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 the recent election?! I’ll tell you what my experience has been (and what I’ve heard others say so far) after I’ve gotten a good number of comments…
The face of Mike, shown below, is suggesting he’d love to know what you think. (owned by a great guy name Rich, from Chicago, Illinois, member of the Wisconsin Working Stockdog Association…
Well, I’ve had female dogs all my life and they have been great to train. Just got my first male dog…a rescue. He’s very affectionate but couldn’t care less about any training, even with treats. Not motivated by food at all. Also, doesn’t play the hide a seek game. He’s his own boy with his own mission in life. Granted, I didn’t get him until 7 months and the others I’ve had since puppyhood. Plus, being a rescue, who knows what is history was? We’re slowly working with him and I’m sure he’ll come around…he worships his female “sister” and I think he’s learning a lot from her (good and bad.)
I don’t think overall. A few girls seem to get distracted when in season but for the most part…no.
Kaiser Soze says
Considering I only had male dogs and this last one is the first one I embarked into the world of training with, I guess I’m not a very good test subject.
I noticed, however, that during the training classes it seemed easier to get the female dogs of the group to focus, as opposed to the male puppies, who were more interested in playing or barking at each other. Coincidence…?
Khris Erickson says
This is a fascinating question, and one to which I’ve never really given much thought.
I have had 4 dogs of my own (2 neutered males, 2 spayed females), several fosters, and several regular houseguests when dog sitting for friends.
Initially my thought was that there is no difference. But when I really analyze the dogs I’ve spent a lot of time with — not those I’ve encountered in the classes I teach, but those that I’ve lived with, I will say I think there is a minor difference.
I don’t think males and females need to be trained differently. The biggest difference I’ve seen is that it seems the females are a bit more independent. The females I’ve worked with seem to be more easily distracted by things going on in the environment, and the males more motivated to work with me. Although I would say I have had and have an excellent relationship with all my dogs, it seems as though the males are more dependent on me emotionally.
I’ve never lived with an intact male or female, so I don’t know how much of an impact that would have on training and relationship. I also wonder how much of an impact my own gender has on my dogs, and if men have a different experience…
Jennifer Bachelor says
I have trained and competed the only 2 master agility champion greyhounds. One being a male (Travis) who also had a CDX and the other a female (Katie) who also had a UD. I’m a big believer in looking at individuals as individuals. I used to be drawn to females and 6 years ago I would have told you that females are easier to train. The two greyhounds mentioned above (Travis and Katie) are passed away and retired now, respectively and I find myself with 2 new young greyhounds that happen to be female this time(Reagan and Riley). And while I focus on specific traits (food motivation, high energy, toy drive, high prey drive) when choosing which greyhound to adopt, I am always so amazed by how different they still are. Reagan is serious and usually civilized. She and Katie are how I would have describe females in the past. Riley and Travis are/were the goofy wild children with tons of energy. The work can be sloppy, but fearless and reckless. I used to think males were goofy and lazy, but Travis completely proved me wrong and I see a lot of him in Riley. So I say that the individual personalities are much more important than gender.
Mateus Freua says
I believe, with certainty, to have behavioral differences between males and females. Probably, due to genetic inheritance from life before domestication. In a pack of wolves the roles of males and females are very well defined and distinct.
Lenore B says
That question sounds so simple, yet answering seems complex. There are so many variables to consider… truthfully, every dog I’ve had has been from different breeds as well as different backgrounds. (I’ve been “owned by”, 6 males and 4 females, of which 7 were puppies and 3 were adults – all were spayed/neutered) I am not sure how to weigh sex or how much the sex of the dog contributed to how I trained them or how they performed. Very generally then, females seemed easier to train than males. They seemed to have a longer attention span and weren’t so hyper. When I’ve worked with other people, I haven’t given consideration to the dog’s sex.
Sabine from VA says
Let’s see. So far I had three male and five female dogs in my life. Each and every single one was unique and gave me different challenges. Without counting the two females who had to endure terrible abuse in their lifetimes and therefore had to be slowly rehablitiated, I would say the girls were easier to train for me personally. Maybe because I can relate more to a female mind than to a male’s. Who knows ?
My first girl was Cindy – a Dobibernesesheperdmountaindog (try to say that one fast!) I adopted her when she was eight months old and she turned into my absolute soulmate. We trusted each other like we wouldn’t trust anybody. I trained her all the way to Schutzhund II and that was about 35 years ago, when people didn’t have a clue about the canine psyche. Cindy was very much the kind of dog who would not take any harshness from anyone and she taught me kindness, patience and mutual understanding. She lived to be almost 15 and I do miss her terribly. Second girl was Purzi – a German bred standard wirehair dachshund with hunting lines to make a cheetah proud. Purzi was my constant companion, very independent and almost untrainable. She had hunting and tracking on her mind and was a better ratter than any dog or cat I ever knew. Purzi seemed my equal and we had a mutual understanding not to interfere with each other’s lives too much. 🙂
Then came Kelsie – a Dobi-Shepherd-Mix dog. She was to be euthanized because of severe behavioral problems and I wanted to save her and so I did. I spent two years working with this dog and she was the most neurotic thing I’ve ever seen. She was aggressive, and loyal only to me. She did not want any other animals or people near me. She tried to kill Purzi at some point and I had to keep them seperated. I came to the realization that Kelsie needed space to run and roam and that city life wasn’t meant for her. I took her up to MN, where a good friend hast a 100 acre horse farm and she still lives there happily ever after.
