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It has only been in the last 15 years that I have begun to question commonly accepted beliefs regarding dog care and breeding. What should dogs eat? How should they be vaccinated? When should they be castrated or as we more delicately put it in the US, spayed and neutered? Yesterday, my growing concerns about the spay-neuter status quo were supported by a top American research institution. Here is my story.

How do we make the best decisions for our dogs?

How do we make the best decisions for our dogs?

Early in my career in dogs, I believed that spaying and neutering went hand in hand with responsible dog ownership. Like other loving owners, I assumed that castrating my dogs would protect them from cancer, ensure they were not aggressive towards people or dogs, keep them from roaming, and generally provide the best possible life for them. As important, I would also not contribute to the dog overpopulation problem. Like any responsible breeder, I sold my pet puppies on spay-neuter contracts that required castration at 6 months of age. I felt guilty not spaying my breeding girls, fearing that requiring them to have babies was shortening their lives.

In 1988, I moved to Germany for three years. The only castrated dogs that I met in Europe were owned by Americans. Not a single German dog was spayed or neutered. Yet the dogs were healthy and well mannered, played together without incident, joined us at cafés, and met politely on city streets. There were no packs of sex-obsessed dogs roaming the streets. Nor were shelters filled with homeless puppies. In fact, about the only dogs in the Karlsruhe shelter were those dumped by Americans before returning to the States.

When I got home to the US, my 5-year old dog developed a uterine infection and was spayed. “Not to worry,” her vet told me, “She won’t change at all.” Within 6 weeks, this very high energy dog went from eating 10 cups of Eukanuba a day to only 2. Prior to spaying, we had never worried about maintaining her weight. Now we began a lifelong effort to keep her lean yet still satisfied. Within a year, my previously wash-and-wear dog developed a horrible coat that mildewed…literally. Despite regular grooming and bathing, the stench was so bad that we had to shave her so all of us could be in the same room.

By 1998, I was seriously questioning the party line that spaying and neutering were best for all dogs. How could all of Europe not castrate their dogs if it was essential to their health and mental well being? Why were my breeding dogs living into their teens while some of the pet dogs that I sold dying of cancer before 10? Why did my retired, spayed girls suddenly turn into hairy, chow hounds, looking for food everywhere and anywhere while I attempted to keep them slim and clean?

At the same time, I saw the cancer rate in golden retrievers climb. My gut told me there was a connection between our diligence in spaying and neutering all pets and the rates of hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma and osteosarcoma in goldens. By 2000, I stopped requiring Gaylan’s pets to be spayed or neutered. By 2008, I made my warranty contingent on the dog remaining intact until at least 2 and preferably beyond. I started talking to my performance and pet owners, asking them to never neuter their boys and to only spay the girls after 4 years. In most cases, these loving owners were caught in a battle between me and their vet. Me, a lowly breeder, begging them to leave their dog intact and their vet telling them their dog would die of cancer if they did.  Most followed their vet’s advice.

My performance owners were also caught between the American Kennel Club and me. Although a dog breeding registry, the AKC only allows bitches in season to compete in bench shows and tracking tests. Once in heat, girls must be withdrawn from all other events, often with no reimbursement of entry fees as if the owner had made an egregious error. I have lost thousands of dollars over the years because of this regulation. Many of my owners have spayed their girls rather than face not only the financial loss but the disruption in their competition schedules.

Flyer in agility

Due to AKC regulations, performance owners must choose between leaving their girls intact and showing them

Over the last 10 years, a trickle of research has hinted that dog owners have been sold a bill of goods regarding the health benefits of spaying and neutering.  Despite the efforts of these researchers, the veterinary community has ignored or even hindered the publication of these studies.

Yesterday, the most mainstream and compelling evidence thus far was released! A team of prominent University of California at Davis researchers published the results of a study on golden retrievers supporting my fears. They compared three categories of dogs, those neutered early (before 12 months), neutered late (after 12 months) and left intact (never neutered), across a number of orthopedic diseases and cancers common in goldens. Neutered animals had higher rates of EVERY DISEASE studied except hemangio in males, where the rates were equal! Here are just a few of the other results:

  • Hip Dysplasia. Ten percent of early-neutered males were diagnosed with hip dysplasia, double the occurrence in intact males.
  • Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tear. There were no cases of cranial cruciate ligament tears in intact males or females, but in early-neutered males and females the occurrences were 5 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
  • Lymphosarcoma. Almost 10 percent of early-neutered males were diagnosed with lymphosarcoma, three times more than intact males.
  • Hemangiosarcoma. The percentage of hemangiosarcoma cases in late-neutered females was about 8 percent, four times more than intact and early-neutered females.
  • Mast Cell Tumors. There were no cases of mast cell tumors in intact females, but the occurrence was nearly 6 percent in late-neutered females.

