Are male and female dogs different to train?

This is an honest question . . . I’m truly curious what you think. The editor of the Bark Magazine asked me to write my next column on whether male and female dogs need to be trained differently, and whether they perform differently. I have some thoughts about it, but I am primarily interested in what YOU think! I’d especially love to hear from trainers or people who have had a good number of dogs, so that they have seen a good ’sample size’ to use to compare the sexes.

I must say, I take this on with trepidation! Would it be less potentially controversial to talk about the Iraq war or recent elections? I'd love to hear what you think, so join the conversation with your own experiences. 

Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.


LOL, I can't say that I find training a male or female to be any different in regards to technique, however I can say from personal experience that I've always been able to establish closer and stronger working relationships and partnerships with my male dogs than I have with my females, and certainly the relationship totally impacts training and performance and vice versa. I have friends who feel the exact opposite. It's a mystery to me.

I love my boys and always have. I don't necessarily approach training any differently but as Laurie says, I have always developed far deeper relationships with boys than the girls.
I'm sure you will have just as many 'votes' for girls though!

I live with one male husband, two male dogs, two male cats, three female dogs and two female cats. I have to say that I rarely, if ever, think about their gender. I'm thinking really hard right now, and writing this straight out of my head, and I seriously don't see gender as a factor in any of my relationships.

I have also spent most of my days over the past five years immersed in dog daycare and several training classes each week. I don't handle or train male dogs differently from female dogs.

The only time gender plays a role, or is in my mind, is when I have same gender dogs of similar age and/or breed who are meeting for the first time or who are having problems getting along in their home. I do consider gender, age and breed more when I'm dealing with fighting, squabbles, etc.

All that being said, 98% of the dogs I work with (and 100% of the animals I live with) have been spayed/neutered.

I teach classes at a dog training club, and have had a bitch for around 8 years. I recently got a male puppy, who is now nearly 8 months old. I don't find gender comes into the training, such as sits, recalls, etc., either for mine or clients' dogs. However, it probably does more with the behaviour side of things. My adolescent male has been squabbling with other males recently. However, I think breed may also come into it.

I think there are two different questions, right?
1. Do male and female dogs train differently?
2. Do male and female dogs perform differently?

I think there are some parallels in child rearing with respect to perceived and real training/performing differences between genders. I always found it interesting that when I became pregnant with my first child, I was very clear that I only wanted girls and good karma or whatever, I got my wish and have 3 daughters. (I joke that my two biggest fears in life are being caught in a tsunami and having twin boys!) As a former child development expert and having been around a lot of kids before I became a mother, I knew that the early years with boy children are often more exhausting due to the physical busyness of boys that is a different energy than the busyness of girls (less gross motor activity like sticking fingers in outlets, etc.) but that during adolescence girls are often more challenging and I have to say I'm finding that to be very true as my oldest daughter nears 16. But with dogs, I see less of a difference in either training or performing a lot differently when young, but when mature I think OVERALL females tend to be more sober, seem to take a greater concern in overall real or perceived responsibility in the pack they live in (whatever the size, species involved), and the males tend to maintain a certain adolescent joie de vivre much longer. I think of dogs and people in 3 different types. To see what I'm talking about:
and finally

Rachel Friedman, MSW, LISW, President
A Better Pet LLC

Personally I have always found my boys to be easier to train and, with the exception of intensity of behaviour/s, I haven't found much of a difference whether they've been sterilised or not. My girls I find to be more of a challenge as they appear to be a little unpredictable as opposed to the blatant "WYSIWYG" of boys. However my sterilised girls are easier to train, so perhaps it does come down to reproductive status and related hormonal swings?

In terms of my clients I can honestly say that the dogs are more challenging than the bitches almost without exception. In the past year my obedience rehab class "Oh Behave" has only had one bitch amongst it. Interestingly of all the dogs she was perhaps the most challenging to work with. Hmmm, this must mean something.....

I certainly don't think there is a biological distinction of intelligence between dogs and bitches, however other factors come into play (such as hormonal influences, drive for resources etc) which could hamper trainability per se. I think boys are perhaps more prone to these, hence making them more "difficult to train"..?

I enjoy the predictable and active, yet honest, zest of my boys. I find it makes them easier to train as I can anticipate very accurately. In my experience they seem to always be keen to play and get goofy, whereas the girls are not as consistent. I have also tended to form stronger relationships with my boys, so I am sure that I inadvertantly excuse shortcomings making me think they're easier to train.