Next dog in my life was a standard poodle by the name of Giaco. I got him from a breeder where he would have been probably euthanized because he had juvenile cataracts and that made him almost blind. He had eye surgery, his eyesight was restored and he was the most joyful creature one could think of. Easy to train, always happy, always eager to learn something new and he was the friendliest creature – to people that is. He was quite the macho man when it came to meet other dogs and due to the fact, that he got pinned down by a couple of German Shepherds when he was a (blind) puppy, he never forgot about that incident and acted accordingly. It got better over time, but never really went away.
With Giaco I also had a 175 pound, intact, male great dane. Daytona came to us when he was almost 2 years old and he hasn’t had any training at all, other than stacking in a show ring.
He would jump up and knock over people and be very dog aggressive. It took me about a year of hard work and rehab to turn him into an award winning therapy dog.
After that I bought my first dog from a breeder. This one was planned and her name is Tessa and she is a Shiloh Shepherd. I had her from eight weeks on and she turned into the sweetest, most loveable thing ever. I call her my canine ambassador, because the three years she’s been with me she hasn’t put a paw wrong yet. Just amazing ! Makes me want to get puppies from now on, but as long as there are dogs in the shelter, that’s where I go to get the next one. :)) (She’s the one you are doing that panting contest with up on stage at the Woodbridge Seminar. )
Two years ago I also adopted a puppymill rescue. She was severely abused and never socialized. She still has issues and I think she has ADS. Bicalina is now an estimated 8 years old and has no attention span whatsoever. She is extremely insecure and fearful and I pretty much still try to explain to her, that human touch is not necessarily a bad thing. She’s a work in progress and has integrated into my little pack just fine. I’m confident that one day she’ll get better and until then I just take her the way she is.
Third member of my current pack is a retired wirehair dachshund show dog (7 years old) who listens to the nickname Rodmonster (His real name is Rodney). He is the type of dog who makes my hair turn grey. He is a true contender of his breed: Independent, fearless and aggressive.
He has been to hunting trials and that’s where he likes to be and where he blossoms. I love that little guy just for his spirit and wouldn’t want him any other way.
I also think ease of training or lack thereof has a lot to do with certain breed characteristics. A poodle is much easier to train than a dachshund. There’s an old German proverb about dachshunds: “The training of a dachshund has to start in his mother’s womb, and once he is born, it’s easier to catch birds with your bare hands than trying to teach him something”. (Losely translated……. )
It would be interesting to see what others have to say. In the horseworld it’s mostly always the stallions who impress the audience most. When they are brilliant, they are unbeatable. If you look at successful performance horses – most of them are male. Isn’t it the same in the dog world ? Most K-9 working dogs are male. It would be interesting to find out how that ratio is in other disciplines. Sheep herding, therapy, SAR……..etc. Maybe part of the reason, why males are used more for working is the fact, that one doesn’t want to deal with the cycle of a female during “working hours”. Can’t take a bitch in heat to work and expect the males around her to work with that kind of distraction around them.
In conclusion: I find the boys much easier to “deal with” and I find, that with girls you do have to compromise sometimes. There are certain parallels between the human and the canine kind. I like my girls ! 🙂
Kelly Ladouceur says
Interesting idea . . . and I’m not sure I truly have enough experience as a trainer to answer the question, but that hasn’t stoppped me before LOL Personally, I have found my males easier to train (as a breeder, my dogs are intact, and I do think that makes a difference – neutering dogs levels the playing field somewhat, IMHO). The boys are more biddable and more interesting in doing what I’m asking. The girls just barge full steam ahead, and take my wants into considering after the fact. And if the girls don’t wanna do it, they don’t. Give me boys ANY DAY!
This is fun! Keep ’em coming!
Very interesting question. Trisha, do you think the gender of the trainer could also affect male and female dogs differently in training? For example, do female dogs respond better to female trainers or male trainers?
Sabine from VA says
Hi Kelly – I do have to agree with you on that one. Once the dogs are spayed and neutered they sort of turn “neutral”. Amongst intact dogs I would agree with you: Males are easier to train, but only as long as there are no females in heat nearby.
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. Some girls are easier to train than some boys and vice versa. :)))
I don’t think they “need” to be trained differently, but I do think that they and their learning abilities are different, developmentally. Having trained both males and females, I do feel the females are sharper and quicker on the uptake and executions of concepts, while the males (who later, upon aging, have proven to be every bit as adept and intelligent as the females) spent quite a bit of their early education as major doofuses. I think it’s the typical “male vs. female” thing we’ve been exposed to all our lives- whether you’re a human or a dog the boys just don’t always develop, mentally, as quickly. I remember being a child, growing up with the boys, and noticing that they always struggled with math, spelling and grammar skills in school, until they reached a certain age, at which point they suddenly attained some instant burst of clarity. I suppose if one begins training at puppyhood, they do find subtle differences in male and female dogs, much the way training larger breed dogs is sometimes different (and difficult)- there is sometimes a point where the brain just hasn’t yet caught up with the growing body, and until it does, there’s a bit of lag-time as far as learning goes. It hasn’t made any of the male dogs (in my experience) inferior to the females, in any way, it just honestly took them longer to master the basics. And I’m comparing littermates, dogs of the same age, trained with the same person and the same methods. The males in my experience have not been any less willing, less interested or less eager to please, just appeared to be genuinely goofy for a while. That light, the “a-ha” moment, just doesn’t go on as instantaneously. Of course, the learning style and personality of the dogs does also have an affect on such things…
Jan Hutchinson says
Hi Trisha, Jennifer, Sabine and all,
I’m not qualified to address this question (I’m a dog lover & purely amateur trainer) but, I can share a little of my experience. I’ve always had female dogs prior to adopting Duke, a two year-old male GSD rescue, six days ago. We also share our home with Gracie, a happy blind senior female cocker. I have found female cocker puppies easy to train and willing to learn new hand signal-only commands later in life. After living together for many years we seemed to reach a level of familiarity that allowed us to communicate easily with each other. Only Gracie is left now and we’re back to sound signals.
