When to Neuter, Spay, or Breed Your Golden Retriever

Golden retrievers are one of the most popular breeds of dogs due to their intelligence, gentle nature, and ease in training, and this can cause owners to wonder whether and when they should neuter, spay, or breed these dogs.

Fortunately, experts in overall canine health, breeding, and veterinary medicine are conducting new studies and research to examine the ethics and long-term effects of neutering, spaying, and breeding and when they should take place.

So, when should your golden retriever be neutered, spayed, or bred? When it comes to surgical sterilization through spaying and neutering, most experts agree that golden retrievers should be between one and two years old before undergoing such procedures. As for breeding, it’s recommended that golden retrievers reach full physical maturity before mating, which usually occurs around 24 months but can vary among individual retrievers.

Neutering, spaying, and breeding are all practices involving human intervention in the life cycle and natural selection of dogs.

Therefore, these procedures and decisions should be heavily considered by pet owners to promote the health, well-being, and quality of life for their dogs.

When it comes to your golden retriever, none of these practices should be undertaken without extensive research and reputable veterinary care.

Neutering, Spaying, or Breeding Your Golden Retriever

Neutering and spaying dogs refer to the practice of surgical sterilization, whereas breeding refers to the practice of mating selected dogs to produce offspring. Male dogs undergo neutering, and females undergo spaying, both of which are procedures that remove reproductive organs to eliminate any breeding instinct behavior or the possibility of producing offspring. Breeding, however, takes place when dogs reproduce in circumstances designed by humans.

Here are proper definitions for the terms neutering, spaying, and breeding:

  • Neutering: removal of testicles in male dogs
  • Spaying: removal of reproductive organs of female dogs
  • Breeding: intent to determine canine characteristics in offspring through human intervention, or reproduction by the artificial, human selection of dogs

The practices of neutering, spaying, or breeding dogs, including golden retrievers, all involve human intervention in canine natural selection and reproduction.

As a result, there is controversy regarding such interventions that lead owners and dog experts alike to question whether these practices are ethical and when they should take place in a dog’s life.

Why Spay or Neuter Your Golden Retriever?

Spaying or neutering dogs is considered standard practice among pet owners who do not intend to breed their animals. Many of the reasons that owners would cite for spaying or neutering their dogs are the same reasons that advocates of surgical pet sterilization claim are straightforward.

These reasons include control of animal population and reduction in pet homelessness, decreased risk of certain cancers, and inhibiting behaviors such as aggression and roaming.

Animal overpopulation and pet homelessness are considered national problems in most countries. In the United States alone, there are millions of dogs that enter shelters each year either as strays or relinquished by owners.

Sadly, a large percentage of these shelters, or “excess,” animals are killed every year due to shelter capacity and the inadequate number of adoptive homes. Routine spaying and neutering would significantly reduce the numbers of excess animals and pet homelessness.

However, recent research indicates that spaying or neutering procedures may have negative long-term effects on the health of dogs, particularly in certain breeds.

The implications of this research may invite more examination of surgical sterilization risks for pet owners who fully commit to preventing their dogs from an intentional or accidental breeding. Factors that influence the effects of spaying and neutering are whether the dog is male or female, its breed, and its size.

When it comes to golden retrievers, some studies have indicated that spaying or neutering is related to increased risk of certain orthopedic diseases and the presence of tumors.

However, no direct correlation has been substantiated to reflect the general population of dogs, as these studies have been performed on limited subsets of canine medical records.

There are overwhelming evidence and reasoning to support surgical sterilization in dogs as a means of preventing animal overpopulation and reducing pet homelessness.

Yet it’s important to consider that spaying and neutering are procedures resulting from human intervention in the natural anatomy and physiology of dogs.

Therefore, choosing whether to spay or neuter your pet should be an informed decision based on the dog’s age, breed, health status, temperament, home environment, and veterinarian recommendation.

When to Spay or Neuter Your Golden Retriever

Traditionally, dogs are spayed or neutered anywhere from six to nine months of age. However, healthy puppies as young as eight weeks old can be spayed/neutered.

Adult dogs can also undergo these procedures, though they are at higher risk of post-surgical complications as they age. These risks increase further in dogs that are overweight or have pre-existing health problems.

Rather than applying general timelines for surgical sterilization across the canine population, veterinary medical research indicates that the age range for spaying or neutering dogs should be more dependent on the breed—especially when it comes to golden retrievers.