Read the study yourself at Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers. My gratitude to PLOS ONE and the authors for making this entire paper available for free to all of us!  As a result of this paper, I will continue to challenge the status quo and raise money to fund quality research like this into dog health.

What do you question most about the care of your dog?

Spay-Neuter References

Farhoody, Parvene and M. Christine Zink. 2010. Behavioral and Physical Effects of Spaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris), accessed at

Sanborn, Laura J. 2007. Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs.  Accessed at

Torres de la Riva, G., B. Hart, et al. 2013. “Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers” PLOS ONE.  Available at

Waters, David. 2009.  A Healthier Respect for Ovaries, accessed at

Waters DJ, Kengeri SS, Clever B, et al: “Exploring the mechanisms of sex differences in longevity: lifetime ovary exposure and exceptional longevity in dogs.” Aging Cell October 26, 2009.  Article available at

Zink, M. Christine. 2005. Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete: One Veterinarian’s Opinion.  Accessed at


It’s Flyer’s Birthday!

September 25, 2012 — 4 Comments

Today is Flyer’s birthday so although she died four years ago, I wanted to share a little of this wonderful dog with you.  For those of you who knew her, I hope it makes you smile to remember her.  For those of you who didn’t, I hope it gives you some insight into this amazing dog.

Flyer with a Pheasant

Trumpet’s Gaylan’s Butterfly CD JH AX AXJ WCX OD VC CCA on her eighth birthday

I got Flyer while I was in graduate school in California and Andy was stationed in NY.  After watching her dogs succeed in hunt tests, I contacted Flyer’s breeder. When I heard she had a litter that was linebred on the famous CH. Pepperhill Gldn Pine’s Trumpet CDX SH WCX OD, I went to visit the puppies and at 6 weeks of age, brought Flyer home with me.

Flyer’s Puppyhood: Fur and Fowl.  Flyer may have been a goofy looking puppy, but she showed her mettle at 8 weeks of age at her first field lesson. Although the cock pheasant the trainer threw was bigger than she, Flyer grabbed that bird and ran, making us tackle her to get it back. That moment began our lifelong passion: me for Flyer and Flyer for hunting.

During her first year, Flyer continued to develop as an avid retriever and hunter.  Alas, that was also the year that the drought broke in CA. The lakes around Stanford University filled for the first time in five years drowning hundreds of wood rats that had made their homes in the lake bottoms. I had few places to walk Flyer off leash so we were stuck with the ponds and the rats–yuck!  I reminded myself that at the outset, goldens were hunters of both fowl and fur. Like a good trainer, I graciously accepted everything that was brought to me (although I did take to wearing plastic gloves on our walks).  Although it was a challenging few months, Flyer thrived and earned her Junior Hunter from the AKC and a Working Certificate from the GRCA by the time she was 14 months old.

Her First Pups.  At that point we moved to NY so I could join the faculty at West Point.  Soon after, Flyer had two beautiful litters: the Lunar Litter Dozen and the West Point FIFTEEN.

Gaylan's West Point Litter Puppy Walk

Flyer at the West Point Litter Puppy Walk. That’s a lot of puppies!

Flyer was a phenomenal dam, whelping and raising puppies with aplomb. She was unaffected by large numbers or high demands of pups. She was a practical mother so as soon as her pups were raised, she was back to hunting again.

Flyer in agility

Flyer in agility

Time to Play. After these litters, Flyer and I got hooked on agility. She debuted in 1999 and finished her Novice, Open and Excellent titles in four months. Unfortunately, the day she earned her first Open Agility leg, she slipped and fell on a practice jump. She took second in the class and went on to finish her other titles in short order but she was losing confidence in jumping. I took her to multiple vets before we realized she had fractured a lumbar vertebrae in the fall. Her agility career ended with nine Master Excellent and four Master Excellent Jumpers legs. Close but no cigar.

