Dear Dog Trainers

It has been over six months since I have been paid to help other people train their dogs.  (Luckily for Moses and Alma, they’re not off the hook, and training continues at home regularly.)

Some photo ops aren't possible without a solid training foundation.

Some photo ops aren’t possible without a solid training foundation.

Working for a dog training company part-time on some evenings and weekends was part of my life for a few years, but like all good things, it had to come to an end.

To be honest, I thought I’d miss training a lot more than I do (I’m good at keeping myself busy). Actually, there are a few things in particular I don’t miss at all.

1.  The first thing I don’t miss is the self-inflicted pressure to have perfect dogs and be a perfect handler. Whether or not it was fair or completely rational, I felt as a trainer my dogs should be beaming examples of perfection. I mean, you wouldn’t necessarily want to take fashion advice from someone in mom-jeans and Crocs, would you? So why would you take training advice from someone who has been unsuccessful themselves? Of course, despite no longer being a trainer, I still have high behaviour expectations for Alma and Moses, but I do admit it’s relieving to no longer be representing an industry or business. If we happen to have an “off” day, I feel much less crappy about it. Similarly, I also care a bit less when I see someone else’s dog behaving like a maniac.

Moses and peers in the 'classroom' - sit-stay practice.

Moses and peers in the ‘classroom’ – sit-stay practice.

2.  I don’t at all miss the requests for free advice from acquaintances and coworkers. Talking about dogs is often an easy icebreaker when you don’t know someone very well, but if it comes out that you happen to train dogs when you’re not at the “real” job, the questions start coming. Initially my know-it-all nature loved this. However, I quickly noticed a frustrating and annoying pattern: no one actually applies the advice. I mean, sure, some people would sign up for a class after a good conversation, but they would be the minority. More often, I’d just get sporadic updates about an unruly dog battling the same challenges without reprieve – efforts to help completely futile. Even the most basic help, like “start by walking your dog daily” would fall on deaf ears. And it’s not like I’m going to give up a whole curriculum to near-strangers, anyway. I’m not about to hand out free access to information others pay good money for. I suppose if those cheap (or lazy) bastards really wanted to fix things, they would just enrol in a program. People definitely listen more closely if they’ve paid for your opinion.

Alma in class - also sit-stay practice

Alma in class – also sit-stay practice

3.  Lastly – and this is the big one – I do not, at all, not even one little bit, miss the politics in dog training.

Politics in the dog training community is ri-goddamn-diculous. It’s like a civil war in the overall dog community; it severs friendships, families, and business relationships.

It doesn’t matter who you’re talking about. The vitriol spewed by either camp at any given time is insane and enough to discourage the involvement of anyone with even a miniscule sense of reason or rationality. You can find more tact in the comments section of YouTube.

anchorman

It is difficult to speak of a middle ground between the two basic sides of positive reinforcement training (R+) and more coercive training (P+) (to over-simplify the distinction).

As is the case in most divisive issues, anyone attempting to create a middle ground and apply best practices from all corners of the quadrant might not successfully build any bridges at all, but instead can find themselves alone, with everyone remaining in uncompromising disagreement. Congratulations! Instead of having just one nemesis, now you have many!

operant conditioning

Which brings me to what I would like to say to ALL dog trainers:

Whether you practice positive reinforcement or coercive training, or a varying mix of the two, everyone needs to disregard egos and emotions and enlist only positive reinforcement (R+) techniques when it comes to dealing with fellow human beings.

A handy decision tree if this seems difficult.

A handy decision tree if this seems difficult.

This means your clients and potential clients. This means other pet-related businesses, from retail stores to rescue organizations. This mean other trainers.

We live in Canada – has no one learned anything from our elections process? Negative campaigns, gossip, and slander, while memorable, don’t actually prompt people to action. Negative campaigns haven’t shown to produce results in the undecided, and can risk alienating people. Positive messaging, however, has been proven to work for everyone.

There are many clichés that apply: negative messaging says more about you than it does about your target; take the high road; you catch more flies with honey; treat others the way you wish to be treated; losing ground follows from throwing mud. You’ve heard them all before. The fact is, rage-inducing or fear-mongering messages do not change minds, and often create avoidance in your intended audience. I don’t know about you, but when that crazy guy on the street corner is ranting about the End of Days, I don’t walk up to him and ask him to tell me more; I shuffle by quickly and avoid making eye contact.

