Differences between Male and Female Dogs

April 01, 2016

--By Pete & Julie Morrill

First of all, there are definite stereotypes about dog genders and these stereotypes can be very helpful. However, keep in mind that every dog is different, so we're going to tell you general terms what we believe are the strengths and weaknesses of both male and female dogs. Remember that we’re only speaking of Labrador Retrievers, since they are our field of expertise. Also, be aware that both male and female dogs can undergo a significant change in temperament after being neutered or spayed. Because of this, we'll tell you about intact males and females, since their gender differences are more pronounced.

Male Labs

The Positives:

  1. Fun-loving: Male dogs often see humans, and especially children, as playmates.
  2. Determined & Focused: When it is time to work, we find males can sometimes be more intense on retrieve and are less invested in the social side of life.
  3. Tough & Strong: Often males can take more all-around wrangling and pressure from the elements (rain, wind, cold, snow, etc.) then females. If you're hunting your dog in rough terrain, really cold water, and in tulles, a male dog will do a little bit better, because he's a little tougher and stronger than a female dog.
  4. Less Sensitive: Being less sensitive can sound like a negative, but it comes in handy when training, since you can usually correct them without getting their feelings hurt. Correct a male dog with a quick, sharp, growly "No" and he'll typically shake it off and make the correction. We often find that men or especially tough women train male dogs more easily, because it's a more natural fit for them.
  5. Classic looking: Males generally weigh 10-20% more than females and have a blockier, squarer head and a broader chest than the females.
  6. Neutering: Interestingly, once a male dog is neutered, most or all of the negative characteristics disappear. Neutering a male is also less invasive and less costly than spaying a female.

The Negatives:

  1. Wandering: Some male dogs are wanderers. This is more true of intact males, since their sense of smell leads them to seek out females in heat.
  2. Aggressive: Male Labs can be outgoing, assertive and demanding of attention in an unintentionally clumsy manner. This seems to be fine for most adult human companions, but could be seen as a negative around children, because a larger male dog can accidentally knock over small children. They can also be prone to aggression and getting into fights with other male dogs, especially when there's competition for food or other females.
  3. Stubborn: Some males can be more stubborn and rebellious, which means you'll need to be tougher and more assertive in their training. This is also where we have found that male trainers often do a better job of training male dogs, because they're not as afraid to train with "tough love."
  4. Territory Marking: Males also tend to mark their territory by urinating on things. Thankfully, neutering can greatly reduce this habit.

Female Labs

The Positives:

  1. Gentle: Females often want to be in closer contact with their owner and seek his or her approval.
  2. Nurturing: Almost any dog can be a loving companion for a child. Nevertheless, some believe female dogs make a better choice for children because they may be more naturally nurturing and protective of young ones, even if they are from another species.
  3. Agile & Athletic: Because of their lighter build, many of our female Labs are not muscular and bulky, but they are athletic, lean and excellent runners. They can also be better in agility and stronger in stamina, making them a great choice for a hunting dog in the upland field. They can make good duck hunting dogs, as well, but they won't be able to withstand extreme temperatures and cold water as well as a male with more muscle on him.
  4. More Sensitive: When it comes to training, when a female dog needs correction, it usually doesn't take much more than a slight change in tone of voice. We often find that women or especially gentle, patient men train female dogs more easily.
  5. Smaller: Our female American Labrador Retrievers are about 15-20% smaller than our male Labs. Many owners prefer this, because they want a more compact dog that will fit into cars, offices, or smaller homes. Female Labs also tend to have narrower heads, smaller chests, and longer, slimmer noses.

The Negatives:

  1. Crankiness or Moodiness: We call all of our female dogs “dams.” It seems less sexist to us than using that “other” term. However, there is a possible reason for the “witchy” with a “b” label given to female dogs. They can tend to be hostile toward other people and animals (of either gender) when they’re in heat. They also tend to be more hostile toward other females at any time, depending on their mood, but especially when they are protecting their pups or competing for food. Some female dogs can be more cranky than males for no apparent reason, but it is usually due to hormonal fluctuations.
  2. Touchy: Some females are more physically sensitive and environmentally aware than males. This is especially true of unspayed females during breeding, when they are not ready or willing to be with a mate. They have been known to bite and growl at any male dog that comes near them. Humans should beware during these times, as they can be the brunt of cranky growls and bared teeth. Females can also be very easily angered when they are caring for or guarding their pups. Growls and barks are not uncommon, and some have even been known to bite.
  3. Overly Sensitive: When correcting a female dog in training, she can get her feelings hurt very easily, which means she'll mope around with her tail between her legs and not really want to finish her training session. If you are a very gentle, patient, soft-spoken trainer/owner, you might prefer a female dog. Many female dogs cannot withstand loud noises or a raised voice. In some cases, too much of an angry voice in disciplining a female dog can damage her feelings long-term and make her far more difficult to train. When in need of correction, female dogs often require a soft, gentle voice. Sometimes it's best to cut a session short and save the lesson for another day when a female dog gets her feelings hurt with a correction. Impatient dog owners might be tempted to give up and quit training or they indulge their dog too much, giving in to her desires instead of maintaining the fact that they are the trainer and in charge.
  4. Lawn Damage: A female dog's urine is usually more acidic than a male's. Consequently, when a female urinates on a lawn, it creates unsightly brown, burned-looking spots.
  5. Spaying: Spaying a female also tends to neutralize most negative behaviors, causing her to be less moody, cranky and touchy. It also seems to make her less aggressive (which is usually only with other female dogs). However, spaying a female is more invasive and more costly than neutering a male.

When it comes to buying a dog, Pete always says to choose the dog that best fits the type of trainer you are. Pete personally prefers training male Labs, because he has a naturally louder, deeper voice and he's a very direct trainer who likes to give his dogs real correction without having to worry about hurting their feelings. That said, he has some male dogs that are more sensitive, so he has to lighten up with them and be a little more sympathetic. On the other hand, he trains some female dogs that are just as hard-charging (and hard-headed) as some males. Pete compares male Labs and female Labs to coaching a girls' basketball team vs. a boys' basketball team. Girls can be more sensitive and sometimes they're all going to have a bad day when they're not feeling good about anything and the next day they'll be all lovey dovey and a lot more appreciative of life and one another. It takes a little more finesse and patience to coach a girls' team, but if you take the time to connect with them relationally, they're going to listen to you a little bit better. A boys' basketball team may need less emotional support, but they will be so pumped up to play and win the game, they may not listen to your coaching, make more mistakes, and require more correction.

So, that about sums it up. Male and female dogs are different in ways that can be strikingly similar to humans. Bear in mind that there can also be temperamental differences that have nothing to do with gender. One dog may be more independent and not enjoy being pet, where another dog will crumple and roll over on his belly the second you pet him. One dog may be very people-focused; another may be more excited about retrieving and hunting. One dog may be high in energy; another may be more calm and laid back. To search for these traits, be sure to read extenively about a litter's sire and dam, as well as grandparents, if that information is available. And feel free to ask us questions. Just like humans, our canine daughters tend to resemble their mothers in appearance; the sons tend to resemble their fathers. But, when it comes to personality, they could take after either father or mother and those characteristics don't always become apparent until they're about 7 weeks old. Sometimes you won't get the most perfect match, but we do the best we can to help you choose the dog that will best fit your family's needs.


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