We live along a large natural area where I’ve been walking Duke every day while we work on NOT pulling on the lead–this is a tough one. Yesterday I did one of those human things (agghh!) you mention in your books, Trisha, and he was able to slip out of his collar as we went through our gate into the large open lake area. Panic and dread nearly stopped my heart as I watched him dashing away from me. Of course, I started running after him calling his name. Of course, he found this a fine game and would eventually circle nearer to me only to dash away again. I just finished “The Other End of the Leash” and, thankfully, your words suddenly came to me. I stopped, leaned over and clapped, called his name and started running away from him toward our property and the open gate. Duke made a full speed U-turn and nearly ran me over bounding through the gate behind me. Words can’t express the relief and joy that I felt at that moment.
THANK YOU! I am so grateful for your wise words. I’m also fascinated with your work. I hadn’t practiced any recalls with Duke prior to this incident, an amateur mistake I now realize. (Yes, we are scheduled to start obedience training with a positive-reinforcement certified trainer in a few weeks. I also bought a martingale collar today at the trainer’s suggestion.)
Having lived with one male dog for a whole six days doesn’t give me much of a knowledge base (although I did grow up with five younger brothers–lol) but, some of the things other posters have said already ring quite true for me. I can agree with Jennifer’s observation about the maturing of large breed dogs and their brains not keeping up developmentally with their bodies. Her comment about males spending their early education as major doofuses certainly describes my GSD buddy. Duke is very sweet and IS best described as a big teen-aged doofuss.
I also agree with Sabine’s point about breed characteristics. I chose to adopt a GSD specifically because of breed characteristics and these must certainly be a part of Duke’s eagerness to please and quick ability to respond to a training technique. (I also considered several rescue dogs prior to choosing Duke; safe compatibility with my very small female cocker was a priority.) I know not every dog is necessarily representative of his or her breed but, we also have had first and every time success with your technique for stopping unwanted attention with the body-blocking/looking up and away. So do I have a smart dog or is it the no-fail techniques from the dog whisperer, or both? I’m just happy it works!
In Duke’s case, there’s not only the age, gender(also very recently neutered) and breed variables but, also the nurture variable. He definitely experienced abuse/neglect in his earlier life. Prior to coming into rescue I doubt he had any training and little, if any, socialization. He doesn’t seem too interested in toys so far, not even a kong stuffed with goodies. Unfortunately, he’s also lived in several different foster homes since coming into rescue and apparently was allowed to do a lot of play-fighting in his last home. He’s had some rudimentary obedience work with the various foster moms but, until now hasn’t had any long-term stability and has a long way to go in learning manners. He’s undoubtedly still timid, fearful and insecure given his history and is mostly a velcro dog in the house. His working desire to run patrol around our property and mark territory kicks in when we’re outside. His fear of being separated from his human, yet again, may have been the biggest factor in his running back to me when I started running away from him. How can we know? All I know is that he did it perfectly the first time–thank God!
As a former research nurse, I’m guessing you need some trials to truly answer this one. How else can you sort out the multiple variables? (I’m wondering if you already have some canine gender research to reference?) Anyway, that’s my six days and 50 cents worth. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to participate. I want to learn everything I can.
Amy Carlson says
I do MinPin rescue and am a vet tech and professional dog walker. I compete in agility and obedience and have owned mixes, a husky and I grew up with border collies on a farm. I see and handle tons of dogs. MY experience is that males are easier, hands down. I walk lots of different dogs in different settings/neighborhoods, where we meet lots of different dogs. While I may not be “training” the dogs I walk, I am certainly guiding them and working with them because I need them to be good dogs during my time with them. Males are easier. I don’t think I have to do anything differently, though, the tough males I get need the same guidance and help that the tough females need. I have trained many dogs in my life and I think the females learned at earlier ages, but the males in the long run were easier to work with. Less distracted, more likely to focus on me. I find males mature slower and do take extra patience because of that. I don’t think the males were more “loyal”, simply more willing to work, therefore easier to train. I found myself sometimes having to ask the females, where males were asking me to work…..sometimes. They all worked incredibly hard and currently my most accomplished performance dog is a female MinPin (top 5 agility MinPin last year), but only because she is the same age as my male and he needed more time to mature, I guess. I am currently bringing along a year old aussie/pap male who seems SO immature, but he spent his first 4.5 months in a shelter.
The dogs I have worked with are all neutered, with the exception of my family’s BCs, but I didn’t do much training with them.
