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Male Dog or Female Dog – Which One is Right for You?

Written by Anna Hollisey


male and female pug sitting pretty

Are you thinking about getting a dog? One of the first decisions you’ll have to make is whether to choose a male or female dog. Does it matter? We’ve rounded up all we know – from our experience, scientific reports, and dog-owner conversations – about the differences between male and female dogs.

Between us, the FOTP team has had many dogs, so we can confirm that they’re all awesome. And they’re all unpredictably different. 

Contrary to popular belief, you could wind up with an ultra-obedient and restful male dog – or a boisterous and assertive female dog. After all, no trait is exclusive to one gender or even one breed, and training also plays an important part in shaping your dog’s personality. Your dog will become accustomed to your preferences, habits, emotions, and routines, which is what makes them such wonderful companions. 

But you’ve probably heard people saying that male dogs are more outgoing and females more loyal. That’s what we’re here to discuss. Let’s look at some of the so-called ‘natural’ behaviors which might be shared by dogs of the same gender…

Playful husky upside down on the grass

“You know the stereotypical children that you hear about? Girls that are fiercely independent and boys who want nothing more than to roll around in the dirt? I’ve actually just described my huskies. My two boys are very food motivated at home whereas I’m sure my girl Nova rolls her eyes at me 50 times a day. Are they any different? Well she will happily sleep under the stairs alone whilst I usually have Kovu on my lap and Ekko on my feet. The one thing they do agree on is that they hate it when I go out without them” @triple_trouble_uk_huskies

Male dogs are widely thought to be more active, territorial, and affectionate. But they’re also more likely to wander in search of females – and a lot more likely to become aggressive. If you’re an outdoor-loving walker or runner with time to invest in training, and plenty of local space for exercise, then a male dog could be a great match for you. Here are some of the most common beliefs about the male canine personality – and our take on each one. 

Male dogs are harder to housetrain

Male dogs are thought to be more wilful and harder to train. This theory could come from their historic reputation – as pack members who fought for dominance – but that’s a notion which has now been completely debunked. Are male dogs less amenable to training? At FOTP, we’re on the fence about this one. More show champions are male. (Plus, my young male dog was house trained within a week – read about some of his early exploits here!/learn/dog-diaries/the-puppy-diaries-3-our-first-month-with-louie-the

Male dogs display dominance

Dominance used to be a big deal in dog-training circles. Trainers advised that owners should assert their dominance by (for example) eating their own food first, and walking first through doors. But recent research has shown that the “quest for dominance” never existed in the wild. After hours observing wolf behavior, scientists revealed that wolves live in family packs – with the parents leading from the rear. They don’t fight for dominance. Young wolves tussle and bicker, but not for ‘position’. Meanwhile, their parents (unchallenged pack leaders) protect the pack and let the kids eat first in times of scarcity. These new findings have overturned the idea of ‘dominance’ in dogs. If your male dog tends to bite, bark, jump, or hump, there’s another reason – they could be playful, anxious, fearful, or startled. 

Male dogs are more active

This is another popular opinion, but we’re not sure if it is a universal fact. When you’re thinking about activity levels, it’s probably more helpful to study the breed than the gender. For instance, a Border Collie of either sex will always be way more active than a male English Bulldog. Since activity level is such an important aspect of choosing your canine companion, you should think very carefully about the breed that you choose. “1.5 hours of exercise daily” doesn’t sound like a problem until you think about how you’ll fit this in… Every. Single. Day (even when it’s raining, or the kids are home sick). 

Male dogs are more affectionate

It’s rumored that male dogs are more affectionate than female dogs, but this isn’t supported by scientific research (in fact, studies have shown that female dogs are more sociable with human strangers We suspect that dogs of either gender can be (and often are) incredibly affectionate. Female dogs could simply be more independent – more on that below. 

Male dogs are territorial

Because they’re programmed to find a mate, male dogs are more likely to protect their own “territory” (which could extend way past the boundaries of your property). This often manifests in extensive urination! But they could also be more likely to defend their home or backyard when another dog visits. Cause for concern? Maybe not. This is a personality trait which can be moderated with a good training programme, and puppy socialization (in and outside the home) will also help. 

Male dogs are aggressive

For dogs, aggression is a natural aspect of behavior. It can be triggered by fear or an instinct to protect. It’s such a natural response that many dog bites occur when the dog has been startled awake. And there is much scientific research showing that male dogs have more aggressive tendencies. (Scroll down to Table 1 in this research paper to look at results from different tests, showing male dogs to be more aggressive towards other dogs – as well as more courageous.) Training and handling are extremely important – and effective – in managing aggressive behaviors. But remember that breed affects this trait, too: in this area, diligent research will pay off. 

Male dogs escape and roam

Male dogs escape through hedges, under fences, over walls and surprisingly high gates… If yours becomes an escape artist, you’ll need to strengthen your boundary lines! This may be an urban legend, but it’s rooted in science: male dogs are motivated to mate. Roaming could be in their genes, so you should plan to prepare your backyard before bringing home a boy pup. 

Any intact female dogs living in close proximity are also going to kick this roaming instinct up a gear. If you know your new male pup is going to regularly be able to scent a female in heat (especially if they’re just the other side of your fence), that boundary line needs to be impenetrable! 

two female dogs looking back over their shoulders

“As our female dog became older, she got more antisocial – growling at younger dogs who wanted to greet her. At home, she was perfect with our kids as they grew up and tolerated them with absolute care.” – Anna, FOTP writer 

Female dogs are natural nurturers. They’re caring and loyal, but many can be independent and sometimes even aloof! It’s widely believed that female dogs are easier to train. If you’re looking for a steady companion who will stay close on walks and consistently listen to commands, a female dog could be best for you. 

