To Spay or Not to Spay, That is the Question

Neutering, the surgical sterilization of dogs, is a common practice aimed at controlling animal populations, and sometimes at addressing behavioral problems. While its
reproductive and physiological impacts are well-documented, there is a growing interest in understanding more deeply the potential effects of neutering on the neurobiology of canines.

The webinar series is recorded and is suitable for pet owners, veterinary professionals, animal trainers, animal behaviorists, pet guardians, shelter and rescue staff and volunteers, and anyone with an interest in evidence-based behavior and training.
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3 Continuing Education Units (CEUs) Available:

In this Webinar Series: 

Part 1 with Dr. Jessica Hekman
Veterinarians used to routinely recommend that your dog be neutered (spayed or castrated) at 6 months of age. That recommendation has been questioned in the past decade as information about the possible health consequences of early age neuter (or neuter at any age) comes to light.
Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD, will discuss what we know about the relationship of spay/neuter timing and changes in the risk of development of cancer and/or of orthopedic injuries such as cranial cruciate ligament disease (CCL tear). She will also talk about how spay/neuter can affect behavior, for better or worse. She will specifically discuss some recent studies and will detail problems designing effective studies to ask these questions. She will also cover alternative approaches to the traditional spay/neuter surgery. If you are wondering when, or if, you should neuter your dog, make your decision based on facts, not emotions.

Part 2 with Dr. Kathy Murphy
Hormones play a crucial role in regulating various aspects of brain structure, development,
and function in canines. Understanding the intricate interplay between hormones and the
canine brain is essential for comprehending the physiological and behavioral complexities
exhibited by dogs.

Neutering can influence the neurobiology of dogs through various mechanisms. Firstly,
hormonal changes resulting from neutering can alter the balance of sex hormones, such
as testosterone and estrogen, which play a vital role in the development and function of
the brain. Studies have shown that neutering can lead to reduced levels of circulating sex
hormones, potentially influencing neurochemical systems and pathways involved in mood
regulation, cognition, and behavior.

Behavioral changes following neutering have been reported, including alterations in
aggression, fearfulness, and sociability. For instance, reduced levels of sex hormones
could influence neurotransmitter systems, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are
involved in regulating mood and behavior.
Enhancing our understanding of these relationships will contribute to a comprehensive
knowledge of canine neurobiology and inform approaches to optimize the well-being and
behavioral management of dogs.

In this webinar, we will explore the many ways that sex hormones influence brain
development, structure and function, facilitating a deeper understanding of the interplay
between sex hormones and behavior. We will build upon Dr Hekman’s webinar, and
explore the ‘whether, when and how to neuter?’ for different situations with the aim of
providing what’s needed for you to make informed neutering decisions.

Discounts are available for groups of 5 or more - please contact [email protected] for more information.

Cancellation policy: No refunds

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Meet the instructor

Dr. Jessica Hekman

Jessica Hekman, DVM, PhD, is a behavioral geneticist. She is one of the founders of the Functional Dog Collaborative (, a non-profit which seeks to change the conversation around dog breeding in the dog loving community.

She also teaches behavioral biology at the Virginia Tech online Masters program for Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare, and offers webinars online and consults with breeders about genetic testing and breeding choices.

Jessica lives in Raymond, NH with her husband and three dogs.
Patrick Jones - Course author
Meet the instructor

Dr. Kathy Murphy

Dr Kathy Murphy (BVetMed, DPhil, CVA, CLAS, MRCVS) is a veterinary surgeon and neuroscientist. She graduated from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons UK in 1999, initially working in mixed clinical practice before studying for two post graduate clinical qualifications with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, in Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia, and Laboratory Animal Science. In 2009 she was awarded a highly prestigious Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellowship to study for her PhD, in Behavioral Neuroscience, at The Queens College, University of Oxford, UK. She subsequently worked in the USA as Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Anesthesiology at the Icahn School of Medicine NYC, where her research into the long term effects of anesthesia on learning and memory contributed to a change to the safety advice for the use of general anesthesia in children.

Dr. Murphy moved back to the UK in 2013, to take up clinical-academic positions at the University of Oxford and subsequently Newcastle University, and concurrently completed a Residency in Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia with the European College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia, during which she became increasingly interested in how pain re-models the nervous system and this can manifest as behavioral problems in pets.

Alongside these positions Dr. Murphy founded, and is now Director of, Barking Brains Ltd (a neuroscience outreach platform for the animal behavior and training community), which focuses on translating neuroscientific information into practical and useful information for people interested in animal behavior. In order to maximize the impact of her diverse interests and skill set, Dr. Murphy teamed up with Behavior Vets in early 2022 when she took up the position of Chief Scientific Officer. She is now able to focus on her new found passion for science communication and providing evidence based, up to date, accessible, scientific information to clinicians, animal professionals and their clients, about subjects related to pain, behavior, neurobiology and the many interrelated factors.

In addition to Dr. Murphy’s primary career roles she was Trustee and Veterinary Advisor to the Rottweiler Welfare Association for 14 years; is co-founder of Ethics First (a collective which lobbies for ethical decision making in clinical practice); is an Oversight Committee Member for the UK Dog Behavior and Training Charter; a guest lecturer in Clinical Animal Behavior at the University of Edinburgh, UK; lectures internationally; sits on numerous National and International boards, working groups and ethical review panels; is an ad-hoc reviewer for neuroscience, veterinary medicine and anesthesia and pain journals; and continues to collaborate on research projects.

Dr. Murphy lives in the UK with her husband Elliot (ret. Search and Rescue handler and now scentwork and mantrailing trainer) and their 4 dogs: Nancy a Rottweiler mix, Zebedee and Nela the German Shorthaired Pointers and Albi a Weimaraner.
Patrick Jones - Course author