There is no easy answer to this one. There are certainly benefits and risks involved with both keeping a dog intact and deciding to sterilize him/her. Again, going back to the big idea of education–it’s all about weighing the risks/rewards/benefits and making educated decisions.
Unfortunately, there is most certainly still a need for a very strong emphasis on spay/neuter of dogs for the vast majority of dog owners. Between lack of knowledge about the reproductive systems of dogs and a lack of responsibility, spay and neuter will continue to be an important part of tackling our pet overpopulation problem.
Not too long ago, a person who works in the canine world and who fancies themselves a responsible dog owner had an accidental litter. This person works with animals, is pretty highly educated, and has never been in a situation like this before. The intact female dog was outside unattended while in heat and a neighbor dog (known to everyone to be an intact male) was able to hop the 4ft fence and the rest is history. The dog ended up having a large litter of puppies. The family was able to rehome about 3/4’s of the puppies and the remaining 1/4 landed in rescues. The dogs in rescues were neutered/spayed prior to adoption but the other puppies went into other homes as intact animals–THIS is big problem with “oops” litters. It’s not the initial accidental litter but it’s the potential litters from the puppies that are sold/given away that may have their very own accidental litters (or who may be intentionally bred).
While I don’t think there is anything much more challenging in general about owning an intact animal, there IS, however, no wiggle room for error. ONE lapse in judgement can result in an oops litter, ONE small error can result in an oops litter, 20 seconds of your back being turned can result in an oops litter and 1 oops litter that is not placed appropriately can weigh on shelters/rescues for generations to come. It really just not about the “I only want to breed her once” litter that causes the strain on the system. It’s all of those puppies who are sold to people without contracts or with out any limits and who then breed the puppies (intentionally or not)…who then sell those puppies to people without contracts or limits and who then breed them (intentionally or not). From one litter of 7 dogs in just ONE year there can be up to 49 additional puppies… after 18 months, there can be 343 puppies as a result of that “just one breeding” (if all litters are of 7 puppies and all puppies are reproducing once every 6 months which is possible).
Here’s my personal take on the great debate. All of my animals are spayed/neutered but they all came to me already spay/neutered from whatever rescue organization. I won’t say no to a dog just because he/she is fixed but, if I ever have the option whether or not to spay/neuter a puppy, my decision will be to keep the dog intact at least until it has reached maturity. So probably around 2 years old I’ll consider having the dog spayed/neutered. Chances are, I’ll choose to spay/neuter but we’ll see when the time comes (though the reality is, I’ll probably continue to rescue dogs that come to me already spayed/neutered). The main reason is that I do think there are structural benefits allowing a dog to maintain their natural hormones until they have finished growing and for me, as someone who competes in canine sports, I ask a lot of my dogs physically and if I can give them even the smallest bit of help to make sure they are structurally sound, I will. I do NOT think being intact calls for a more drivey dog or a dog who has more muscle–I look at Rio and Shayne, neither who kept their parts until adulthood, and both are dripping with drive and are really muscular.
I don’t think it’s inherently wrong or irresponsible to keep a dog intact, but I do think for most John Q. Public owners, the added responsibility and the added knowledge required to prevent oops litters is a bit much and they just aren’t educated enough (and I don’t think they want to be more educated). I keep going back to the owners of young intact females who know nothing about heat cycles. It was just accidents waiting to happen because they didn’t realize just how long their dog would be in heat or most receptive to the boys. They just didn’t know.
The end game is that there are certainly risks (behavior change, poor structure for serious sporting, surgery risks, bone cancer in some breeds, etc) to spay/neuter but there are also risks in not spaying/neutering (oops litters adding to the pet over population, behavior problems, various cancers, etc). People have to make educated decisions for themselves and their lifestyle–educated decisions.
On a side note, I absolutely think mandatory spay/neuter from rescues and shelters has made a huge dent in the over population by taking the education out of it–new owners don’t have to go out and get educated and they don’t have to worry about being hyper-vigilant about never having a lapse in judgement–it just is what it is.