The real differences between male and female dogs. Discover boy dog vs girl dog personality, male vs female dogs health, appearance, seasons, and more.
Once you have chosen a breeder and found a beautiful litter of puppies, there are still tough decisions ahead. And one of them concerns gender because you may be given a choice between a boy or girl puppy.
We can help you decide.
If you’re asking yourself, “Should I get a male or female dog?” This article is for you.
We’ll look at some of the myths that surround the difference between the two sexes. And give you the facts and the information you need to help you make the right choice for your family.
Male vs Female Puppy
There is little difference between a male and a female puppy at eight weeks old. On average, male puppies are slightly larger than their sisters, but that’s about it.
However, puppies don’t stay puppies for long. They grow up fast, so you really need to consider the difference between male and female dogs once they reach maturity.
There are two key aspects of adult canines that may influence your decision when choosing between a male or female puppy. These are the dog’s physiology and temperament.
Physiology is the way a dog looks and his bodily functions. Temperament is the way a dog behaves.
Let’s take a look at the physical differences first.
Male vs Female Dogs: Physical Differences
There are differences, but they are not as great as some people think.
Male vs Female Dogs: Appearance
To begin with, male dogs are often a little larger than females. The difference in size is probably not enough to matter much to anyone.
Not all male dogs are bigger than all female dogs of course, but on average, the male puppies in a purebred litter will grow slightly taller and heavier than the females in the same litter.
The size difference is greater in some breeds than others, and it will be less pronounced in a male dog that has been neutered at an early age.
Males also tend to have a different look. They appear, unsurprisingly, more masculine and may have larger chunkier heads.
If you prefer the distinctive male look of your breed then this might be an influencing factor for you. Both when choosing a puppy, and when making decisions about neutering.
Of course, we already understand the most obvious and significant physical difference between male and female dogs. But, what are the implications of that difference? That is largely influenced by sex hormones.
Male vs Female Dogs: Hormonal Differences
As a puppy approaches sexual mature, sex hormones cause bodily changes.
For females dogs, that means the start of their seasons, or coming into heat. This occurs twice a year for two to three weeks unless they are spayed.
During this time, she will have a bloody discharge that attracts male dogs. The discharge is messy and can be smelly. You’ll want to keep them off light-colored carpet and furniture. Dog diapers can help with this issue.
Female dogs in heat cannot be walked in public because male dogs may become aggressive in their desire to mate. To avoid an unintended pregnancy, you’ll want to take precautions to keep male dogs away from your female dog in heat. It is not uncommon for male dogs to jump fences in order to mate.
Whether or not this inconvenience is a big deal for you is a personal matter.
Spaying a female dog is more expensive than neutering a male dog and may not be covered by pet insurance.
Male dogs do not have seasons, and unless neutered, they can be sexually active all year long.
Once an intact male dog reaches sexual maturity, he may begin to mark, mount and roam. Neutered male and female dogs may also exhibit these normal canine behaviors, but typically to a lesser degree.
The instinct to mate is strong, so you’ll need to take precautions to keep your dog from roaming in search of mating opportunities.
Neutering will mitigate a lot of the differences between male and female dogs.
Male vs Female Dogs: What About Neutering?
It’s important to think about whether or not you will alter (spay or neuter) your dog before you choose between a girl or boy dog.
The issues that surround neutering might influence your decision on whether or not to neuter your dog, even if you haven’t thought about it yet.
For example, you might choose not to neuter a female Golden Retriever because the breed is susceptible to a number of cancers that have been shown to develop more frequently in altered dogs. If you definitely don’t want to cope with a female dog in season, then the sensible option might be to get a male instead.
We’ve looked at the physical differences between male and female dogs, so now it’s time to consider temperamental and behavioral differences.
Male vs Female Dogs: Behavior and Temperament
You may have heard that female dogs are more loyal than males. This myth persists from the days when many dogs were left to wander unsupervised in the community where they lived.
Once sexually mature, male dogs usually want to roam to find a mate. Female dogs may do this too, especially when they are in heat, but roaming is more common in males.
A dog proof perimeter around your garden or yard will solve this problem and help keep your dog safe from traffic or theft.
The aspects of temperament that most people worry about are aggression and trainability.
There is a perception in some people’s minds that male dogs are both more aggressive and less trainable than females. But it is true?
Are Male Dogs More Aggressive?
Whether male dogs are more aggressive than females is not as clear cut as it might seem. Both male and female dogs can be aggressive.
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Evidence suggests that male dogs are more likely to posture, threaten and challenge as part of social ordering behavior. However, this is often a show that doesn’t result in an attack. Fights between two male dogs are often ritualistic and cause little harm.
While female dogs are less likely to exhibit threatening behavior, they have a stronger tendency to enforce their dominance in the social hierarchy. Fights between two female dogs are more likely to occur than fights between two male dogs. In addition, female dog fights are typically more damaging.