"She said it was better to be kind than to be clever or good looking, I'm not clever or good looking. But I'm kind." - Derek

“She said it was better to be kind than to be clever or good looking, I’m not clever or good looking. But I’m kind.” – Derek

I truly wish more in the dog community would simply lead by example rather than create segregation and alienation.

Speak with your actions – use dogs you’ve worked with to speak to the validity of your training abilities and methods.

Rather than a correction-based trainer calling all R+ trainers “ineffective bribers”, why not just show – with real life examples and evidence – how their methods have successfully helped dogs?  Or rather than purely positive reinforcement trainers calling for the literal imprisonment of other trainers on account of animal abuse, why not just showcase how effective and safe their methods are?

[Aside: I am aware assigning labels in dog training treads in dangerous waters, and it’s essentially impossible to be extreme or absolute in any method. The terms are used here for effective communication. If you’d like a good perspective on the various dog training camps, I recommend reading The Dog Trainer Spectrum, by TheCrossOverTrainer.com.]

It boggles my mind that people think they can speak the way they do about, or to, other human beings when it comes to dog training. It’s often reactionary, emotional, and hostile. I understand that everyone gets that way from time to time; people can speak or act on an impulse when faced with something they strongly disagree with. I get that. I sometimes do that, too.

You just need to give people the benefit of the doubt (I know, how uncharacteristically optimistic and understanding of me). Even I know that sometimes people just don’t know any better or any differently.

For instance, if I see someone with their dog wandering off the sidewalk on a flexi-leash, instead of just thinking ‘my god, what a moron, control your dog!‘, I also try to acknowledge, ‘hey, any dog walk is better than no walk at all.’ Likewise, the training community could replace ‘omg look at that idiot using technique x, collar y, or company z for dog training,’ with ‘well, at least they have the foresight to seek professional help and want to make their dog’s life better.’

½ air, ½ water - technically, the glass is always full

½ air, ½ water – technically, the glass is always full

Sure, complete and total convictions in your methods and practices is admirable, if not a little impossible to execute in every facet of your life (see my post on hypocrisy here). Rigid fundamentalism at its core is, after all, unflinching, close-minded, and ultimately dangerous. A lack of empathy is a near requirement, regardless of what it’s about. Of course it is important that you and your business stand up for your principles and avoid unnecessary compromises, but it’s also crucial to acknowledge that no debate is about absolutes, and often there are indirect and subtle ways to effectively promote your perspective.

It is extremely frustrating that this Training War seeps into the rest of the pet world – affecting retail businesses, groomers, kennels, dog walkers, and rescue organizations. And the effect is damaging.

I never really understood how unwavering these convictions were until a few years ago when we were getting ASLC off the ground and this very thing caused me no end of frustration and befuddlement. We called Company X to ask if they would support the cause and host the petition, and much to my surprise, Company X immediately came back with a firm “No”. No, they would not support ASLC. Not because of the merits of ASLC or its founders – they absolutely did support the ban on a retail sale of dogs and cats and were glad to see us take on the cause. They did not want to get on board because they’d heard a rumour that Company Y was also going to be a supporter. And, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, companies X and Y train dogs differently.

This struck me as ludicrous.

"A dog is the most enthusiastic thing on the planet, if you go - do you wanna do this? It goes - definitely, that's my best thing." - Derek

“A dog is the most enthusiastic thing on the planet, if you go – do you wanna do this? It goes – definitely, that’s my best thing.” – Derek

Yes, the companies practiced business differently. But they also both strongly believed that breeding dogs and cats for sale in a pet store was categorically wrong. It did not matter, though, that the ASLC initiative is specifically focussed to one issue and purposely silent on other such matters. Simply because a perceived enemy or competitor also supported the good cause, they could not.

Are the issues connected? Sure, getting a pet and training it are pieces to the same puzzle; however, they are not so directly related that the positions of these training-only companies made any logical sense to me. They both ultimately want to improve the lives of pets, do they not?

Sometimes I wonder if the refusal to work with those who conduct themselves differently is a convenient excuse to avoid things that might be challenging, but then I remember to give the benefit of the doubt and think maybe just sometimes people let their piety get the best of them.

This divisive nature does a lot more harm than good. Emotional decisions are becoming a roadblock to taking action in the best interests of dogs – and of the pet community as a whole. Advocacy messages and rescue efforts are actually being harmed when the community can’t come together as a unified voice to support even simple causes they all actually agree on. Great opportunities for collaboration, promotion, and change are being refused.

How does that look to the public and to politicians when consensus cannot be reached due to unrelated issues?