Amy Carlson says
Just thought of something else. As I sat here wondering if REALLY females seem more difficult to me, I think of my days out walking dogs. When a strange dog approaches, I always ask if it is OK for my dog to greet that dog. When I hear it is a female I know I tense slightly.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily answer your question of whether there are differences in how I might train them, but it does mean I might approach or handle a female differently. My training method is probably similar with both sexes, but my handling might be slightly more intense with a female. I think I can demand more of a female at a younger age due to their maturing faster and I require a female to be a bit more attentive to ME because my experience is that females are more likely to get into trouble as they age. I think I can relax a little more with males, so I might not feel the need to demand such intense focus? I am sure my training method is the same with both, though, just perhaps slightly more intense with females. Do they perform differently? I think on average more males perform as if it pleases them to please me. I think on average females perform because they have been trained to and it is their job and they enjoy it, not necessarily because they are doing it for ME. Does that make any sense? (I had to add “on average” because it isn’t cut and dry and there are so many variations.)
I just know that I would not hesitate to say males are easier and why that is……….. I obviously struggled to put into words. LOL!!
Carmen Hurley says
I love this topic! This has been an area of interest to me for many years and I have found there to be a few differences, although of course it isn’t safe to generalize to all. My husband and I operate a training business and have also owned (or been owned by) several breeds of both sexes. The primary differences that I see come during the adolescent age period. Many females seem to be more easily able to focus and less distractable at an earlier age, whereas males seem to be aware of everything going on in their environment during their adolescent age period. Also,intact females can go through various mood swings which certainly affect their training and general attitude. I don’t see any need to use different training methods with either, but do find it helpful to be aware of the distractability issue during their younger years. I myself have a general preference for females because they seem to be a little more serious at a younger age and that fits my own personality. And of course I realize that my observations are not a one size fits all–there are males that are focused when they’re young and females very distracted by their environment. Looking forward to the article!
I think it is inevitable that, on average, training female dogs has to be a little different than training male dogs. Their brains were formed under the influences of different mixtures of hormones. Not to cite your own sources back to you, but I took away from Panksepp’s Affective Neurosciences that differences in hormonal and other body chemical loads will have effects. I believe there is some current research out suggesting that even birth order makes a behavioral difference. It does appear that I am equating behavior differences with training differences and upon reflection I think I am good with that. Although learning theory is learning theory, I think the trainee’s behavior will influence things like training duration, rate of reinforcement, etc.
Having said all of that, I do not believe that sex would be one of the top five things I would concern myself with in approaching training any particular animal. I think the variability in other genetic and environmental factors (temperament, drive, breeding, physical condition) renders the variability as a result of sex relatively inconsequential to training approach.
We have companion/agility dogs and have had dogs in our lives for 30 years and have always said — boys are sweeter but girls are smarter. No matter what rescue mixes we’ve ended up with we’ve found this to always be true. And in observing the many, many dogs we’ve encountered over the years in classes and in our friends’ homes, we’ve always found this to be true. Our girls may pick things up faster, but our boys have been easier to live with.
I have worked with other people training their dogs for ten years. As with most things, giving advice to help train other people’s dogs is easier than training the three of my own. In serious training, I’ve trained two — one neutered male and one in-tact female. I’m sure that their sex and state of “all togetherness” affects their training.
However, ancedotally, I find that their outlook on life affects how I train them much more than their sex. I really have tried to say to people that my female is harder to train, but she isn’t. She just came after the male was trained, and we knew each other, and she is simply different from the male.
Facinating to think about and discuss. My conclusion to date: every dog presents it’s own set of unique training strengths and challenges. What may be the most important factor in training the dog is my appreciation of his/her strengths and tolerance for his/her challenges.
hmmm… in thinking of not only my own dogs but those of my clients, I don’t see any difference in training between males and females.
Of course, I see differences between individual dogs — sometimes huge ones.
Now that we have a new pup, I’ve been reflecting on this, trying to figure out what the differences between the dogs has been, since this one seems to be a freakin’ genius.
We got a ‘late start’ with our other three. The first was a puppy-mill pup that we obtained at 6 months of age. We had so much backpeddling to do in order to get him socialized that we didn’t even worry about training for the longest time. Our second came to us at 5 months from a working mushing kennel — our first true working dog. It took us a heck of a long time to learn how to work with her, but when we did she took off running (pun intended). She’s super smart, and a mimic — but again, we got a late start. She’s not as quick to offer behaviors when training, seems to worry about not getting things right… she’s the one who turned me into a professional trainer! Our third came to us from the same kennel, at age two. Not one for offering behavior at all, and while he’s quick to learn once he understands what you’re trying to show him, it takes a bit for him to ‘get it’.
The new kid? Another sled dog from a working kennel. We started clickertraining him the second we picked him up, at 4 months of age, in a parking lot on the way home. He’s amazing. He’s so amazing that no one believes he’s only a puppy. Within a week, he’d built a default greeting sit and was house-trained. You only need to say his name once for him to race to you. He’s taught himself to lay on a mat and wait for dinner like the other kids.
When going back through lists of clients, the ones who I feel are the ‘Dog Geniuses’ are the ones that started training early and positively, with clicker training leading the pack. They seem to be pretty equally distributed between males and females.
I’ve concluded that the difference is: more mental stimulation and fun, positive training as early as possible. Pretty unscientific, purely anecdotal, but an interesting trend in my little corner of the world, wouldn’t you say?
