Differences obviously exist between the average man and the average woman (and who is average anyway?) but what about dogs and bitches? As in people, when we speak of differences between male and female dogs, it must be understood that these are generalities. While a male or female dog may be more likely to possess a certain characteristic or behavioral trait, this does not mean these generalities apply in every case. Within each sex is enormous individual variation. The personality and background of an individual dog are more important factors than its sex in determining its character so that in many ways, choosing between a male or female dog is a matter of personal preference.
Perhaps the most reliable difference between male and female dogs of the same breed is that males tend to develop into a bigger animal at maturity than females do. Tend to. However, just as in humans, that generalized rule is broken regularly by individual animals that don’t fit the norm. Nevertheless, it is wise to take sex into consideration when considering a large or heavy breed, and you are concerned that the extra size likely for the male could make it just a bit too big for you to handle. And if you are considering a breed that has a predilection towards aggression, you may be better off with a female, particularly if your intention would be to keep a male entire, as unsterilized males are much more likely to become aggressive, particularly towards other dogs.
Before we look at what is generally known about the differences between average dogs and average bitches it is important to consider the effect of sterilization. When a dog is sterilized or “neutered” its ovaries or testes are removed and so its body ceases to produce sex hormones. Since much of the typical behavior of the intact dog is driven by sex hormones, spaying or castration evens the playing field somewhat, ironing out many of the differences that have been observed between the sexes.
It is normal sexual behavior for adult male dogs to urinate on property to mark their territory, to fight with other male dogs or seek to dominate in other ways such as humping them (or your leg), and to roam the neighbourhood looking for a mate. Similarly, intact adult bitches will come into heat (estrus) once or twice a year and during this time may roam looking for a mate, vocalize, mark their territory with urine and mate with a male if they get the chance. Surgical removal of the reproductive organs often reduces or eliminates these behaviors in both the male and the female dog.
Now all that is out of the way, let’s look at some of the documented differences that appear to exist, generally speaking, between male and female dogs.
Obedience judges and veterinarians surveyed by Benjamin and Lynette Hart rated female dogs as easier to train to potty or obedience. The same differences were demonstrated amongst adult dogs assessed in UK, US and Japan, where females consistently rated higher than males in obedience training, and ease of housebreaking. However while other studies have detected measurable differences in the effect of sex on trainability within a few breeds they couldn’t demonstrate a general difference across all breeds. To play it safe, if you are going for a breed that is known for its difficulty to potty train, you might be wise to choose a bitch. Conversely, if your chosen breed is not characterized by any particular training problems, then sex shouldn’t matter much.
Seemingly contradicting all this science is that male dogs dominate the winner’s box hands down in many types of performance competition. Is this a real sex difference though? Perhaps competitive performance breeders are more apt to develop male dogs for competition to both avoid the inconvenience of the down time incurred with bitches during heat and whelping, and to capitalize on the multiple stud fees that can be earned from a successful dog.
Hart’s experts observed greater aggression in male dogs towards other dogs and greater domination of their owner. The boys are also considered to be bolder and less fearful than the girls. Remember, however, the moderating effect of castration on aggression in males.
In the UK, US, Japan results, females were found to be more demanding of affection, and lower at excitability, excessive barking, and destructiveness . A different study however reported that females were more likely to bark excessively . I’d say it must be a pretty fine line between them and have more to do with factors other than sex, such as breed and background. Male dogs are generally agreed to be more playful as adults than females and likely to be fun-loving and outgoing throughout his lifetime than a bitch. While a bitch tends to become more reserved as she ages, a male dog maintains a more puppy-like exuberance throughout his lifetime, ideal for kids with energy, but perhaps not so appealing in a very large breed.
And though females trumped affection and sociability in the surveys, some people consider them to be less consistent than males in this regard, and apt to seek their own company if and when the mood takes them. When it comes to friendliness with strangers, the girls are found to be a little less reserved .
Remember, the above characteristics are generalizations and often contradictory too. I’d advise taking them all with a pinch of salt. Further, it is quite possible to acquire a female puppy who displays male characteristics or a male puppy who displays the typical female characteristics. In addition, the rules can vary a lot from the norm in some breeds. If you’ve decided on a particular breed, ask its breeders and owners about their experiences with males and females. In Miniature Schnauzers for example, both sexes are usually sociable, affectionate and playful as adults but the males tend to be goofier, and the females bolder, more intelligent and attentive. I admit to a preference for bitches, while my husband prefers the boys, but again, individual personality is far more important than gender
So while it is worth considering these stereotypes of which sex would fit in best with your home situation, in short, sex is not a particularly critical factor in choosing your Perfect Match dog, especially if, like most responsible owners, you will be neutering it – unless there are other dogs to consider.
Choosing between male and female can certainly be important if you already have another dog in your environment – which can include not just your household, but the scrappy dog that lives on the other side of your fence, or you are likely to encounter roaming the streets when on your daily walks with your pooch. In this case, a dog of the opposite sex is the safest choice.
This is especially so if your existing household dog is a female. In a dog pack, it is the female who normally assumes the role as pack leader, and the coexistence of two dominant personality bitches can be marred by regular and quite vicious fighting. However, many dog owners have two or more bitches that live together without problems. So long as all the females present know who the alpha bitch is and accept it, it works out fine.
If you already own a neutered male dog and he is not the aggressive, jealous type, another male can work out fine. And when males do fight they usually aren’t as brutal as the girls can be. But ideally you’ll want peaceful coexistence. Whichever mix you decide on, keep your eye on them early on to monitor their interactions until you’re satisfied they are getting along OK.
As a rule of thumb, the less alike two dogs are, the more likely they are to get along well together. Two dogs of the same sex, same age, same breed, same size and same personality may have to fight regularly to try and sort out which is highest up the pecking order. When striving for harmony, mix it up a bit.
I hope this has helped you make the right choice between bringing a male or female dog into your life. My advice would be don’t get fixated on your dog’s sex unless there’s a good reason to. Focus on the individual dog’s breed and background, check out its parents, and assess its personality.