Research shows that, in larger breeds of dogs, reproductive hormones in males and females prevent serious diseases. Therefore, the removal of reproductive organs during retrievers’ first year can leave them vulnerable to these issues.

For golden retrievers, the recommended age range for spaying or neutering is between one to two years, allowing for the preventive benefits of reproductive hormones against certain cancers and joint diseases.

Early spaying or neutering golden retrievers places them at much higher risk for long-term health problems that can reduce their longevity and quality of life.

Ultimately, golden retriever owners should consult their veterinarians to determine the optimal time to spay or neuter their pets.

Benefits of Spaying or Neutering

Aside from reducing pet homelessness, spaying or neutering your dog provides potential medical and behavioral benefits. Spayed females tend to live longer, healthier lives—especially if they are spayed before their first “heat,” or estrus, cycle.

According to AVMA, Spaying can prevent uterine infections and breast tumors which can be cancerous in 50% of dogs.

Neutering male dogs prevents testicular cancer and some prostate medical issues.

There are several behavioral benefits of spaying and neutering as well:

  • Spaying: female dogs that are spayed do not experience heat cycles, during which they may become nervous and agitated, with frequent urination due to hormonal shifts.
  • Neutering: male dogs that are neutered are less likely to stray from home, display “mounting” behavior, and mark territory by spraying urine throughout their home. Neutering has also been linked to reduced aggression in some breeds.

It should be noted that neutering a male dog is not a solution for all behavioral problems. While neutering reduces some undesirable behaviors caused by higher levels of testosterone, the surgery does not eliminate the presence of that hormone.

Neutering will also not undo or counteract behaviors that your dog has learned, developed as habits, or are part of his personality.

Also, some dog owners have the impression that spaying or neutering their pets will result in weight gain and even obesity.

This is a misconception that spaying/neutering is not related to unhealthy weight in dogs. Weight gain in canines is more likely due to a lack of exercise and/or overfeeding.

Care Before and After Spay/Neuter Surgery

Veterinary clinics provide clear pre-surgical and post-operative instructions and advice for spaying/neutering dogs. This may include dietary requirements and administering pain control medication.

According to ASPCA, There are many ways to help your dog recover after such a procedure:

  • Provide a quiet place indoors for rest, away from other animals
  • Prevent the dog from running and jumping as much as possible for up to 2 weeks after surgery
  • Prevent the dog from licking incision area, as that may cause infection
  • Avoid bathing dog for at least 10 days following surgery
  • Inspect incision area daily to ensure proper healing—any redness, openness, swelling, or discharge at surgery site should be treated immediately by a veterinarian
  • Watch for signs of distress—any lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting or diarrhea should be treated immediately by a veterinarian

The most important care you can provide for your dog before and after their spay/neuter surgery is gentle love, adherence to veterinary instructions, and close monitoring of their well-being so any complications can be addressed immediately.

Why Breed Your Golden Retriever?

People breed their dogs for several reasons, from continuing a bloodline to making a profit. However, dog owners should carefully consider the impact of breeding their pets. Though the idea of breeding your golden retriever may seem exciting and rewarding, many factors should influence whether mating your pet is a truly good decision.

Here are some important factors to consider before making such an important decision to breed your golden retriever:

Expense:  Golden retrievers have large litters, ranging from 8 to 12 puppies per litter. Raising even one litter of puppies is a huge undertaking when it comes to the commitment of time, energy, and money. Even if the puppies are healthy and all goes well, most first-time breeders are surprised at the work and expense involved.

Standard: Potential breeders must objectively weigh whether their golden retriever is in excellent health and of the breed standard. One of the primary goals of breeding is mating dogs with characteristics that are selected to improve the breed. Though golden retrievers are wonderful dogs, not all of them are considered breeding quality.

Replication: For those who love their dog and wish to replicate it as a puppy through breeding, it’s important to realize that the odds of canine offspring being identical to a parent are low. This is especially true in terms of behavior and personality. Training and environmental factors are much more influential when it comes to puppies than bloodline.

Risk of Homeless Pets: Breeding your golden retriever may result in puppies that are not adopted or are eventually relinquished by their adoptive owners. Breeders may have difficulties finding homes for every puppy in a litter, and even those that are adopted face the potential risk of ending up homeless and in an animal shelter.

Contribution to Overpopulation: Breeders can unintentionally contribute to the overpopulation of dogs. Those who decide to select their pet from a breeder, in a sense, overlook the opportunity to provide a happy adoptive home for a shelter dog. This perpetuates and exacerbates the number of excess or unwanted dogs in animal shelters, many of whom suffer poor quality of life and even death.

