Getting a dog is a big decision. Huge! And even once you choose to bring a four-legged friend into the mix, the decision doesn't exactly get easier. Will you get a rescue or a dog from the breeder? Do you want long, short, or no hair? How will you train your dog? And, perhaps most importantly to you, should you get a male or female dog?
Many people find they have biases towards one or another when they start their journey of becoming a dog owner. Maybe you had a male dog growing up that snapped at you, and you've never really been able to shake your mistrust of male dogs. It could be that you had a female dog during childhood that you have incredibly fond memories of, so you naturally lean toward getting another girl dog.
So, now that you've officially decided to get a pup, are there differences in male vs. female dogs you should know about? Is a male dog more prone to aggression? Is a female dog friendlier? Is one easier to train than the other? While many people will weigh in on their thoughts on male vs. female dogs, it's always best to get an expert's advice.
Are there personality differences between male and female dogs?
"To my knowledge, there has only been one published review study looking at this issue, and unfortunately, even this overview has many limitations and biases," says Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, from Senior Tail Waggers. "There is so much variation between breeds, individual personalities, and socialization that making any broad generalizations about sex is a mistake. According to this review, females tend to be more aggressive if they have offspring, whereas males tend to be more aggressive if left intact. Females tend to perform better with task-oriented socialization, whereas males excel at unstructured social interactions. But again, the results varied greatly from dog to dog and breed to breed. Each specific dog's life experiences also greatly influence their behavior."
In other words, there's not much evidence that a dog will act differently based on sex. Instead, other factors play a much more significant part in those concerns.
Leaving your male dog "intact" means you haven't neutered him, so spaying/neutering a dog of either sex might help with some behavioral issues. But for a better chance of the "right" personality for your family, you should consider the dog's breed and previous life experiences. That means that if you get a puppy, all of its life experiences and many of its personality traits can be traced back to you. So, make sure you're taking time to bond with your pup and train them properly.
Are male or female dogs easier to potty train?
"There is no evidence that either sex is more easily house-trained," says Whittenburg. "In my experience, smaller breed dogs tend to be more difficult to successfully house train, but this also varies greatly between individual dogs."
Dr. Mindy Waite, Ph.D., also from Senior Tail Waggers, says that there are a couple of different potty-related issues that each gender of dog might experience, though.
"Studies suggest that male dogs are more likely to engage in marking behavior and potentially to have potty training issues," says Waite. "However, neutered females are known to have much higher rates of urinary incontinence than males or intact females. ([Incontinence] is a medical condition where the dog does not have control over their urination.)"
In either instance, it looks like it can be the luck of the draw as to whether you'll deal with one of those issues.
Which would the experts choose: male or female?
"We will be adding a dog to our household in 2023!" shares Waite. "Our decision will not take sex into account at all. We will be choosing solely based on the size and the dog's known behavior."
Whittenburg also feels that sex is the least of concerns when choosing a dog.
"If I were to bring a new dog into my home, sex would not be a consideration," says Dr. Whittenburg. "However, I would ensure they were neutered at an appropriate age, which drastically reduces the incidence of many behavior-related issues."
Does male vs. female matter when adopting a second dog?
Adding a second dog to your home can be a little trickier. Though it still sounds like depending on breed traits, and with proper training and an open mind, you can make just about any pairing of dogs work well together.
"Based on descriptive research, female dogs are more likely to instigate fights and more likely to cause injuries requiring medical attention than other types of pairings," shares Waite. "Further, female-female pairs which are already engaging in fights have poorer outcomes after behavioral interventions than male-female pairs, although similar outcomes to male-male pairs. Male-female pairs are the least likely to fight as compared to female-female and male-male pairs, and when they do fight, they respond better to interventions than same-sex pairs."
"Often the worst dog-to-dog aggression we see is between females," says Whittenburg. "However, it depends entirely on the personality of the two dogs, as well as neutering status (both males and females are less aggressive when neutered). I suggest working with your veterinarian or a behaviorist to learn how to properly introduce two dogs, which will vary based on their ages and circumstances."
Expands Waite, "Dog owners should at least be aware that this is a known potential issue. If a family is looking to add a female (especially a younger female, as the dog most likely to start the fight is a newer, younger dog) to a household that already has a female in it, they should ask many questions about the dog's behavioral history, perform slow introductions, preferably with the help of a behaviorist, and be prepared to intervene extremely early or even return the dog if they start to see early signs of aggression or discomfort around the pre-existing dog."
The big takeaway? Do your research and fully commit by:
- Talking to the breeder or shelter.
- Investigating your dog's breed online.
- Spaying or neutering your dog.
- Investing in training.
- Socializing your pet as often as possible.
- Talking to your vet about potential concerns of introducing a new dog to the family dog you already have.
In the long run, however, a dog is an excellent addition to a family, regardless of sex. Whatever love you pour into your pup, you'll get back a hundredfold. Give scratches with abandon, and everything will be fine.