Good luck with the article Patricia - not a topic I would wish to write about. Perhaps a cap and dark glasses in public for a while? ;-)

They are different as are men & women. Both can achieve the same ends. My relationships are different with each. Females think more, males are more blatant, in my experience.


You might be better off sticking to politics and religion. If we think that our own deep-seated feelings about social status and heirarchies distort how we see our dogs, imagine what happens if we start digging deeply into gender differences in their behavior. Personally, I've never noticed any wide-spread gender differences that impact how I train dogs, but I've never really given it much thought either.

Over the past 30 years or so I've trained several dogs of both genders. Overall I have come to see no differences that I can attribute to gender. I do think most of us have a preference for one gender or the other, but even there I've fluctuated back and forth enough times to realize the preference was actually for the individual dog at the time.

Having always had female Bernese mountain dogs we currently have a 5 month old male (along with our 6 yr old girl). The girls have always been social and happy in their own skin, relaxed and good with other dogs I found them easy and they were inclined to look to me for guidence all times. Paddy is much more "out there" and I am finding him something of a handful, maybe it is just this little fellow. I know loads of sweet boys and as one friend says you get the pup you need to be a better trainer. Paddy is very young yet and like several others I know I may yet be converted to a male dog only owner. Kit in Melb Aust

Asking that question let alone writing about it. ;-) People can be passionate about a dogs gender.

I think it's purely subjective. Unless there was an official controlled study it's hard to say, also, whether the dog is spayed or neutered could also make a difference.

Good luck, I'll look forward to reading it!

For some unknown reason every dog that my family owned during my childhood was male. I only ever had contact with one girl on a regular basis and that was our neighbour's Doberman who terrorised us as children and bit us all on more than one occassion which I now realise made me quite wary of girls. I now own 2 GSD's (one boy and one girl). In competitions and for training I handle the girl and my friend handles our boy. I have never had the kind of bond I have with our girl with any of my other dogs. I find her more attentive and just generally a calmer dog and a pleasure to deal with and be with.
I am not convinced that it is because she is a girl that she is as she is but must admit that I will want my next dog to be a girl. BUT by the same token, my friend who handles our boy wants the next one she has to handle/train to be a boy.
I guess that it really comes down to the human's preference. I also think that the bond I have with her is more about the time and effort I put into her as a pup than what her gender is.
Look forward to reading the article!

Perhaps you've already written the article, but thought I would add my two cents. I think it would have more to do with our own human perceptions of male vs female dogs, and how our behavior may influence how they become trained, albeit probably subconsciously. I have four dogs, two males, two females, and it certainly isn't enough of a sample size to come away with any solid conclusions, however if I am to be completely honest, I think that I have had preconceived notions of how my boys train or perform vs my girls. For whatever reason, I expect calmer, steadier behavior from my boys (and get a bit frustrated when my Saint Bernard is hyper) and seem to be more lenient with my girls. I've never given this much thought, but perhaps my own behavior and expectations does indeed play a role in their training and behavior patterns. When training for agility, I always seemed to having higher expectations on Toby. When training for being a therapy dog, it was Kimber (female) who I naturally assumed could do the best job. Hmmm, male dog, performance expectation; female dog, nurturing expectation. Who knew?? Good luck with the article. ~I love your books~

Yody Blass, M.A.

I'm coming to this post late and there have been many thoughtful comments with excellent points, so I'll just add my personal perceptions (no scientific basis in fact). I haven't experienced any difference between training male dogs versus female dogs. The training experience for me has had more to do with breed, age and the individual dog. Where I notice a big difference between males and females is in living in a multi dog household.

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Behavior Modification for Family Pets
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We have German shepherds (2 females and 1 male) and, I am thinking that perhaps breed plays a part in this topic of gender affecting ease of training. My boy is all about the "game". They are smart and learn as quickly as the girls BUT, I find my boy is willing to work with me - team up so to speak and my girls are more inclined to work for me - "what do you want me to do next" sort of attitude. I agree with other posts that indicate that the gender affects response/behavior probably more than ease of training in a comparative sense.

Yeah it is different as like it is different to talk with a girl and with a boy. They are also of same nature and have to be trained by different ways. Even the dog treats are different also. Therefore, you must collect some info regarding training of male and female dogs.