Perhaps the segregation is the worst/dumbest part. Individuals and organizations decline to interact together on one thing because they disagree another. Well, you’ll never influence or educate anyone if you alienate or shame them.

If you’re trying to convince someone to abandon one training technique, or to see another within some context, you’ll never get anywhere with ridicule or avoidance. The best way to teach others – and to learn from them – is to spend time with people who see things differently than you. Otherwise, you also risk putting yourself in a bubble, and limiting your own knowledge and experience.

Bill-Nye

Bill Nye is a wise dude.

Insults don’t change minds. Leading by example does. Your training results will speak for themselves. Being a kind person who is pleasant to be around also helps a great deal. If you have common ground to converse over – rescue efforts, spay/neuter campaigns – the door opens for a bigger conversation. What happens when communication stalemates? Nothing. Exactly. So where’s the progress?

I know treating each person with respect can be a struggle from time to time – no one is more frustrated with stupidity and ignorance than yours truly – but it really comes down to representing the community in a dignified way.

Besides, I can guarantee average dog owners don’t know about the Training War that wages. Or if they do, they are more confused than ever, as companies now campaign to create suspicion around terms like “balanced”. Most clients aren’t, or don’t know to be, concerned with what philosophies a training company subscribes to as long as they can be helped with teaching their pups to walk nicely, to stop barking and chewing their stuff, and to not use the house as a bathroom – all while using a manner they’re comfortable with (whatever that may be). If they’re happy and get results, you have a client for life.

Not being an asshole definitely helps.

Not being an asshole definitely helps.

In Calgary alone there are dozens of companies offering a variety of training techniques – all competing for the same clients. Yes, competition among businesses makes sense and is ultimately good for the consumer. And as a working professional, you’re probably in it to make money just as much as you are to help dogs and dog owners (maybe more? or less? I don’t know. If I was in it for the money, I was doing it wrong). So, yes, please, go advertise that you’re the top local expert. Demonstrate why you’re better, more effective, and the best value for the price. But you can do all of this while rising above the slander and mudslinging with grace. You can make a strong business case without resorting to insults and without ostracizing others.

And if you’re going to engage in other parts of the pet community – rescue efforts, lobby campaigns – put the politics aside and do it for the animals directly. If your company demonstrates that it gives back without strings attached, you might even attract new clients and make some unexpected connections.

Remember when WWF Canada received flack for partnering with Coca Cola on environmental campaigns?

Coke & WWF

One example of apparent enemies collaborating for the greater good.

But who am I to say? I left the dog training world altogether – and not for any of the reasons described above. Any future role I might have from now on will be as a client, not an employee.

whatido

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Second Anniversary of Alma

Two years ago today, the Husband and I made our road trip south of the border to Montana to adopt a dog from the Montana Companion Animal Network.

After months of looking at Pet Finder and local ads for adoptable dogs – and a lot of patience – we gave Alma her ‘forever home’.

Alma and Moses in her first month at home

Alma and Moses in her first month at home

Alma & Moses

Alma & Moses

A couple of water dogs

A couple of water dogs

The forever home comes with Canadian winters, but she doesn't seem to mind.

The forever home comes with Canadian winters, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

Fun with friends

Fun with friends

IMG_2330

Don’t let anyone tell you pure-bred dogs don’t also need adopting.

Alma's favourite sleep spot - the en suite

Alma’s favourite sleep spot – the en suite

IMG_5228Happy second ‘Gotcha Day’, Alma!

Introducing Alma!

This weekend, the Husband, Moses and I gathered up our passports (rabies vaccination certificate, in Moses’ case) and went on a little international road trip.

As you know, we have been contemplating, discussing, and researching a second dog for several months now.

We had decided we wanted to try for a purebred rescue, rather than put our name on a list with a breeder.  That’s not to say our experience with getting Moses from a breeder was anything less than perfect – we just wanted to keep our eyes open for the opportunity to give an adoptable dog a home.

Then, on one of my near-daily PetFinder.com browses a couple of weeks ago, I came across this ad:

"Winnie is a sweet 20 month old Newfoundland who has spent her time "UNWANTED" for the last year and a half."

I showed the Husband the ad and we both instantly agreed we should get in contact with The Montana Companion Animal Network.  It was late on a Sunday evening and I immediately fired off a brief introductory email expressing our interest.

The next morning, Winnie’s foster mom gave me a call to ask some questions and answer ours.  And we her story.

UNWANTED... ?!