We then turned to obedience where Flyer earned her CD with a Dog World Award and three blue ribbons. Her second leg was earned in a snowstorm at an OUTDOOR show. Despite the snow falling around her during the long stays, Flyer was unfazed. Her back injury kept us from going on to Open and Utility but she still loved to do the work so we trained as if we would someday enter the ring.

Outstanding Dam and Grande Dame.  Flyer was honored as an Outstanding Dam by the Golden Retriever Club of American after the Lunar and West Point litters were a few years old. She went on to have two more litters: the Flying litter in 2001 and the Golf litter, consisting solely of Una, in 2002. Although the GRCA’s Outstanding Dam requires only three qualifying offspring, Flyer ended up with more than a dozen, including conformation Champions, Master Hunters, Agility Champions, Tracking Dogs Excellent, and Utility Dogs.

For over 13 years, she reigned here at Gaylan’s. She retired from hunting when she turned 12 ½ and her body could no longer hold up to a day in the field.  Six month earlier, she had picked up 60 (!) pheasants in one day at a tower shoot but now the light was gone from her eyes when we took her out. Something was clearly wrong so I went looking for the cause.

We planted a dogwood tree in Flyer's memory

We planted a dogwood tree in Flyer’s memory

Flyer had Cushing’s disease.  Sadly, in our attempts to treat it, we accidentally destroyed her adrenal glands giving her Addison’s disease. We struggled to get the Addison’s under control but could not.  In July 2008, I realized that her quality of life was gone and this majestic creature, so full of life and passion, was asking to move on.  Andy and I held her in our arms on our lawn on a beautiful summer evening, surrounded by the dogs and people who loved her, as her spirit slipped away.  I miss her still but love watching the growth of the dogwood tree we planted in her memory.

Flyer’s Legacy. Flyer was an unusual dog, different from many of today’s golden retrievers. The stories about her are legendary and most are true. She was an incredible hunter, having caught every sort of game bird, as well as squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, turkeys and a fawn. She loved skunks because they did not run away and would go after any beaver that she could find in the water. She moused all winter, teaching the rest of the pack how to find and catch the little rodents in the snow.

Flyer did not live solely to please human beings.  She saw me as her peer not her master, and agreed to work as my partner but not my employee. I have no doubt that she could have easily survived on her own in the wild and was honored that she chose to live with me instead.

Flyer at 13 1/2 years

Flyer at 13 1/2 years

Flyer’s confidence, in herself and her abilities, was legendary. She was mentally steady and physically sound. There was nothing that concerned her and she always handled herself with self-assurance and calm. However, this also meant that she most trusted her own mind, and did not depend on her people. If you confused Flyer for a little person in a fur suit or for a baby, she dismissed you as an idiot. Rather, she was a confident, glorious, adult of her species, more than capable of surviving on her own, raising a family and conducting her own business.

She had a huge amount of energy and drive that was primarily focused on retrieving.  At the Flying Litter puppy walk, despite having nine pups to raise/nurse, she chased the ball from morning till night. Even at 12, she would chase a tennis ball or ducks/geese for as long as I let her, repeatedly swimming the length of huge lakes and ponds. I always wore out before she did.

She was my teacher and guide during an amazing journey of discovery into what dogs are supposed to be, not what our fairy tales say they are.  It was a gift to have known her so intimately, to have her children, grand-children and now great-grandchildren in my life, to see what a confident hunting dog is supposed to be, and to have had her connect me to so many wonderful people.

I hope you get a Flyer in your life some day.  Thank you for letting me remember her on this beautiful fall day.

Rub spot on Tessa's leg

The rub spot on Tessa’s leg, just under my pointer finger

Skkkrrreeeeccchhh!!  Alas, that is the sound of Tessa’s rehab screeching to a halt.  She had been doing so well since she got back home with Marit, Lars and Loki after our trip to CO.  Until Friday, she and Marit were practicing daily with her new leg…going for long walks, hanging out at home and even swimming in my pool.  She was wearing the device nearly 8 hours a day without problem and was walking miles in it.