Good work. I hope you get lots of positive feedback for an excellent and informative blog article.

Sensational info. I look forward to seeing more.

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In regard to Rachel Friedman's remarks about sex and gender in children, let's not forget that almost everyone a child has contact with will treat that child differently according to whether they think the child is male or female. Gender indoctrination begins the moment the child is born. Parental attitudes can begin prior to conception, often reflecting the indoctrination of that parent, as Rachel's comment about "only wanted girls" shows.

Damn near every culture studied by anthropologists has its own definition of appropriate gender temperament and behavior for males and females, usually but not always defining masculine and feminine as quite different. But different cultures can differ enormously about what is appropriately masculine and what is feminine. Almost always each gender is defined as a less than complete human being, ie lacks traits that will be needed and beneficial at some time in life and in some situations. The classic work is of course Margaret Meade's.

Cultural definitions can change of course. The changes in women's roles , gender indoctrination, legal rights, etc over the past 200 year in the USA has been enormous. (But there are still cultures on this planet where we wouldn't be blogging because we wouldn't have been allowed to learn to read and write.)

So what does this have to do with dogs ? Well having been indoctrinated by our culture as to male and female, we are likely to view our dogs through these distorted cultural glasses. And our own behavior has been shaped by our indoctrination or rebellion against indoctrination as male or female. (With variations of course according to one's sub-culture, including possible influence of being gay or not.) It's hard to see our dogs without some of this influence and hard to behave towards them free of this influence. What you notice can depend a lot on what you are looking for, what you are prepared to see. What behaviors you unconsiously or consiously encourage or discourage in your dog depends on your view of what behaviors are desirable or undesirable and that can depend just a bit on your view of what a bitch should be and what a male dog should be. Your own body language and tone of voice and emotional output can be heavily influenced by your own gender. Some trainers have noted that women can praise warmly or excitedly or in silly fashion with less inhibition than men and that men are less inhibited about an authoritative voice or a growled rebuke. This has changed in the past half century as gender for humans has been changing. The dog training culture has also changed a lot from a very domineering model to a gentler and more rewarding model.

More differences between gender concerns with dogs versus with children :
Now with dogs we don't have some of the same worries and issues we do with children. We don't worry our boy dog will be a reckless driver during his teen years. We don't have to worrry about our teen girl dog getting pregnant or other sexual follies. We probably don't have to worry that our girl dogs will be taught in high school that they have to hide their intelligence and that they can't do well in math and science if they want boy dogs to like them. We don't have to worry whether our girl or boy dogs will be gay or straight and if gay will they be subjected to cruelty and abuse because of that.
But some people are a bit taken aback if a bitch lifts her leg and marks. Some are taken aback if a bitch mounts other dogs, be those dogs males or females. Some are surprised if they see a male dog being a sweet and loving playmate to puppies (though a wolf ethologist would expect this). Some expect a bitch to be patient with human children and are surprised or angry if she gives a bratty kid the same discipline she'd give a bratty puppy. Some are more dissappointed if a male dog is timid than they would be at the same behavior in a bitch. Some won't bother to train a bitch in protection, assuming she won't be brave enough or aggressive enough (obviously never read Kipling's views of the female of the species). And some are more likely to use domineering and confrontational tactics with a male, which just might be relevant to the higher incidence of male dogs being physically confrontational or threatening towards their person. (Meanwhile the bitch simply manipulates and out-smarts the person rather than being confrontational or threatening. Ah, maybe my own bias and indoctrination is showing ?)

What are the pre-conceptions that we each bring to our dogs ? We all differ in this, and there are plenty of factors other than our own gender indoctrination that matter. And different dogs individually will react differently.

The RCMP saying is that "every handler gets the dog he deserves". I say that each of us *creates* the dog we deserve or the dog we want or the dog we need. (This "creating" starts with picking the dog or pup in the first place, then continues until one or the other of us dies.) Some of us do that with a lot of thought and knowledge and so are more apt to get the dog we want and need. Those who don't put in enough thought and knowledge may sow the storm and reap the whirlwind.

Gee this has been about people. I will write about male and female dogs separately.