Mary Beth says
Personally, not scientifically, I think females tend to be more stubborn and males tend to be more goofy…distracted, wanting to play. Really, I think some people interact more positively with males and some interact more positively with females. I love my boys. Girls drive me nuts! No mares allowed on this farm, and there’s only one female dog that I’ve ever fallen head over heels in love with(she’s stubborn!)
Out of intact animals, I see lots more misbehavior on the male side than female side. More marking and posturing out of the boys than the girls. Although I’ll counter that by saying I’ve never seen worse aggression than what you can see by 2 bitches challenging each other.
I’ll take my big goofy boys any day though.
I have found some differences in my dogs’ learning styles; I do not know if these differences are affected by the sex or individuality of each dog. I suspect it’s probably a little of both.
I find with my male GSD, he is very eager to learn and loves to ‘work’, but becomes frustrated easily when he doesn’t understand what is being asked of him. I sometimes feel that my male’s frustration inhibits his ability to learn. It’s like watching an athlete yell at themselves for a missing a shot, and then one mistake parlays into multiple mistakes. I litterly have to call a time out while training him, and ask him to do something simple (like sit), then after he has re-grouped we can continue – usually with a lot of success. I honestly believe he takes great joy in executing a trick correctly for the first time on his own – he has won the game.
My female GSD is far more laid back and patient when it comes to training. I also find with her that she picks up a lot of the behaviors that I ask of her by watching the male dog – monkey see, monkey do. This has afforded me a unique opportunity to employee my dog as my assistance in some instances, especially when introducing my female to unfamiliar and/or potentially frightening situations – getting in the car, getting in the bathtub, climbing the steps, etc. She sees the male climb the scary basement steps and get a treat, so she follows suit. Overall, I have found my female dog a little more aloof when it comes to training. She does what is asked of her, but is really just working for the treat not b/c learning is a fun game.
Judy Norton says
I have been a puppy raiser for an assistance dog school for 16 years. I’ve raised 8 puppies- 5 females and 3 males and really cannot say there’s been a difference in their trainability. There have been individual differences but I don’t think any were related to their sex. I will say that I think the males, on the whole, need more affection. The females enjoy affection, but aren’t as needy as the boys. If I was picking a puppy for myself, I would base my decision more on the individual’s personality rather than the sex.
All my dogs except one female have been spayed/neutered.
Here’s warm thoughts to you, Jim, Lassie and Will!
I have to agree with Jeff that gender really seems to play such a small role in comparison to other factors. Although with my three goldens, I will agree that “my boys” are love bugs and my girl Sage is her own woman, but I’ve seen really sharp and “trainable” females and really sharp and driven males. I think that drive and excitement to learn in a dog’s personality surpasses gender as a component to ease and success in training.
Ellen Morrison says
My mini wire Dachshund appears to be completely biddable, but it is a sham and she is a doxie thru and thru. The best training I ever accomplished was my enormous and devoted male English mastiff. He didn’t just look at me, he memorized me. He was easy to train, but would occasionally pull the “i can’t hear you, I’m sleeping” game which was essentially passive resistance at its most entertaining. Also, he would periodically ‘trump’ me if he thought someone or something was unsafe Generally the male vs female training traits I have noticed over the past 30 years were that the males were more focused on me and the females were continually assessing the variables in the environment (especially people, who were welcomed but watched closely if my children were around). Bless all of them.
Pam H says
I don’t have a large enough sample size to weigh in here, BUT two very successful obedience trainers I know STRONGLY prefer working with males (and each of them has seen hundreds if not thousands of dogs). I have witnessed some of what they don’t care for- the females tended to have more variable personalities (both intact and non-intact). Some of the “bitches” were shy, some headstrong, some (horrors) moody. The males seem to be more even keeled. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Then again I know a herding person that only works with females, though I’m not sure of her reason.
Can’t wait until Trisha weighs in!
Rachel H. says
My completely un-scientific and biased opinion about “boys” vs “girls” … I feel like girl dogs have a better work ethic, by which I mean they take their work a little more seriously than the boys do. On the other hand, I feel like the boy dogs have a better sense of humor, and don’t take offense as easily as the girls.
When I’m screwing up (as a trainer) I feel like the girls hang in there, hoping to last until I get my act together. The boys start acting goofy to shake things up. Neither is bad or good — just generic differences.
I have two pit bulls, a male and a female, and I do train them a little bit different, but how much of that has to do with sex and how much that has to do with them simply being different dogs with different motivations, drives, and personality I really couldn’t say.
My experience with female pits is that they’re more bossy than males, more prone to same-sex aggression, and more serious. But I don’t know if that is just sample size or holds true for the majority of the breed.
I think it depends more on breed characteristics. But, within a breed, and with individual variations/exceptions,* I think dogs are easier to train than bitches. Males will take orders once the trainer establishes himself as leader. They may occasionally challenge the authority figure, but when reminded who is in charge, they obey. Females are more likely to repeatedly question authority. It’s like the thought “Why should I?” is constantly going through their mind. (Not unlike humans?)
*Intelligence is a factor, but not related to gender.
I think a good majority of the time there is a noticeable difference when training with male and female dogs. I think you can always find a male or female that will work really well but I feel I have come to notice some general differences between sexes, at least with the breeds I most commonly handle (Malinois, Dutch shepherds, German Shepherds, labs, goldens, aussie’s, pitbulls, etc.).