When deciding whether to breed your golden retriever, it’s vital to gather as much information as possible, study all there is to know, and thoroughly consult with a reputable veterinarian.

There is much more to dog breeding than putting two dogs together to reproduce. Understanding the breeding process will allow you to know what to look for and when to intervene if your dogs require help.

When to Breed Your Golden Retriever

There are recommended intervals when it comes to breeding dogs, including golden retrievers. Experts agree that dogs should breed only once they have reached full sexual maturity, which varies depending on the breed of the dog.

Smaller canine breeds mature more quickly, whereas larger breeds such as golden retrievers should wait to mate until 18 months.

According to All-About-Goldens, In general, male dogs can begin breeding between 6 and 12 months of age. Female dogs should be bred later than their male counterparts, waiting until after their first heat cycle is complete.

It’s suggested that responsible breeders wait for the female to reach at least 18 months before breeding.

It’s also important to recognize that these ages are based on averages, not absolutes. Several factors determine the best age of fertility in individual dogs, including their health, age, and size.

Female dogs do not experience menopause, yet they do lose their fertility after a certain age. Therefore, breeders must limit the timing of breeding so that it does not occur when females are past their prime.

Breeding too early in life can cause serious health damage to the mother and result in weak and compromised puppies. Breeding too late can also result in dangerous health conditions for the mother.

Male Retrievers

In general, male dogs sexually mature earlier than females in the sense that they are capable of siring puppies at a younger age.

In larger dog breeds, such as golden retrievers, some individual males are not fertile until 24 months. Once mature, male dogs to be bred (“studs”) are capable of mating nearly every day. However, this can lead to serious health issues.

Before mating a male retriever, you should ensure that he has entered puberty, is fertile, and is healthy enough for breeding. A veterinary professional can help determine a male dog’s fertility through exams and physical assessments.

Another indication that a male retriever is prepared to mate is whether he shows signs of interest in female dogs. However, these signs of interest may appear before male dogs have reached physical maturity.

Overall, even if a stud is capable of breeding before a year old, it is inadvisable to allow mating so early. Most experts insist that male dogs wait until the ages of 12 to 24 months to reach levels of maturity.

Retrievers younger than 18 months have most likely not reached full physical maturity; yet once they do, they continue to remain fertile until the end of life. Once golden retriever males are ready for breeding, they tend to be active and perform well.

Responsible breeders should ensure that qualified stud dogs that are ready to breed have fully passed all health examinations before the first mating session.

Studs must be free of disease and/or any poor health conditions to be physically fit to mount a female and perform the act of mating.

It’s important to consider that as a male dog’s age, they can lose physical abilities. If your male golden retriever is considered a senior dog, it’s best to obtain sperm through harvesting and perform artificial insemination rather than allow physical mating.

Breeders should keep in mind the detriments of breeding a male dog during old age, as their sperm loses viability, vitality, and motility with age.

For the most part, sperm count is low in male dogs at the beginning of their sexual maturity and the end of their life span. Also, breeding a male dog past his prime will produce genetically weaker litters.

Female Retrievers

Female dogs to be bred (“dams”) should be mated later in life than male dogs due to their heat cycles. Female retriever readiness and fertility are based on and controlled by their bodies’ hormonal cycles, often referred to as heat cycles.

According to BarkingRoyalty, Some female dogs reach sexual maturity as early as 6 months old; however, experts agree that it is inadvisable to mate a female dog directly after her first heat cycle. Instead, breeders should wait until the dam is at least 18 months old.

This is generally the time when females are highly fertile. Female retrievers usually go into heat about 2 to 3 times per year, although the number of cycles can vary among individual dogs. Larger breeds tend to cycle less regularly than smaller breeds.

Depending on the stage of the heat cycle, a dam will indicate noticeable signs as to when it’s best to introduce a male partner.

These signs progress as follows:

  • Vaginal bleeding is the first sign indicating that a female retriever has entered her heat cycle.
  • Swelling in the vulva coincides with such bleeding and lasts two to three weeks.
  • Dams will consequently be more attractive to their male counterparts, yet they will not show readiness for the physical act of mating until 7 to 10 days later. They may even show signs of aggression.
  • Once the cycle begins to conclude, bleeding starts to subside, and dams show greater interest in mating.
  • When dams appear receptive to the act of mating, during the 11thto 13th day of the cycle approximately, a male partner can be introduced.
  • Signs of readiness include flagging of the tail and pushing towards the male.

