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I have a 9-10 year old Blue Heeler / Border Collie. He is a very energetic faithful dog. From time to time he bolts from home, scraps with other male dogs, or tears at the fence.

Life for him has been disrupted by changing family life, many comings and goings and inconsistencies about exercise at times. I am a bit at my wits end in seeing he gets his needs met and is not causing havoc and destruction.

I have been advised to neuter him, BUT he is also having fits from time to time. If this occurs, we stay with him, and comfort him, and ensure he is rehydrated afterwards. Neutering for me right now is expensive and complicated as a risk by fits.

I am a user of homeopathics for our own health. Can you suggest any alternate path forward for my dog other than neutering,
to calm him down, support family life generally, and reduce his erratic behaviour.

~ Thank you, Michelle

Dr Sara ChapmanDear Michelle,

Your concern for your dog’s behavioral and physical problems is exemplary. His breed makeup, of two high energy herding dogs, means that he needs consistent exercise and, ideally, an occupation, to be a good canine citizen. Blue Heelers and Border Collies are Type A dogs. They can adjust to living in confined situations, but are apt to get into mischief if they do not have enough acceptable outlets for their energies.

Neutering has been shown to decrease problem behaviors associated with the male sex drive. This can include male to male aggression and roaming behaviour. However, I doubt that your boy’s problem behaviors will be relieved by neutering him. He will no longer have male hormones, but he will still be bored, and therefore prone to roam. He may fight less, but I wouldn’t count on it; some of the worst dog fights I have seen have been between neutered dogs.

In addition, neutering has been shown to increase the incidence of certain chronic diseases:
Dr. Margaret Root Kustritz has published several review articles on the subject; the latest was in 2012

Recently (Feb 2013), a study at University of California at Davis examined the effect of neutering on joint disease and cancer incidence on Golden Retrievers.

The conventional veterinary community has taken notice of this information, and a Journal of the AVMA news article (Nov 2013) summarized the findings.

In Feb 2014, a cohort study of Vizslas evaluated the association between neutered status and the incidence of cancer and behavioural problems; JAVMA abstract.

Long story short, neutering appears to increase incidence of many cancers, certain joint problems, and some behavioral disorders. Your fellow is at least nine years old, so I doubt that neutering would affect his behaviour one way of the other. His joints are mature, so they are also unlikely to be affected. It is possible that neutering may make it more likely that he could develop cancer, and any significant stress can worsen seizure disorders.

When sterilization is necessary, there are options which retain the gonads and the helpful effects of their hormones. This information is available on the Parsemus Foundation website.

I would not suggest neutering for a canine senior citizen with a seizure disorder. There is a very slight chance that it might decrease his desire to roam, but only to the degree that this desire is sexually motivated. This slim chance of improvement in a naturally highly active herding dog is more than offset by the surgical risks, the potential for worsening the seizure disorder, or increasing his cancer risk.

Herding dogs are notorious for developing undesirable behaviors when they are bored. Herders are intelligent, high energy dogs, and it is essential that you provide consistent, regular outlets for them to expend energy. Two authors who have good books for training are Patricia McConnell and Pat Miller. They both have a lot of experience with herding dogs. One basic truth about dog behavior is that a dog that has sufficient exercise and work will not have excess energy to expend in getting into mischief. This can be as simple as teaching your boy to play fetch, and doing that consistently; it could involve teaching him to herd, compete in agility or flyball, or do nosework, or tracking.

In last week’s answer I discussed the Bach flower essences at length. These will help your dog and your family during times of change and upheaval; please refer to that installment for a complete discussion.

Constitutional homeopathic treatment is highly recommended, as it will help your dog be the best dog that he can be. It will not make him a placid dog; that is not the way homeopathy works. It will help him adjust better to changes, be more tolerant of new things and new people, and should help his seizure disorder. He will still be a high energy herding dog who needs consistent exercise!

I hope this helps you and your boy continue to enjoy his golden years.

Regards,
Sara