I have found that females seem to be more sensitive to their handler and more in touch with them while training/working, while males seem to be more independent and more forgiving for mistakes while training. I think females also seem to bond stronger with their handler and are more willing or eager to please while males are a bit more of a challenge. Once a male’s drive, which I perceive to be naturally higher then a female, is focused and able to be maintained they are very willing to work but in a more independent nature whereas a female seems to generally be less drivey and more naturally focused on their handler or task at hand. I think a male is also more likely to challenge or question your handling skills.
Obviously all of these observations can be challenged this is just what I’ve gathered from my personal handling/training experience.
I don’t know if it’s safe to say which sex is “smarter” I think females generally seem to be more willing to please where a male seems more self interested or independent. What makes a dog smart anyway? One that is trained and willing to please or one that is able to figure out how to get around your training to do what it wants to do? Compliance vs. Intelligence.
I do find it ironic that most pet owners and even competitive owners I’ve talked with usually prefer a dog of the opposite sex and usually say they seem to bond more with them. When I first got exposed to Schutzhund and more protection geared sports I found that most trainers want a high drive male and say that a female of equal ability and drive is extremely rare but more enjoyable and able.
I own dogs of both sex and have experienced amazing relationships with both. I also think it’s possible to find dogs of equal quality and ability regardless of sex.
As a pet I prefer a female, as a working dog I prefer a male.
My girlfriend prefers males.
I’ve had 9 permanent dogs (5 male, 4 female) and countless transients during my life but I’m not a professional trainer or in any dog related field so my experience is limited. Since each dog has it’s own unique personality, it’s hard for me to say what role gender has played but, in general, I would have to say my males have seemed slightly harder to train. It’s difficult to explain. The males seem to be less patient, more excitable and more focused on the reward than on me. My females tend to pay more attention to me, like they are trying harder to ‘read’ me and don’t seem to be as easily frustrated. As a result, my training sessions may be shorter with the males when working on a new behavior. Each one has been so different in personalities though. It’s a tough question.
Gloria Shipman, CPDT says
I have owned 6 dogs (all spayed/neutered), 3 males, 3 females, currently have 4. I have also fostered 20+ dogs before they found permanent forever homes. I don’t think there is so much difference in training methods as there is in attitude in training. The females I have trained (in agility, tracking, obedience, field) project a more “what’s in it for me” attitude than my males. I use the same methods for both, but results come quicker with the males as they seem to do anything I ask just to be with me. I don’t see any differences in the end result, but I have to be more patient with my females to get it. They have to buy in to the whole game.
This is an interesting question. I have always had spayed female dogs, though my parents adopted a 3 yr. male chow-lab rescue about 18 months ago to go along with their ~ 12 yr spayed female chow. I have had two dogs, both adopted from the animal shelter. Morgan (who has since passed away) was my first and we did basic obedience and CGC training and this was my first real experience training a dog; other than housebreaking, we didn’t do much as kids with our collie-hound mix, german shepherd mix and black lab-wolfhound (?) mix.
I got Morgan (a german shepherd mix) when I was in grad school; she was 8 months old, but we didn’t take our first obedience class for another 2 years (and after I had been dragged across the parking lot one time too many!!). Abby is my current dog, who had been through 3 homes, and two shelter visits before I adopted her at 1.5 yrs. old. We started obedience (clicker) training when she was about 2 yrs old. Abby is a HOUND-mix and this time around I am more diligent about training. We have done CGC and are currently doing Rally. Abby is very food motivated and does have a stubborn streak in her. She needs to be “in training mode” in that we have the Rally collar and leash and the bagful of treats and minimal distractions in the form of squirrels and rabbits.
In thinking about all the dogs I have add and from the perspective that they are all spayed females, I definitely see some breed differences that would influence training. Of course this is hindsight and assuming that at the time I would have my current basis of training knowledge (not much, but at least I have the basics down). I think the lab mix “Middy” would have been the easiest to train. She loved tennis balls and playing fetch and would do anything to get her ball. With Morgan, my shepherd mix, I think if I had been more experienced (i.e. had a clue rather than being a raw beginner) we could have accomplished more. She was smart and willing to work and really seemed to be happy “being with me”.
Even though with Abby I know more, I have to work around the stereo-typical “hound traits” of stubbornness, limited attention span (at least with things not related to critters), and “mellowness” (i.e. you want me to move!?!, I’m really comfortable lying here, so until you show me a rabbit, I’ll just mosey along here).
I think the chow would have been the least trainable. She is not motivated by food, does not have a strong need for human affection (*she* will let you know when she wants petting, otherwise, just let her be), and is very content in her role of the sentry, lying on the floor where she can see all the comings and goings of the other beings (human or canine) in her world.
So my two cents worth would put more emphasis on the experience of the owner/trainer, the breed of the dog, and the age. I can see where age in conjunction with breed traits would influence how much the dog can focus and “get” what is being taught.
my intact boy SBT (almost 2) is a hundred times more biddable, smarter and trainable than my spayed female APBT. Cuddlier too.
I’ve only ever had boys until my most recent dog who is a girl. However, from observing and playing with many other female dogs out there, it does seem that the boys are sweeter while the girls are smarter lol. My boys didn’t get their brains (on average) until they were 3 or 4, whereas my girlie seems to have her brain fully functioning at only 18 months! haha, it’s interesting to say the least. There is definitely a difference between the affection aspect of my kids though. The boys are always ready for a cuddle, but Miss Rev would much rather play or eat something haha. Of course, you’ve always got the lurking variables of me being a better trainer now than I was with my three guys, and the fact that Rev comes from strong herding lines, whereas Toby, Rocky, and Chase don’t at all! Great topic though; in the end I have a feeling it comes down to the individual dog.
