As owners of large purebred dogs, it is important that we understand the fundamentals of canine reproduction and reproductive health - whether in a companion home or a pet home. Spinone owners should be fully educated on the benefits and disadvantages of having an intact dog when deciding how to manage the health of their beloved pet.
Sexual maturity of a dog depends on the size of the dog but can be reached as early as 6 months or as late as 2 years. In a female you will know sexual maturity has been reached when she enters her first reproductive cycle. After that first cycle an intact female dog will continue to cycle every 6 months or so. Because a female may have her first heat cycle before she is fully grown, it is advisable to wait until she is at least 2 years old if you are planning to breed.
There is an opinion in the community that since Spinone are not only large breed dogs but also thick-boned, they must be allowed to achieve their full size (usually at 2-4 years of age) before they are neutered. This decision must be weighed against the diligence required to prevent unplanned pregnancies and manage the behavior of unneutered dogs. It is becoming more common for owners of large breed dogs to wait until at least the first heat cycle to neuter. This is due to research indicating the benefits of sex hormones in promoting proper bone and joint development as well as preventing obesity and certain cancers. Owners who intend to use their Spinone as working dogs might want to also consider that neutering can decrease drive, and of course, dogs that are shown and used in a breeding program must remain intact. For those who want to maintain sex hormones but not worry about pregnancy there are options such as a vasectomy for male dogs or ovary sparing spay or tubal ligation in female dogs. A responsible vet will work with every owner and decide on the best option based on their individual needs.
There are some severe health problems common to intact dogs. At the top of the list is pyometra (a life-threatening uterine infection which can occur after a heat cycle) which affects 25% of intact female dogs by age 10, and mammary tumors whose chance of occurring increases to over 25% if you wait until after a second heat cycle to spay. Male dogs can get testicular cancer (most common in older males) and enlarged prostates.
It is beyond the scope of this introduction to explain breeding practices and reproductive anatomy/hormones, but some of the links below do provide resources for such information. If you are interested in undertaking a breeding program with your Spinone we recommend finding a mentor or reaching out to the club directly for guidance!