Then potential disaster struck.  Marit found that the hair was missing from the front of Tessa’s paw, underneath the lowest strap on the prosthesis.  The spot is pretty good sized, perhaps the size of a quarter, and though it is not a sore yet, it looks like its on the way to one. Darn!


The rub spot with the device on but not strapped

We took some photos and mailed them off to Brook, our case manager at OrthoPets.  As soon as she saw the photos, Brook put all of Tess’s rehab on hold until she could discuss it with the OrthoPets team today.  I just spoke to them and they are still deliberating about the next steps we should take.

Skin wounds were the biggest issue we were told to keep an eye out for as Tessa learned to use her new leg. Although the device is made with lots of padding to avoid sores and wounds, apparently they do happen.  And left untreated, I guess they can cause big problems.

So Tessa is getting a little vacation while her human team makes some plans.  She probably does not mind but the rest of us are pretty disappointed.

As I continue to recover from the thousands of miles I logged since June, I wanted to share Part 2 of my Top 10 Tips for Enjoying Traveling with Dogs!

6) Stay at dog-friendly places.  Some hotels wanted my business this summer, some gave us a lukewarm reception, and others made it clear we were not welcome. I always plan ahead to find a pet-friendly hotel while on the road.  Two websites that I use to find hotels are Dog Friendly and Pets Welcome.  I often use Google Maps or Mapquest to get an aerial view of the hotel to make sure there is room to walk the dogs on the property.


An aerial view of a terrific Best Western Plus. You can see there is lots of room to walk the dogs. They also provided dog cookies and poop bags upon check-in and did not charge a pet fee.

Be sure to check online listings or call the hotel to find out if there are limitations or extra fees for pets. Pet fees can be insanely expensive, so be sure to ask before you commit.

7) Train before (and while) traveling. A little obedience training before and during traveling goes a long way. For me, trips are opportunities to train my dogs a minute or two at a time. The three critical behaviors my dogs need for traveling are:

a. Come. I am extra cautious at out-of-town dog parks and rest areas, since a lost dog in an unfamiliar area is a recipe for disaster.  But no matter how careful you are, there is always a chance your dog will get away from you. This summer, I fell while walking the dogs when they bolted after a rabbit. The leashes came out of my hand and both dogs were loose in a parking lot. I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was when they came when I called them. Calamity averted!

b. Stays at doors. Traveling is all about ins and outs–in and out of cars, in and out of hotels, in and out of dog parks. Dogs that wait at doors will be much safer than those who bolt through any opening. I teach this first at home and then use trips to reinforce it with lots of treats. These skills only take a minute to train but pay huge dividends while traveling.

c. Quiet. Quiet dogs are a pleasure while barking dogs are incredibly stressful for all concerned when traveling. I teach a “quiet” command at home and then reinforce it during a dog’s early trips so by the time they are a little older, we all travel in peace. If your dog barks a lot, consider a bark collar before an upcoming trip since they are much more effective than we are at delivering perfectly timed corrections for barking.


We once stayed at a hotel that had an alligator pond! Holy cow!!

8) Think safety. Just because a place allows dogs, does not mean it is safe. In my travels, I’ve experienced a range of dangerous situations from stray dogs to rat poison to an alligator (!) pond right outside my hotel room door.

When I check into a hotel, I always leave my dogs in the van while I check the room. I turn on the air conditioning, put bed sheets from home on the hotel bedspreads, lower toilet lids in case there are cleaning chemicals in the water, pick up trash cans, and check under the furniture for items my dogs might discover. I fill a water bowl and put my dogs’ toys, chew items and mats in the room before bringing them inside.

9) Bring the dog’s stuff, too. We traveled a lot when I was a kid since my dad was in the Army. My mom always packed special things for the trip—fun games, favorite books, yummy treats. I do the same for my dogs so in addition to the normal stuff–food, bowls, leashes, collars–I bring things to make the trip fun and comfortable for them. Here are some extras that I bring along:

a. Toys—I stuff a shopping bag with old favorites and a few new toys

b. Chew items—I bring a variety of these and many more than the dogs would get at home so they can while away the hours in the car and have something safe to occupy themselves wherever we are staying. I bring marrow or knuckle bones, bully sticks, pigs ears, stuffed Kongs and more.

c. Training treats—since trips are great training opportunities, I keep treats at hand in the car, hotel rooms and my pockets

d. Sleeping mats—I use packable sleeping mats to make new places more familiar and comfortable for my dogs

e. Water—I bring a few jugs of water from home to help my dogs transition to the taste of water on the road

Dog in Mountains

Traveling with dogs is the BEST!