Janet V says
So many interesting viewpoints!
My immediate sample is very small: 3 border collies, 2 spayed females, one neutered male, but I’ve found the females much easier to train, at least when they were young. And that seems to jibe with my observations of friends dogs and dogs in classes.
Dear sweet (now 17 years old and “retired”) Maggie, always seemed to know what I wanted her to do before I asked. Very attentive and eager to please. A great agility dog in her day.
Also sweet, but “busy” Kody (female) now 14 years old. Very sensitive to sound, was dismayed at any harsh word, a natural athlete, would do anything for me.
Boone, the boy, 2 years old, cute as a button, the best cuddler of the bunch, and only now seems to be settling down and ready to concentrate.
The girls would learn new things in one training session at 6 months old. Boone is another story. Distracted, only cared about the treats, all over the place. But he is a joy to be with–a little comedian. Intensely loyal. A bit of a bossy boots. Has real potential in agility–I can see it, even if he can’t yet (too busy worrying/barking at the other dogs in class).
So, for me, girls learn faster and at a younger age. I think, though, that as Boone continues to mature, he will be the best trained of all of them.
Trisha, can’t wait to hear what you think! And, have you found that boys mature more slowly?
I have only had experience in training my own personal pets so I really dont have a broad range of experience on the subject. I imagine that breed, age and personality are the largest factors in trainablity rather than sex. However I also think that it makes sense that females would possibly be more mentally developed than males. I suspect this could even be true in many different animal species, when you look at the roles males v. females play. The males usually (in most not all cases) have the role of protector and mate, this doesnt take much brain but mostly brawn. The females have to be able to support not only themselves but they have the responsibility of birthing, protecting and raising their young. This definitely takes more skill and brain.
Susan Mann says
I think it varies a bit with breed- the breed where I see the biggest dimorphism in temperament is Rotties, although I’ve never owned one so can’t make a huge claim. I’ve never met a female rottie I wasn’t ready to fall in love with, and who wasn’t a sweetheart in a black and tan suit. I’ve met a number of male rotties who are jerks, though most of them have been unneutered, and owned by macho guys, which probably affects their training, or lack thereof.
In the BCs I’ve known, owned, or trained, males are simpler to deal with. What you see is what you get, pretty consistently. As one BC breeder/trainer put it, what you want with the girls is for them to focus on figuring out how to get the handler to do what she wants, rather than doing what she wants without the handler. They get creative.
Although she isn’t a BC, my Kyp! (best guess is Aussie/Spaniel) figured out how to open the fridge, freezer, cabinets, crate door, and front door fairly easily (NOT something I taught her!) and is my only dog who manages to unwrap herself from around trees and other obstacles- my males dogs couldn’t figure that out, even with coaching!
One comment that I heard recently is that with the males, you have to be more careful of what you click- once you click something, the males will give you exactly that, whereas the girls will expand on it. Not sure about this, would be interested in others’ opinions. Another comment I’ve heard is that if you want a good dog, get a male, but if you want a great dog, get a female and cross your fingers.
Susan Mann, Brodie, Kyp!, and Arie
I have glanced over the above comments hopefully to not be swayed and just write what I’ve experienced. I’m *not* an advanced trainer but I do generally live with 10-15 dogs at a time all in my house. I am involved in both GSP rescue and mixed breed rescue. I own 9 dogs broken down as 3 males and 6 females and today I have 15 dogs at my house the additional dogs are 2 males and 4 females.
When it comes to training I can’t imagine anything specific I’d do differently based on males and females based on managing a pack females take a bit more structure, especially when you have 10 of them all living together. I find my boys manage themselves, play and monitor themselves fairly well. My girls will get going and occasionally a power struggle starts to surface and I have to go put everyone in a sit and calm them down. Over 2 years of fostering and living like this it’s fairly consistent — when my pack sways more towards males it’s just a little more laid back when it’s heavier towards females we have to stay a bit more on top of things. The caveat of course being my dogs are mostly hounds, pointers, labs and mixes of the sort. Pack type dogs that outside of certain quirks regarding food or space do well in a multi dog setting.
Training seems to depend so much more on breed, history, and personality. I have one female who can’t even process training unless she’s had a good hour of running and even then we need a lot of reinforcing to keep her focused as she’s my space cadet. I have another girl who is so dang sensitive if I’m not in the *best* mood ever I might as well not work with her b/c she will surely think I’m upset and shut down. I’ve raised her from a pup and she’s been this sensitive from day one. I have a male who is just a dope, not all that driven and once he learned shake he decided to just default to that every time — “hey I’ll try this first, see if I get the cookie, then I’ll just lay down and see if that works” he’s just a mellow guy. And then my other male is driven if we’re not working at 100MPH he’s bored. All of these dogs require things on an individual basis based on their needs not their genders.
And fosters outside of general pack structure I’ve seen eager to please males and females, aloof males and females, dogs of both genders who have learned to seek negative reinforcement vs no reinforcement in neglectful homes or homes with no time for them. In the breed I’m most familiar with the GSP I’ve seen many of both genders and no consistent pattern in gender. I look forward to what you write!