But I think we each may be especially influenced in our views by the indelible impression we got from the very best and very worst of the dogs we've known. I have had two soul-mate dogs, two once in a lifetime dogs. Chelsea (bitch) was a very serious and sober "bluestocking" bitch, a determined worker (especially in herding where she had immense talent), and she had an almost tele-empathic bond with me. Very good at reading people and aware that a few of them came from the dark side. Bones (male) was very thoughtful as a puppy, but he was more playful and I doubt that it ever occurred to him that some people had bad intentions. Chelsea was very aloof with strangers, no fear whatsoever but she treated them as being hopelessly inferior beings and was condescendingly gracious to them. Men almost always were a bit intimidated by her. Bones really enjoyed attention and affection from strangers ; he would slidle up to them and give a wistful look and tell them that no one at home loved him or ever petted him, so please bestow a few crumbs of attention on him. Both dogs were excellent trackers (with TDX and FH titles), Chelsea was a superbly talented herder and Bones less intrinsically talented but also very effective and versitile herder (I was a better stock handler by then), Chelsea adequate in protection sports but did it as much to please me as for her own enjoyment while Bones thought bite-the-bad-guy was a super game. Bones had the advantage in all things that I had already learned some lessons from Chelsea. I adored them both, and still miss them after all these years.

Yes, indeed Dr McConnell, you could have chosen so many less controversial topics, such as abortion or gay marriage. But at least dog people are civilized enough not to insult or kill people because of their stance on bitches vs boy dogs. (and why is there no specific term for male dog ? ie the boy equivalent of bitch ?)

We actually have FOUR sexes for dogs : intact bitch, spayed bitch, intact male, and neutered male. Could intact vs altered make a difference as significant as any difference between male and female ? Just one more thing to argue about.

But you ask for opinions on whether male and female dogs are different to train or in performance.

Well what do you mean by TRAIN ? What is the trained dog supposed to do (and what is the dog to refrain from doing) ? And what do you mean by PERFORMANCE ? Performance at a test or a competition or performance day in and out at the real job ?

Some people think training only means house-breaking and further over-simplify that as meaning refraining from peeing and pooping indoors. Some people think that their dog is trained if the dog will sit for a cookie. Some think a dog is trained if they can walk him down the street without feeling like they are being towed by an Iditarod team. But those folks probably are not reading DogStarDaily.

For the ordinary pet person, maybe the Canine Good Citizen would be a reasonable definition of the goal training. It is a reasonable standard of the most basic basics that every companion dog needs to be able to do. Though it does necessarily fail to include such basics as riding in the car, pausing when exiting doors and gates and the car, not snatching food off someone's plate or the kitchen counter, and tolorating the common misbehaviors of children. And CGC is only on lead, so we might need to imagine a level II or III which is off lead.

For those of us who are into dog sports or into practical use of a dog out in the real world, training becomes much more sophisticated and geared to the particular sport or use. I've trained and competed in Obedience, Tracking, Herding, and Protection sports (Schutzhund, Ring, and some Police tests), and I've done these at intermediate and advanced levels with at least one male and one bitch. And I carefully watched my competitors and tried to analyze what I saw. So maybe I know a bit about this. (And I've been doing rescue for my breed for almost a quarter century, over a hundred foster dogs living in my home. That broadens one's view of basic training a lot.)

For ease of training and reliable performance in TRACKING, the biggest single factor is the handler's ability to understand that her role is merely that of an insignificant assistant. Only the dog can do the job. The NOSE KNOWS and the human is incompetent in this sensory realm. Almost any neurologically normal dog who is comfortable in the outdoor environment has the ability to do a TD level track and probably up through Sch III track. For TDX and FH, it does take a more talented and motivated dog. I haven't done VST, but that would be at least as hard as TDX and might well be harder. So generally I don't think the dog's sex, any of the 4, makes a difference.
Slight exceptions. Now if you want to cover all your bases in training an intact male dog, at some point you might want to contaminate some tracks with estrus bitch urine and find out if the dog will ignore it well enough to concentrate on completeing a difficult track. For a Police K-9 who could be doing evidence track or suspect pursuit, I would for sure want to know that estrus bitch scent wouldn't interfere with his performance. The only other exception is that some handlers whom I respect have said that some bitches don't concentrate well when in heat. That could vary with the individual. And in AKC events a bitch in heat is not supposed to be competing, though in Tracking you could probably get away with it.