‘Winnie’ was originally purchased as a puppy from a breeder in Montana.  The family had a couple of other dogs, and when it came to Winnie, there was either a sense that she should figure things our herself or be trained by the family’s existing dogs.  This, obviously, was hardly the case, and by the time she was 5 months old – large, untrained, and still a puppy – they had simply decided they didn’t want her anymore.

But instead of contacting the breeder, or surrendering her to the rescue then, what I assume was some sort of guilt or shame prevented them from giving her up.  Instead, they kept her out in a pen in the back yard – hardly interacted with.  She did not live in the house with everyone else. She did not get walked.  She was not even fed regularly.  For a year and a half.  Reports are that they would tell other people that they “hate that dog”.

For that year and a half, the foster mom – who knew these people – tried to get them to surrender Winnie to the rescue so they could re-home her.  The foster mom been fostering dogs for the MTCAN for several years, saw the problem, and wanted to help.

Finally, the family got fed up came to their senses and the foster mom arrived home to find a scrawny, stinky Winnie dropped off in her back yard; the search for a new home began.

Which is where we come in.

Two weeks, several emails, and lots of Google-mapping the state of Montana later, and we have arrived home with our much-awaited new dog!

Meet Alma!

Sticking with the historical-names theme in our household, we have changed her name to Alma, which is a short form for Amelia – as in Earhart.

And I must say, it hasn’t even been two days and she is settling in very well; we could not be happier that we’d chosen the adoption route and found her!  She is awesome – and super cute – and it is extremely sad and angering to think she was “unwanted” – or even hated – by someone else.

Will her past experiences effect certain behaviours she’s learned or developed?  Sure.  But we’ll all work together to discover them and work through them.

Can we expect her to be just like Moses? Nope.  But who knows – maybe we’ve got another Olympic Champ in training!

Alma & Moses in Montana: they make a great pair!

And Moses seems pretty stoked to have a little buddy, too!

Spay/Neuter: When, not Why

In typical fashion, I am going to start with a caveat:  unless you are planning to breed your dog, yes, you should absolutely have him or her neutered/spayed.  It’s simply the responsible thing to do in order to help curb the population of unwanted pets and “oopsie” litters; we should leave the breeding up to responsible, educated breeders.  And with initiatives such as Calgary’s new no-cost spay/neuter program, there are fewer and fewer excuses to be made.

In fact, since we have decided to officially abandon our breeding aspirations for Moses (and end his unfruitful show career), at 2 ½ years old he’s going in for the ol’ snip-snip in a couple of days (with breeder consent, of course).

So the question is not if you should get your dog (or cat) fixed – Bob Barker had that right the whole time.  But there is a considerable debate about when: as young and soon as possible?  At 6 months?  After a year?  For females, after her first heat?  For males, a month after they start to lift their legs to pee?  Personally, I was always told that, especially for males, the larger the breed, the longer you should wait (18 months, barring any serious behavioural challenges); is that actually beneficial?

The traditional vet recommendation was always 6-9 months, but as it turns out, there is actually no scientific or medical reasoning for this figure aside from the fact that it’s generally just before the age of sexual maturity.  And, these days, early spaying and neutering is becoming more and more common.  And that’s what I want to discuss.

Early/Pediatric/Prepubertal Neutering

Means: spaying or neutering between 7 and 16 weeks old (provided the animal weighs more than two pounds and, for males, both testicles have dropped).

The Good

The number one benefit to early spaying and neutering is clearly population control.  While vets and commercial pets stores seem to be just getting into this trend, rescue agencies have been performing pediatric spaying and neutering much longer.  Because the compliance with post-adoption spay/neuter schedules and contracts for rescue animals is often lower than 40%, upwards of 60% of rescue adoptions never get fixed.  And no matter how watchful an owner may be, an accidental litter is always a possibility with an intact dog.  So, to prevent this, many rescues spay and neuter all pets before adopting them out.  This is simply pragmatic from a rescue point of view, and it is unreasonable to expect shelters to house animals until they reach 6 months/one year/18 months/whatever in order to fix them and then adopt them out.  Simply put, prepubertal neutering is a useful and effective way to prevent pet overpopulation.

In addition, early spaying and neutering may come with some physical and mental benefits.

Anaesthesia recovery in young animals is usually more rapid, with fewer complications.  Surgical complications are statically lowest for puppies neutered by 16 weeks.

Spaying females before the first heat nearly eliminates the risk of mammary (breast) cancer.  (However, I should note that another study suggests this risk is reduced as long as the spay is before the dog is 2.5 years old.) 

In addition, prepubertal spaying of female dogs prevents ovarian or uterine tumors.