Female dogs are calmer

In general, a female dog may need less exercise than the busy male. They tend to be smaller and less inclined to roam or mark their territory. Anecdotally, female dogs tend to stay closer to their owners on walks – loyalty and protection are more important than exploring or finding their mate! Some people say that female dogs mature more quickly, becoming more calm and restful around the age of 1. 

Female dogs show loyalty

Research has revealed that female dogs show more attentiveness to humans than male dogs. While you might expect a male dog to display protective behavior, it can be just as common for female dogs to walk cautiously before their owners and ‘guard’ against passers-by. 

Female dogs are more trainable

Their attentiveness can make female dogs eager to please, which means they’re brilliant subjects for training. However, in our shared experience, both genders are usually keen to please their favorite humans. If you’re looking for an obedient dog, breed is more important than gender. Smart dogs like Aussie Shepherds/learn/dog-diaries/5-things-ive-learned-from-my-australian-shepherd, Poodles and German Shepherds will perform really well in training. 

Female dogs are maternal

Of course, female dogs are the ones who produce and nurture puppies. Birth triggers the production of hormones like oxytocin and progesterone,punishment%2C%20thermoregulation%2C%20and%20motion., which prompt nursing and attentiveness. Because of this maternal instinct, it’s believed that female dogs are better with human children – echoing the actions of their owners and showing gentle kindness to babies.

Female dogs are less affectionate

This ‘fact’ could be a case of humans stereotyping our dogs. Why? In our experience, owners of female dogs usually report that their dogs are extremely affectionate and loving. Their affection doesn’t always manifest itself in separation anxiety or extreme clinginess – both of which we’ve heard reported in males. Perhaps female dogs are simply more OK about relaxing on their own, near but not too near their chosen humans. 

While male and female dogs are usually susceptible to different health problems, there isn’t a ‘healthier’ gender. Males are more likely to develop heart or joint problems, while females are more likely to suffer from skin conditions or digestive issues. The question of spaying or neutering your dog is an important one/learn/dog-health/do-you-have-to-neuter-or-spay-your-dog: take your time to read about it and learn how this surgery could affect your dog. 

Male dogs are often very active and vigorous. Neutering, while important to help prevent overpopulation, comes with its own health pros and cons. If your dog’s breed is disposed to a condition such as heart disease or osteoarthritis, take early preventative action by giving them a supplement. 

Neutering male dogs

There are arguments for and against neutering. Removal of the testicles removes the risk of testicular cancer and reduces the risk of prostate cancer. It can reduce aggression and anxiety, but also reduce your dog’s metabolism and increase the risk of ligament injury. Don’t book it before your dog is at least 12 months old: early surgery is now known to increase the risk of joint problems and some cancers. 

Intact male dogs

If left intact, your male dog is more likely to indulge in roaming and humping. They could escape your yard to reach a female, especially if she is on heat. 

Male dogs are more likely to have cardiovascular problems

Studies have shown that male dogs have a slightly higher risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease than female dogs This, like the factor below, could be related to the larger average size of male dogs. 

Male dogs are more likely to develop osteoarthritis

Research shows that genetics and gender both affect the risk of osteoarthritis. Males are more prone to developing joint problems, especially larger breeds. 

Smaller female dogs are less likely to suffer from heart disease but can still develop joint problems as well as cognitive decline

Spaying female dogs

Spaying involves the removal of uterus and ovaries, which is an invasive operation that requires a recovery period. Spaying prevents pyometra (infection in the uterus), which can be fatal in dogs. It’s practically essential if you don’t want your female to have puppies, because it is just so difficult to keep her away from male dogs twice a year. Some males will break through fences and jump high gates to reach females in season. 

Intact female dogs

If you plan to breed your female dog, she will go into season twice a year. This involves 7-10 days of bleeding but does not seem to cause pain to female dogs. However, their behavior will change; they may be restless and less attentive. While they’re in heat (about 2-4 weeks), your female dog is fertile and should be kept away from male dogs. Even if she’s not usually a runaway, she might try to wander and find a mate during her season.

Incontinence in female dogs

Spaying your female dog can cause incontinence, which will require ongoing hormone treatment. Urinary incontinence is twice as likely in dogs who are spayed before their first season – a good reason to delay surgery until your female dog is mature. 

Choosing a dog by gender will never guarantee the personality you want. If specific character traits are a key factor for you, it’s far more sensible to look at the breed. If you want a dog with specific personality traits, the best way to ensure this is to rescue a dog that’s already fully developed. Of course, just like humans, their personality can change and just like humans, if they’re in a shelter or somewhere that could make them anxious, it might not be helping the best parts of their personality shine. 

Love, patience and training are the best ways to ensure you and your dog have a happy and long relationship. 

Read More

If you’re deciding whether a male or female dog is right for you, we have plenty of great resources on the FOTP blog. Learn more about spaying and neutering/learn/dog-health/do-you-have-to-neuter-or-spay-your-dog, the effects of neutering/learn/dog-lifestyle/5-ways-neutering-will-change-your-dog, and how to manage incontinence./learn/dog-health/dog-incontinence-causes-and-solutions-for-canine-bladder Find out what to expect from your female dog’s estrus cycle/learn/dog-health/my-dogs-in-heat--understanding-estrus-cycles-in-dogs.