10) Have fun! I love traveling with my dogs and hope that you will to if your dog enjoys the car, exciting places and new people. Although traveling with dogs requires some planning and forethought, you can easily fit it into your plans if you follow these tips. I have taken my dogs (and cats) all over the US, Canada and Europe. Sharing these adventures with my dogs has been a gift!

What is the most exciting place you have been or plan to go with your dog? And what is your best tip for making the trip more fun? Send me a comment below.

This summer I have logged over 7,300 miles in the van with my dogs (and another 7,000 miles without the dogs) so travel is on my mind.  Many people have emailed me about how easily my dogs travel so I thought I would share some of the things I do to make sure trips with my buddies are safe and fun.  Whether you want to go near or far, these suggestions should help you.  I will post Part 2 later this week.

1)      I teach my dogs to love the car.  I start taking my puppies on car trips before they are 8 weeks old with short trips to fun places (NOT just the vet office for shots), usually with or to visit dog friends.  We work up to longer and longer trips, till my dogs ride calmly for upwards of eight hours at a time.

If you travel a lot, teach your dog to love the car by starting with slow, short trips on straight roads, perhaps just up and down your driveway or neighborhood street.   I find the biggest mistakes people make when teaching their dog to enjoy the car are:

a) Only taking their puppy or young dog in the car when going to the vet.
b) Driving too far or too fast in the first few trips.
c) Confining the puppy in the back of the car, away from people, too soon.

The Dogs are Ready for Our Trip

The Dogs are Ready for Our Trip

2)      My dogs always travel with restraint.  After their very first trip home, my dogs always travel in crates or with doggie seat belts, for their safety and mine.  I start my pups out in small crates on the front passenger seat where I can comfort, praise and reward them during the trip.  Only once they are calm during these early trips, do I move them further from me and confine them with seat belts or a larger crate in the back of the car.  No matter their age, my dogs have water to drink, bones to chew on, and toys to play with if they get bored while traveling.

SampleEmergencyDog Info

Emergency Dog Information For Traveling

3)      I keep emergency information and rabies certificates in the van.  Although I do not like thinking about car accidents, they happen.  I keep emergency information for my dogs on their crates and in the glove compartment just in case I am injured in an accident.  The emergency information includes a description and photos of each dog, medical information, and contacts, including my vet, with phone numbers.  I also carry copies of their rabies certificates stapled to the emergency information sheet.  Here is a .pdf copy of my form.  (You will need Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader to complete and print the form.)

4)      My dogs wear ID.  Although my dogs rarely wear collars at home, they always wear them while we are on the road.  Each dog’s collar is embroidered or printed with a contact phone number, their microchip number, and the word “Reward.”  (I use Reward to encourage whoever finds my dogs to return rather than keep them.)  I get embroidered collars from:

a) AKC Companion Animal Recovery–reflective collars printed with your dog’s microchip number, the CAR toll-free number and your dog’s name or “Reward”

b) Orvis–nylon and leather collars and harnesses that can be personalized

c) Cabela’s–nylon and leather collars that can be personalized

5)     We find places to exercise nearly every day.  Although I am tired at the end of a long day’s drive, my dogs are usually not.  Most highway rest areas have pet potty spots for quick visits but few offer places for dogs to relax or run (though I found some great rest areas on I-80 in Nebraska).  So how can you find places to exercise your dogs?  Here are three options:

Dog Park in Nebraska

Tessa and Glee Make Friends at a Dog Park in Nebraska

a) I often ask when I check into my hotel to see if the front desk clerk knows of local parks or trails. Many know the area well and can be quite helpful.

b)  Most GPSs have a “Park” feature that not only enables you to find parks but gets you there, too! State and national forests are often good best for open space and trails the dogs can enjoy.

c) Google “dog park” and the town you are near.  Many dog parks post their rules, photos and reviews on line, which makes it easy to determine if they are worth a stop.

Stay tuned for an update on Tessa and Part 2 later this week, including what to pack for your dog and how to avoid hotel room dangers while traveling.