A 2004 AVMA study showed that prepubertal spaying and neutering seems to play a role in reducing obesity – while all spayed/neutered pets as a whole are more overweight compared to their intact counterparts, the study shows that those spayed and neutered early were less so.

Other behavioural benefits include reduced separation anxiety, escaping behaviours, and inappropriate elimination (i.e. when frightened) in dogs that underwent pediatric spaying and neutering.

And generally, it is believed that for best behavioural results, it’s best not to wait past a year of age to neuter males, and many sources say early neutering of males is ideal to prevent potential aggressive and sexual behaviours.  This is because once a hormone-triggered behaviour has continued long enough, you can be dealing with a firmly entrenched habit that will not fade even after neutering (scent marking, for example).  Frequently, though, neutering at any age still helps with other types of behaviour problems often associated with intact males, and this behaviour result applies simply to neutering before sexual maturity, not within the 7-16 month period at issue.

The Bad

A handful of studies have shown that the traditional spay/neuter age of 6 months, as well as the modern practice of pediatric spay/neuter, appear to predispose dogs to health risks that could otherwise be avoided by waiting until the dog is physically mature, or perhaps in the case of many male dogs, foregoing it altogether unless medically necessary. 

AVMA researchers in June 2010 advised waiting until after 3 to 4 months of age to spay female dogs, finding more incidence of infectious disease in dogs neutered early as compared to dogs neutered at a traditional 6 month age.  Interestingly enough, they found no increased risk of disease or other health problems in cats neutered early.

Several studies have showed increased urinary incontinence/urinary tract infections in females spayed early, resulting in a similar recommendation to wait until at least 3 months of age to spay.  This is thought to be because females spayed before the onset of puberty are more likely to have a juvenile or recessed vulva.  Another study on this issue found that the risk increases the earlier the procedure is carried out, also recommending that female dogs be spayed no earlier than 3 to 4 months old.  I should note that a later study compared female dogs spayed between 4 to 6 months and after 6 months, and showed no increased risk between those two groups.  Incontinence, however, is often a major concern in most studies because it can be a lifelong condition requiring ongoing treatment.  The study even went so far as to say that this concern “may be particularly prudent for a shelter that does not have an excess of puppies and is focused on reducing medical and behavioural conditions that could lead to relinquishment of adolescent and adult dogs.  Conversely, for shelters with excess puppies, the advantages of [prepubertal spaying/neutering] of all dogs before adoption may outweigh the risk of urinary incontinence.”

A larger number of studies have shown early neutering (as early as 6 weeks) can lead to the growth of slightly longer legs and less “masculine” muscle development.  A 1991 study found that bitches spayed at 7 weeks grew significantly taller than those spayed at 7 months.  This is because sex hormones promote the closure of the growth plates at puberty, so the bones of dogs neutered or spayed before puberty continue to grow.  Therefore, dogs that have been spayed or neutered well before puberty can frequently be identified by their longer limbs, lighter bone structure, narrow chests and narrow skulls.

A small number of uncontrolled studies have shown a link with early neuters (for these researchers, that meant before 14 months of age) and some forms of cancer and joint problems, with one citing that dogs neutered before one year old have a significantly increased risk (3 to 4 times more likely) of bone cancer, which is common in larger breed dogs.  According to one study, which combined the high breed risk with the increased early spay/neuter risk, Rottweilers spayed/neutered before one year old have a 28.4% (males) and 25.1% (females) risk of developing bone cancer.  This research suggests a cause-and-effect relationship, as sex hormones are known to influence the maintenance of skeletal structure and mass, and also because their findings showed an inverse relationship between time of exposure to sex hormones and risk of bone cancer.

In a study of beagles, surgical removal of the ovaries (as happens in spaying) caused an increase in the rate of remodelling of the pelvic bone, suggesting an increased risk of hip dysplasia with spaying.  Other studies have found that spaying/neutering before 5 ½ months of age is associated with a 70% increased aged-adjusted risk of hip dysplasia compared to dogs spayed/neutered after 5 ½ months of age, though there were some indications that the former may have had a lower severity manifestation of the disease.  It is suggested that neutering a giant breed male dog early (6 months for example), rather than at 18 months to two years, can almost ensure the dog will have structural or joint problems fully manifested by age six or seven years.  Yet another study has showed the incidence of hip dysplasia increased to 6.7% for dogs neutered before 5 ½ months compared to 4.7% for dogs neutered after 5 ½ months.