I find my boy is very much a clown during training and gets awfully goofy, while my girl is very serious. However, given breed traits and such, I’m not horribly surprised at this. I’d like to through another question into the mix. I have an human education background, and this came to mind while reading. How much are the dogs living up or down to our expectations? If we perceive males as more immature, do we expect less of them while training and vice versa?
Pam Green says
I read the article in Bark and made notes of points I wanted to raise.
Easier to train ? Easier to train for WHAT ???? One distinction that can greatly affect ease of training is whether you are training for something the dog was bred to do and that the dog finds intrinsically rewarding (“it feels good to his genes”), such as herding , tracking, retrieving, hunting, digging for varmits, or doing protection work, or whether you are training for a behavior for which the dog does not have any intrinsic desrre and thus for which the rewards are extrinsic, ie must come from the trainer. For the feels good to his genes activities, the dog usually is bringing you his natural desire and natural style and your job as trainer is to modify that somewhat, discouraging some things he’d enjoy doing (eg biting sheep or running too close to sheep) , encouraging other things, and maybe showing him some things he might not have thought of on his own.
Easier to train ? What is your standard of sucess ? How WELL does the dog have to perform ? Getting the basics done to a moderate standard can be easy, but going to a world class standard is always difficult even with a marvelous dog and a brilliant trainer who are personally well matched .
Training for real work or training for competition ? The realities of a herding dog on a farm are different and more varied than the work of a trial dog. I’d say the ranch dog has to be smarter and more self-reliant than the USBCHA trial dog. The Police K9 has to be a lot smarter and more versitile than the Schutzhund or French Ring dog (and I’ve titled dogs in both sports). The Search and Rescue dog has a much more varied and complicated job than the TDX or FH competition dog.
Ease of training depends on whether the trainer is using a method that is well suited to this particular dog. The trainer’s own personality and intelligence come into this. The personality match and “chemistry” between the two come into this. The trainer’s ability and willingness to change tactics in response to the dog’s responses comes into this.
Our human cultural perceptions of what is masculine and what is feminine are highly relevant to how a person percieves a particular dog. My bitch Chelsea was believed by every man who met her to be a male. She gave them her “go ahead, make my day” look or her condescending “you are hopelessly my inferior look but I will be gracious to you anyway” look, and most men felt intimidated by her, therefore assumed she just had to be male. My boy Bones often was believed by people to be female, probably because he loved attention from strangers and his tactic was to lean delicately against their leg and look up at them wistrully and tell them that “no one at home cares about me or understands me ; won’t you give me a crumb of your attention ?” (He was a complete con artist.) Both these Bouvier were titled in herding , tracking , protection, obedience, and were accomplished in additional fields. Both were intelligent and thoughtful, rock-solid bombproof stable, and very self confident. Chelsea had greater herding talent than Bones, but I knew more and had better mentoring when I trained him, so he gained higher titles. He had greater talent for “manwork” than she did, but she bit the bad guys as much to please me as to please herself. In tracking they had equal talent, but I was a better trainer and handler for Bones. They were both “once in a lifetime” dogs and both “soulmate” dogs.
More than a hundred dogs have been fostered and placed by me in past 20 years. and maybe a dozen have been long time companions, about equally divided between males and females. the individual differences in personality far far outweigh the gender factor.
As to “dominence”, I have noticed that it is very rare for someone to tell me they are afraid of their own bitch, but alas not so rare for them to be afraid of their own male dog. I tend to think that a bitch who wants to get her way with her people will resort to manipulating and outsmarting them (Chelsea could have given lessons to Machievelli) rather than to intimidating confrontations. Males, especially as they come to age of social maturity , are more likely to try to win through intimidation.
As to “stubbornness”, a good working dog must have the virtue of persistance. The difference between a dog being labled and criticised as “stubborn” versus being labled and praised as “determined” really depends only on whether the person speaking disapproves or approves of the behavior the dog is persisting in. The terrier digging a hole a mile deep to pursue a gopher is likely to be called stubborn. The SAR dog digging through avalanche snow with bleeding paws towards a buried victim is likely to be praised for heroic determination.
I know I tend to consider bitches to be “more serious” and “more down to earth” , but that is partly Chelsea’s indominable impression on me. And of course biologically a female mammal has to be more of a realist than a male : she works for survival of herself and her offspring, while he is often playing for status . and , like anyone, I am also subject to cultural bias. as a hard liner flaming fifties (1950s) feminist, I naturally expect a bitch or a woman to be self assertive and highly competent.
Now Dr McConnell, if you REALLY want to stir up some controversy, just ask two questons “: (1) are men or women harder to teach as training students ? and (2) are men or women better trainers ?
Miss Cellany says
Reading through these comments I’ve noticed that male trainers tend to be saying Females are more focused / willing to please, males are more independent / stubborn, and female trainers seem to be saying the opposite (males are more willing to please and females are more independent).
It almost seems like male dogs take instruction better from female trainers while female dogs take instruction better from male trainers…
If that’s the case perhaps I should get another male dog instead of the female puppy I was considering…
Jillian Walker says
I’ ve had bitches and puppies and one male dog there all the same really depending on how much effort your wiling to put into training them. I find females are more obedient then male dogs i suppose its like men in general they have attendance to wonder. That’s why training is good all though male dogs may take more time they can be trained differently like rewarding with treats and getting them to focus on curtain tasks as to keeping a lead handy if indeed, tend to wonder just scratch behind there ears and near their coccygeal dogs they work really well when you reward them in a positive way.