Just as with male retrievers, the female ability to mate lessens with age. A dam’s fertility drops drastically after age 5, and the body is far less capable of handling the physical demands of pregnancy and bearing a litter.

The estrus cycle declines, resulting in abnormal heat cycles. Also, breeding past a female retriever’s prime can result in stillborn puppies, premature labor, smaller litter numbers, and weaker pups.

Understanding the female retriever breeding cycle and being able to estimate and prepare for heat cycles help the breeding process.

Also, it’s crucial to understand that male retrievers are capable of siring puppies at a very young age, potentially as young as 6 months.

Golden retrievers should never be intentionally bred so young, yet “slip” matings can occur if they have access to females in heat. Responsible breeders should avoid this situation at all costs for the health of all dogs involved.

Ethics of Breeding Your Golden Retriever

Many dog experts and veterinary professionals consider dog breeding to be unethical and irresponsible. Though most dog breeders have good intentions, there is a significant number that gives the breeding business bad connotations whether through misinformation or lack of ethical practices.

The intended purpose of dog breeding is to improve the existing breed and bloodline with each litter of puppies. However, there are unfortunate breeding consequences when ethics are unknown or ignored.

Here are some controversial ethics to consider regarding the breeding of your golden retriever:

Poor Breeding Practices

The poor breeding practices of some breeders result in serious health issues for the dogs. Many potential dog owners are searching for puppies that look a certain way rather than for their instincts and functions, which has led to over-breeding of popular dog types for financial profit.

These breeders often overlook the extensive research and methods needed to produce healthy puppies across time.

These poor breeding practices create physiological stress and congenital illnesses in dogs, sacrificing animal well-being for meeting demand. Golden retrievers are among the breeds susceptible to these consequences.

Purebred “Superiority”

Most people assume that purebred dogs are superior to mixed breed or rescue dogs. Many purebreds are the result of over-breeding, limiting the genetic pool, and causing health conditions.

Many pet owners seeking purebreds mistakenly believe that lineage is a predictor of behavior or character. However, the behavior of purebred dogs is never guaranteed—even among golden retrievers.

In addition to unpredictable behavior and characteristics, purebred dogs are more at risk for genetic defects due to human intervention in natural selection. Therefore, the idea that they are superior to mixed breeds or rescue dogs is unfounded.

For-Profit Industry

Dog breeding is considered an industry and one of the detrimental results of for-profit breeding has been the creation of puppy mills and farms.

These large-scale commercial dog breeding facilities are often run by people with little to no experience in animal welfare to maximize profits.

The conditions of these facilities are consistently unsanitary and overcrowded, with inadequate veterinary care, food, water, and socialization.

Unfortunately, participating as a breeder with your golden retriever may induce guilt by association with these unethical industry elements.

Aesthetics and Trends

Historically, dog breeding produced canines for specific purposes, such as hunting, policing, searching, therapy, etc. Most breeding is done now for aesthetics and/or trends.

This results in lower attention to health and a lack of knowledge about the breed, which in turn leads to the purchase of dogs with unknown illnesses and uncertain backgrounds—even among golden retrievers.

This capitalization of dog breeding for how they look or what’s popular and in-demand puts them at risk for being relinquished by their owners once health and/or behavior problems arise.


There is no doubt that breeding dogs, even golden retrievers, exacerbates the existing dog overpopulation problem.

There is a misapprehension among consumers that purchasing a dog from a breeder is a better and safer choice than rescuing a dog from a shelter.

This assumption results in direct harm to the millions of dogs, including some purebred and some mixed golden retrievers, waiting to be adopted in overcrowded shelters.

Even reputable, ethical breeders with the best of intentions are contributing to the excess dog population and subsequent killing of potential pets due to lack of space, resources, and adoptive homes.

Producing more dogs through breeding to meet the demand of those willing to pay money for purebred puppies robs existing, healthy puppies and dogs of the chance at a happy home as pets.

It’s understandable for those who love their dogs, especially golden retrievers, to wish to share or replicate their pet’s lineage, bloodline, and character through breeding.

Also, there are many advocates for preserving the “purity” of certain breeds of dogs. However, breeding for replication or preservation should never be done at the expense of an animal’s health or well-being—as is, unfortunately, becoming the more common case.

Instead, those considering the ethical nature of breeding their golden retrievers should perhaps focus their knowledge, skills, and resources on bettering the situation of overpopulated animal shelters and pet homelessness.

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