Spaying was also found to cause a net loss of bone mass in the spine.  Because the spay/neuter of immature dogs delays the closure of the growth plates in bones that are still growing, those bones end up significantly longer than those in intact dogs or those who are spayed/neutered after maturity.  Since the growth plates in various bones close at different times, spaying and neutering that is done after some growth plates have closed, but before other growth plates have closed, may result in a dog with unnatural proportions, possibly impacting performance and long term durability of the joints.

In terms of behaviour, one study found aggression towards family members actually more frequent among male dogs neutered before 5 ½ months, and prepubertal neutering was associated with higher rates of barking or growling at visitors and excessive barking that bothered household members. However, for dogs in the study that were not determined to have any aggression issues, there was no association between the ages of neutering and excessive barking.

It should also be noted that many dog professionals suggest that beyond the age of three is when the most trouble occurs in a non-neutered male. The high testosterone levels and hormonal changes in the male dog at three years of age often builds up, causing territorial and aggressive traits, so for behavioural concerns, this should be the longest one should wait.

The Possible

There are a number of unfounded claims out there that neutering a male dog before 2 years old will affect his “working ability”.  Though there seems to be nothing to actually prove this, and no reasoning I could find behind it, many sources still recommended that for “working” or “athletic” dogs to hold off spaying or neutering until about 14 months old.

My best guess is that this has to do with testosterone, which is the hormone responsible for the different physical and mental (and sexual) characteristics males tend to have in abundance (and females less so).  It promotes sex drive, fat loss, helps with gaining and maintaining lean muscle mass and bone density, most of which can be important physical considerations for the owners of working dogs.

Some trainers and behaviourists also have concerns about mental development of dogs that are spayed or neutered to early, in that they do not psychologically or behaviourally mature, and retain many puppy behaviours.  However, these seemed to be mostly based on personal experiences and hypotheses, with no actual studies performed or cited.

The Pitfalls

When researching this subject I found that while there seemed to be many sources, it turned out that people were just quoting the same handful of studies – often verbatim.  This signalled to me that no position is solidified when it comes to health benefits and concerns regarding prepubertal spaying and neutering.  Basically, more (and more long-term) research should be done.

The End

Despite the potential for concern, the American Animal Hospital Association takes an official position in support of “the concept of neutering cats and dogs as young as 8 weeks of age in order to help reduce the overpopulation problems in companion animals”.

And quite frankly, for many the overarching concern of unwanted pets and rescue animals is simply enough to promote early spaying and neutering in animals.  I do not disagree with this sentiment.

However, for individual owners of commercially purchased or breeder bought pets, I encourage them to look into the issue and decide for themselves based on their dog, its breed, its lineage and health history, and any vet recommendations.

Personally, as the owner of a giant-breed dog that is already at a decent risk of joint issues and hip dysplasia, I will not get my dog (or future dogs, I suppose) spayed or neutered early – and probably not until the 18 month mark at the earliest (barring any exceptional health or behavioural issue).  Even a slight increased risk in bone or joint issues is enough to deter me, and I would recommend the same for any other large- or giant-breed dog owners who ask.

In the end, I came across this conclusion which I think sums up my official position quite perfectly:

Animals housed at humane societies [and other rescue organizations] should be treated as a population.  Societal benefit resulting from [prepubertal spaying and neutering] of unowned dogs and cats … outweighs all other concerns.  Male and female dogs and cats should be spayed or castrated before being offered for adoption by humane organizations.

Pets should be considered individually, with the understanding that for these pets, population control is a less important concern than is health of each animal.  Dogs and cats should be maintained as household pets.  Responsible owners should ensure that their pets are provided appropriate and regularly scheduled veterinary care.

Sources, References, and Further Reading

http://www.cesarsway.com/askthevet/basicadvice/best-age-to-neuter-or-spay

http://www.caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html

Responsible Dog Ownership: Spaying and Neutering http://www.suite101.com/content/the-responsibility-of-dog-ownershi-a7325#ixzz15NXXNtYt 

Long Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay/Neuter in Dogs: http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/longtermhealtheffectsofspayneuterindogs.pdf

The Controversy is Over: Prepubertal Neutering is the Surgery of Choice: http://www.spayusa.org/media/pdfs/prepubal_neutering.pdf

Long-term risks and benefits of early-age gonadectomy in dogs: http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/spay_neuter/javma_224_3_380.pdf

Determining the optimal age for gonadectomy of dogs and cats: http://www.avma.org/avmacollections/spay_neuter/javma_231_11_1665.pdf