In HERDING, the main requirements for sucess in training and performance are that the dog has very good natural "balance" (judgement of where to be so as to affect the direction of the movement of the stock), strong desire to control stock, and enough "biddability" that the dog will obey a handler at least when the handler's commands make sense. These qualities can be found in all 4 sexes of dog, and no doubt records of titles and competitions can confirm this. If the individual dog lacks balance or desire, then frankly this dog is not going to become a useful herding dog for practical purposes. (I've had this experience with a dog with just a smigin of talent but who was quite willing to please and obey ; we got high scores at trials, but for any real job, I'd leave her in the truck and do it by myself.)
The handler has to be knowledgeable enough about the stock that her commands mostly do make sense and to understand that sometimes the dog is right in disobeying because the command was wrong. In real world ranch tasks, the handler's good sense of how best to use this particular dog (or sometimes more than one dog working together) to get the job done can be critical.
Competition rules for many herding events allow a bitch in heat to compete, but she runs after the other dogs. But the Border Collie chauvinists swear that these dogs' desire to work is so great that you can work an intact male together with a bitch in heat and they will remain focused on the stock instead of attending to one another. (I have not seen this demonstrated.) In real ranchwork, one may be using more than one dog at a time, so the ability of these dogs to get along together may be critical. That might mean your brace would be a male and a bitch as they'd be likely to regard one another as consorts rather than rivals. But the two dog's styles have to compliment one another. and they need lots of mileage together as a working pair.

In formal Obedience, there are enough OTCh dogs of each of the 4 sexes to indicate that any of them can do the job. AKC forbids a bitch in heat to compete.

In Protection sports, such as Schutzhund and French Ring, a lot of handlers seem to assume a male will be more aggressive and have more courage , and an intact one more so than a neutered one. Police K-9 handlers if they themselves are male tend to make this assumption even more strongly. Yet Art O'Keefe who was the head trainer for all of San Francisco told me that the best dog he ever had himself as a K-9 was a Doberman bitch.
It would of course make sense to assume that a male mammal might have more "go to hell" recklessness than a female mammal. And that kind of reckless disregard of one's own safety gets labled as "courage". In reality, a cattle herding dog who fully understands that a cow's kick can hurt real bad needs more courage than the Schutzhund performer who knows the decoy's stick will only whack him lightly or the Police K-9 who thinks a gun merely makes a loud noise.
My own impression is that a bitch might take all of this more seriously, the male more playfully. But maybe I am being too influenced by my own Chelsea who judged human intent quite keenly. Some K-9 handlers say that they think a bitch is more concerned with protecting her handler than a male is and thus she is less willing to abandon her handler in order to pursue a fleeing suspect. For a personal protection dog, that concern with the handler would be an advantage.

In all competitions , the economics of a highly successful male's stud fee earnings compared to a bitch's puppy sales would tend to make more handlers devote their efforts to a male. And if the bitch is being bred, well the time taken off of work to gestate, bear, and rear the pups is going to slow her career progress. And if competition rules barr her from competing while in heat, there's another interruption. So again the person who lives to compete may prefer a male or a spayed bitch to an intact bitch. There's no real way around this effect of "mommy track" limiting a bitch's progress. But at least there is no "glass ceiling" for bitches.

A big big big factor in all of this is what are the handler's own beliefs and expectations. Because those beliefs and expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies. There was a famous experiment in which school teachers were told that one or two of their students were actually very gifted but not performing up to their real abilities. In actuality those gifted students were chosen at random. Yet the result was that some months later on those labled gifted were now performing way way better , an improvment not seen in the other students. Could the same apply to dogs ? I'd bet on it heavily.

Finally the interadction between the individual personalities of the person and the dog are crucial. In the great dog-human teams, both parties are talented above average, but the interaction of their personalities and the resulting appropriateness of teaching methods each uses on the other (and if you don't think your tracking or herding or protection dog is training you to be a good partner, you are missing out on a lot !) is just as critical. Some trainers are only good with one type of dog and discard those they don't get along with. Some are more willing to try to figure each dog out and adjust to that dog. Sometimes even if the trainer is very adaptable, it's never going to be "a marriage of true minds", yet the same dog might be brilliant with someone else.

I've loved and trained dogs of both sexes. Their individuality has always been the most fascinating part of living with them and working with them.
"Bitches get things done !" (said Tina Fey). They do indeed, but so do male dogs.