding
This scheme would have significant implications on the breeding of animals for jobs. In particular, dogs bred for work in customs, quarantine, police, guide dogs, and livestock herding are not bred to be amicable family pets, but to excel at the job at hand. How will legislation such as this impact on the commercial breeding of animals for particular purposes? How will exemptions be granted?
I can get around this…
If I wanted to, I could come up with schemes to get around this process. I could dope my dog before it undertakes a temperament test, so it is more compliant and amicable and so more likely to pass. If I suspect my dog may fail the test, I could collect semen from the dog first and store it, for using in artificial insemination later. More conniving people than me, I’m sure, will have much better schemes.
We can do better with dog bites!
I object to the temperament test proposal for all the reasons described above, but more importantly, we can do better in reducing dog bites! For example:
- Acknowledging and giving media attention to the fact that most dog bites happen on private properties with dogs known to the victim,
- Increasing the impact of the We Are Family program in South Australia (a program targeting families during pregnancy and with babies),
- Educating people on the importance of selecting appropriate dogs for their families,
- Encouraging councils to offer discount dog registrations for those that attend puppy class with their pets (currently discounts are awarded for adult dog training but puppy training is not recognised),
- Encouraging the ANKC to recognise the Canine Good Citizen award,
- Suggesting the ANKC increase the lower limit breeding age so that true indications of dog-temperament can be seen before breeding takes place (for example, no dog should be bred before 2 years of age),
- Mandating the socialisation of puppies prior to sale (even if it’s just a requirement to allow puppies to watch TV), and
- If desexing is something that the Dog and Cat Management Board wants to pursue, requiring dogs that are involved in serious (i.e. damage) bite incidents to be desexed.
What do you think should be done to reduce dog bites?
What can you do?
Attend Entirely Friendly! – A Facebook event where entire dog owners are encouraged to attend to show their dogs are entirely friendly.
Write a letter to the Dog and Cat Management Board (their contact details are at the bottom right of this page).
Guility until proven innocent – SA’s Dog and Cat Management Board’s next grand plan – Saving Pets on this issue.
Neutering and Behaviour from the Angry Vet.