When it comes to dogs, many of us tend to be sexist. We like having male or female pups and likely tend to stereotype the genders based on the experiences we've had with animals.
It hasn't been on purpose, but other than my childhood pet, I've always had male dogs. I've found them to be smart, sweet and incredibly loving. In fact, Brodie stares at me in a way that my son dubs "creepy." But I've fostered many dogs and have found that the females seem to be more popular than the males with adopters.
In an informal poll of many rescuers and fosters, they generally agreed: People tend to gravitate toward the girls. But are there any behavioral or personality difference that makes one gender truly different than another?
Check blogs and training message boards and you'll find a ping-pong conversation about whether male dogs or female dogs are easier to train. Some point out that females are much quicker to learn. And there's a chance that could have something to do with maturity.
Both males and females reach sexual maturity when they're around 6 to 9 months old, although some giant breeds take a little longer, according to the American Kennel Club. But that's just sexual maturity. There's something called social maturity, too. That's "maturity with regard to their peers and surrounding social structure," says The Nest. That usually happens somewhere around when a dog is between a year and 3 years old.
There's an often-repeated belief that females mature physically and socially a little more quickly than males. So while boy dogs are still playing and messing around, girls are ready to get down to business.
I asked my go-to canine expert, certified dog trainer and behaviorist Susie Aga of Atlanta Dog Trainer, to weigh in.
"In my experience, females are easier to train but they are more likely to be, 'Sit? Are you sure?'" she says. "Male dogs don’t question you. Female dogs know how to do everything faster than a male dog but then they have to decide whether it’s convenient for them at the moment to actually do it."
Love and affection
There's a saying that, "A female dog will love you, but a male dog will be in love with you." Yes, maybe a little creepy. But it's a common thread in male versus female conversations.
Many dog people say male dogs are more affectionate, while female dogs tend not to want the constant attention and validation that the boys often seem to crave. They say female dogs can be "moody" and "independent," while male dogs can be "clingy" and "silly."
"I prefer male fosters," says Jan, a rescuer in North Carolina. "They seem more easygoing, sweet and goofy than the girls, who for some reason take themselves more seriously."
"I prefer males. They're goofy, and cuddly, whereas the females are independent. I personally love the fact that my boys always need to be near me," writes Redditor HoovesandHeartbeats on a dog gender discussion.
Interestingly, some people say the difference in affection is because of maternal instincts. A female dog perhaps reserves hers for puppies, even if she doesn't have them.
"I had only females for over 20 years, thinking that, like humans, they would be more affectionate," writes a poster named GiftofGalway in Whole Dog Journal. "But a breeder friend said that isn't true in dogs. The females tend to be more independent because their innate role in life is the care and safety of the litter, whereas the males are responsible for the needs of those pups, i.e., food. Since that's taken care of in domestic dogs, they can focus all attention on their owners. Hence the velcro dog."
One huge reason people say they prefer females over males is the belief that boys will lift their leg all over the house. There's nothing like pee-stained furniture to temper your puppy love.
Some female-loving dog owners say that it's awesome having girl dogs just for the ease of taking a walk.
"I have a neutered male Lab that is more aloof than affectionate, that is always lagging behind on walks, sniffing and peeing on everything," writes Redditor tuck7. "And I have a fixed female Lab that is a lovey dovey type that gets her business done early, in one spot, and spends the rest of the walk enjoying the scenery and occasionally sniffing. I can't reasonably expect this from any other dog, since they are such individuals in every way, but I think I'd prefer females based on ease of potty time alone."
There's also the fear of undignified humping of guests and other canine friends. But many rescuers who have had a ton of fosters point out that marking and humping has been rare in their experience and typically ends if a dog is neutered. Some say that boys are easier to potty train and feisty female dogs can be known to hump, too.
What science says
There doesn't seem to be much major gender-based scientific research on the behavioral differences between male and female dogs. One small study, however, gave a slight edge to female pups when it comes to intelligence.
In 2011, researchers at the University of Vienna tested the cognitive abilities of male and female dogs. They recruited 50 pups — including golden retrievers, poodles, Australian shepherds and mixed breeds — and divided them into two groups, 25 males and 25 females. The study was published in the journal Biology Letters.
When the dogs first came to the lab, they got to play with a small blue tennis ball and a much larger blue ball. Then various experiments were set up where the dog watched as one of the balls was pulled on a string behind a board. In some cases, the same ball would reappear and in other instances the other ball would show up instead. So, sometimes the small ball would disappear, and the large ball would reappear in its place, for example.
Researchers found that male dogs looked at the reappearing ball the same amount of time, whether it seemed to change size or not. Female dogs, however, looked much longer at balls that had changed size — about three times longer than when the ball was the same size.
The researchers said they didn't credit evolution for the different visual skills between male and female dogs. But psychologist and dog expert Stanley Coren disagreed. "Whenever you find sex differences, you can usually find an evolutionary reason as to why these things occur," he told Science. Coren speculated that female dogs might need to rely on sight more in order to keep track of their puppies, which tend to smell alike.
The final word
Of course, there's no definitive answer to which gender is a better pick. People like what they like. Depending on your experiences or who you ask, the smartest dogs are females ... or males. The most loving are males ... or females. The same with the moodiest, the most eager to please and the easiest to train.
It doesn't come down to just a chromosome difference. It depends on breed, history, age and general personality.
As commenter Sabine writes in response to a post on The Other End of the Leash, "I guess a lot of different factors come into play and since dogs are as much individuals as we all are, I’d say it all depends."