Male Vs Female Dog: What Are The Differences?
By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz January 11, 2021
People consider many factors when deciding which dog they should adopt. The dog’s breed, size, age, and sex can all have impacts on the dog’s health and behavior. This article will delve into the physical differences as well as the perceived behavioral differences between male and female dogs to help guide your selection of a dog that is suitable for your lifestyle.
What Are The Differences Between A Male And Female Dog?
Male and female dogs differ at the biological level. At conception, a male dog will receive an X and Y chromosome, a female dog will have two X chromosomes, or a mix of these chromosomes from their parents for intersex dogs. These chromosomes help guide physical development of sexual dimorphic traits – those that differ between sexes, including reproductive organs. Most notably, males (XY) will develop testicles and a penis, whereas females (XX) will develop ovaries, a uterus, and a vagina. Intersex dogs may develop a variety of these reproductive and physical characteristics.
What Are The Physical Differences Between A Female And Male Dog?
In addition to differences in reproductive organs, male dogs tend to be larger, both in body weight and height, than female dogs (Scott and Fuller, 2012). However, female dogs tend to reach maturity faster than male dogs (Helmink et al., 2000). These physical differences are mostly attributed to different hormones associated with the reproductive system.
While these hormones play a large role in the differences between sexes, it is important to consider that many pet dogs are spayed (removal of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus) or neutered (removal of the testes), meaning that these differences can vary depending on if and when they were altered. There is evidence suggesting that spaying female dogs can prevent mammary cancer (Sorenmo et al., 2000) and uterine infections and neutering male dogs can prevent testicular cancer and enlarged prostate glands (Warnes, 2018). Spaying and neutering can also help prevent some undesirable behaviors associated with the desire to find a mate such as mounting, scent marking, and escaping and roaming to find a potential mate, as well as some forms of aggression (Hopkins et al., 1976; Cannas et al., 2018).
What Are The Behavioral Differences Between A Female And Male Dog?
Different physical and hormonal characteristics of male and female dogs can lead to observed behavioral differences between the sexes. The following are a list of traits associated more with male or female dogs based upon the scientific literature:
- Thought to be better at obedience training (Bradshaw et al., 1996; Hart and Hart, 1985)
- Easier to housetrain (Hart and Hart, 1985)
- More affectionate (Bradshaw et al., 1996; Hart and Hart, 1985)
- More mature, which could attribute to their training ease (Bradshaw et al., 1996)
- More likely to approach strangers (Lore and Eisenberg, 1986)
- Superior performance in an object permanence (cognition) test (Müller et al., 2011)
- More likely to mount (Hart and Hart, 1985)
- More prone to scent marking with urine (Hart and Hart, 1985)
- More likely to show aggression towards dogs (Borchelt, 1983; Hart and Hart, 1985)
- More likely to show aggression towards humans (Hart and Hart, 1985)
- More active in general (Hart and Hart, 1985)
- More likely to be territorial (Hart and Hart, 1985)
Which Combination Of Sexes Get Along Better?
There is not much scientific evidence regarding which sexes of dogs get along better, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that dogs of the opposite sex tend to get along the best. Many dog professionals will suggest that if you already have a dog at home and are looking to get another, consider adopting a dog of the opposite sex. It is believed that dogs of the same sex may be more competitive with one another.
While sex can play a role in selecting your next dog, it should not play the largest role in deciding on your next companion. Traits like the dog’s temperament and personality may be the best determinants for how well two dogs will get along. For example, if your current dog has a strong, bold personality, they may butt heads with a similarly bold dog. Confident and shy dogs may also pair well as the confident dog can help build confidence in the shy dog, without feeling threatened. Additionally, the size of the new dog should be considered to help prevent accidental injuries that could occur during play. Ultimately, there are many success stories of diverse pairs of dogs that get along just fine as long as their personalities are compatible.
Should You Get A Male Or Female Dog?
The decision to get a male of female dog is not an easy one. Yes, there are noted behavioral differences between them, but if you plan on having your pet spayed or neutered these differences may diminish or disappear completely. Instead, the emphasis should be placed on the dog’s personality, energy level, and breed specific care requirements. Broad generalizations about a dog’s behavior based on sex alone should be avoided, as each dog is an individual and with different backgrounds and life experiences. In general, it is recommended that active people select higher energy level dogs that will be glad to join them on walks and other adventures. More sedentary people may be better matched with calm dogs that will enjoy staying put and do not demand intense exercise (Utz, 2014). Another study found that people with excellent compatibilities with their dogs reported higher subjective happiness scores, lower perceived stress scores, and had a mean lower number of doctor visits (González-Ramírez, 2019). This study also suggested that the sex of the dog did not contribute to how compatible the dog-human relationship was.
In summary, there are physical differences between male and female dogs, with males typically being larger and females typically maturing earlier. There are also behavioral differences, with males being perceived as more active and aggressive, and females being more affectionate and easier to train. These differences are likely due to hormones and may decrease if animals are spayed or neutered. When bringing home a new dog, their sex may impact how large the dog will grow, their likelihood to be compatible with another dog, and what personality traits they are prone to possess. In the grand scheme of things though, sex should not be emphasized as highly as the individual dog’s personality traits which will have the greatest impact on the success of the human-dog and dog-dog relationship. Making a decision on a dog based on their individual characteristics will ultimately lead to a stress free and happy life together.
Borchelt, P. L. (1983). Aggressive behavior of dogs kept as companion animals: classification and influence of sex, reproductive status and breed. Applied Animal Ethology, 10(1-2), 45-61.
Bradshaw, J. W. S., Goodwin, D., Lea, A. M., & Whitehead, S. L. (1996). A survey of the behavioural characteristics of pure-bred dogs in the United Kingdom. Veterinary Record, 138(19), 465-468.
Cannas, S., Talamonti, Z., Mazzola, S., Minero, M., Picciolini, A., & Palestrini, C. (2018). Factors associated with dog behavioral problems referred to a behavior clinic. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 24, 42-47.
González-Ramírez, M. T. (2019). Compatibility between humans and their dogs: benefits for both. Animals, 9(9), 674.
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Hopkins, S. G., Schubert, T. A., & Hart, B. L. (1976). Castration of adult male dogs: effects on roaming, aggression, urine marking, and mounting. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 168(12), 1108-1110.
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Scott, J. P., & Fuller, J. L. (2012). Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog (Vol. 570). University of Chicago Press.
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