What about aggressive behavior toward humans?
Do Male Dogs Bite More?
Dog bites are more often attributed to male dogs than female dogs and more often to intact males than neutered males. These facts may not be as significant as they seems because they only report numbers and not reasons. Studies have shown that dog bites are the result of a wide variety of factors related to both the human and the dog involved in each incident.
There may be more dog bite incidents involving male dogs due to increased contact related to roaming behavior, for example. And, of course, this behavior is stronger among intact male dogs. In fact, unrestrained dogs roaming off the owner’s property account for about a quarter of all dog bites.
In addition, one study found breed differences in aggressive and biting behaviors. Specifically, that increased aggression among intact males (as opposed to neutered males) in two of the breeds studied did not apply to the other breeds of dog in the study.
It’s important to note that any dog will bite if provoked. That is why early socialization and training of your dog is critical for the long term health and happiness of everyone in your home. Children are the most frequent victims of dog bites, so teaching children how to behave around dogs is also important for dog bite prevention.
We’ve discussed aggression, but what about friendliness in male and female dogs?
Are Male or Female Dogs Friendlier?
Friendliness appears to be far more related to a dog’s breed than to a dog’s sex. A male dog from a breed that is known to be generally friendly may be friendlier than a female from a more aggressive breed.
If on the other hand, you are looking at a breed with known temperament or aggression issues, then you may want to give the question of boy dog vs girl dog a bit more thought.
Selecting a responsible breeder is an important factor for friendliness for two important reasons. If you want a friendly dog, you want a breeder that has taken care to only breed from dogs that are not aggressive. In addition, early socialization and handling are critical to ensure that your dog is comfortable and friendly around people and other animals.
One study found that male dogs are more inclined to engage in social play with humans than females. While females are inclined to engage in cooperative behavior with humans.
Which leads us to training, which is easier to train, a male or female dog?
Are Male Dogs Harder to Train?
Interestingly, male dogs predominate in a number of sports, which might indicate that they are easier to train, rather than harder. But again, we need to tease out the facts.
In competitive sports, successful dogs are valuable as breeding stock and are rarely neutered.
Females can be tricky to compete as they may lose valuable competition and training time by coming into season or being tied up with pregnancy and lactation.
So the predominance of males may say more about their ability to be free from obligations than how easy they are to train.
There are differences in male and female canine brains, and studies have shown that there are differences in the way male and female dogs think.
One study looking at social learning and spatial information indicated that male dogs are quicker than females to adopt a different strategy to locate an item. However, another study found that females dogs have a superior ability to focus, which may make training easier.
How much impact this has on how trainable they are is questionable. Anecdotal evidence from dog trainers indicates little significant difference between the sexes.
In any case, male and female dogs can both be trained, but it’s important to start early and be patient.
Natural Preference for a Female or Male Dog
Many experienced dog owners have a natural preference for one gender or another. Sometimes this is based on their perception of male and female temperaments.
Sometimes it’s just one of those things that a person can’t really explain. If you have a choice and you just feel drawn to girl dogs vs boy dogs, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Just make sure you’ve looked at what’s involved in raising a dog of the gender of your choice before you make your final selection.
Male vs Female Dogs – A Summary
The differences between males and females in many breeds are minimal and the evidence on trainability is not conclusive. If you are looking at a large and powerful breed where temperament problems can arise, it probably makes sense to opt for a female.
If you are looking at a breed where neutering can raise the risk of serious health problems then you need to think more carefully about the biological differences between male vs female dogs. Some people find it inconvenient to manage a female dog in heat for example and don’t want to be responsible for making sure that she doesn’t get pregnant.
Significant risks of neutering have been demonstrated in Hungarian Vizslas, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Labradors (see references below). We don’t know yet if they affect other breeds of dog
For the most part, gender is not a good guide to future health or personality. In other words, it probably doesn’t matter whether your puppy is a boy or a girl. Just as long as you know what is involved in their care.
If you prefer males, then go for a male dog. And vice versa.
How about you? Do you have a preference for male or female dogs? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.
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- American Kennel Club
- Coren, S., “Are Male Dogs More Aggressive Than Females?,” Psychology Today, 2013
- Fugazza, C., Mongillo, P. & Marinelli, L., “Sex differences in dogs’ social learning of spatial information.” Animal Cognition, 2017.
- Hart, B.L., Hart, L.A., et al. “Long-Term Health effects of neutering dogs: comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers,” Plos One, 2014.
- National Canine Research Council, “Medically attended dog bites,” 2016.
- Scandurra, A., Alterisio, A., et al., “Behavioral and Perceptual Differences between Sexes in Dogs: An Overview.” Animals, 2018.