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The Sexes - Male V Female

Many potential pet owners call me looking for a female puppy.   These people usually tell me that they believe female puppies are more docile, sweet and loving and that they will not exhibit dominant (alpha) behaviors such as aggression, urine marking or "humping".  Unfortunately, this is not true.  Problem behaviors can be an issue no matter what sex of dog a potential buyer chooses.   To avoid nasty surprises after the purchase of a puppy, it's vital that potential puppy buyers realize that the idea that all little girls are made up of "sugar and spice and everything nice" is (at least in the dog world!) a myth.  

Many female dogs actually have dominant personalities/temperaments and can be stubborn, difficult to train, territorial and more independent than male dogs.  In fact, female dogs often exhibit behaviors that prospective buyers tell me they were hoping to avoid by purchasing a female!   The top of the list here is urine marking.  Most people believe that claiming territory by urine-marking is only a problem with male dogs.  This is completely inaccurate.  Many females will claim territory by urine-marking, but because they do not generally "hike" their leg, owners don't always realize they are doing so. 

Dominant males and females will claim items or territory by marking physical boundaries and possessions with small amounts of urine.  This behavior is typified by the dog releasing small amounts of urine in a number of different places.  This is usually easy to identify if you walk your dog, as the dog will stop and urinate frequently, even if it has already released significant amounts of urine. 

Besides the frequency of urination, there is another common scent-spreading behavior that owners of dominant dogs may observe.  This behavior is the distribution of scent by the dog digging and spreading ground that it has urinated on.  This behavior looks like the dog is pushing its rear feet backwards repeatedly after it urinates.  The reason the dog does this is to spread its scent and "claim" that area.  This behavior is often seen in males AND females!

Keep in mind that most canine behavioral problems can be overcome or avoided with proper training, but if buyers of female puppies are uninformed about the possibility of having to deal with a dominant dog, they may be unprepared to deal with the training challenges that such a dog would present. 

That Sweet Little Girl:

To help debunk the "sweet little girl" myth, let me start by explaining a few things about dogs and their social (pack) order.  When dogs are in a wild pack (family group), it is usually the alpha female that is "in charge" and who makes the important decisions regarding the packs living quarters, which females are allowed to breed and, in general, that maintains order within the group.    The alpha male will protect the pack, lead the packs hunting forays and joins the alpha female in eating first, sleeping in the the choicest location and in breeding, but he will defer to the alpha female in many situations.    (As my husband says, it's just like human social interaction!  Along these same lines, there is a REASON why people use the female dog term "bitch" in a negative way!)

Female dogs are more likely to want (need!) to be the pack leader and will instinctively try to "take charge" at the least hint of weakness or in any situation where there is a lack of strong leadership.  They will also guard their position, possessions and territory vigorously (more so than most males).  This means they are more likely to exhibit alpha behaviors such as humping, growling, and with other animals, trying to "stand over" a new or more submissive pet to stake their claim or enforce their position.  ("Standing over" refers to a behavior wherein the dominant dog comes up over, or stands on, the shoulders/back of another animal to show dominance.) 

Physical aggression (fights) are more common between 2 female dogs as they may constantly vie for the alpha position.  Males, on the other hand, will usually be submissive to a female dog in the household (pack) and will rarely challenge this order.  Two male dogs living together are also less likely to fight as, once they have an established pack order, they're usually happy to get on with playing and having a good time.   (Please keep in mind that the above statements are generalizations - there are always exceptions to the rule and some dominant males will fight with a dominant female and a submissive female may always be lower in the pack order than a dominant male.)

My Opinion:

Let me reiterate here that problem behaviors can occur in any pet that is not properly trained.  The point of this article is not to convince anyone to buy a male puppy instead of a female puppy or vise-versa.  My intention is merely to point out that both sexes have unique advantages and challenges and prospective buyers should consider ALL of these points when contemplating the purchase of any puppy. 

In my opinion, the most important considerations when purchasing a family pet are the temperament/personality of a particular puppy and how this puppy will fit into your family's lifestyle and schedule (will it be YOUR family's "perfect" pet?)  To me, the dogs color, sex and/or size should be of minimal importance. 

  • MALE DOGS - I find male dogs to be more loving, attentive, eager to please, silly and needy.  They tend to be very attached to their family and more accepting of strangers, other pets and children.  Boys need to be with their people and to feel included in the family routine.  Males will often sneak into your lap, push their head under your hand for petting, lay on your feet and otherwise demand attention.  Most males will stay close at hand, just waiting for you to notice that they are there and need a belly rub!  They are less moody than girls, more willing to submit to training and lower positions of rank within the dominance hierarchy and are more willing to stay in this lower rank without challenging for a higher position.  Males generally make steadfast, reliable and loyal companions.  

    Training is usually relatively simple as most boys are easily motivated with food and praise.  However, they can also lose focus if it appears that something more fun is happening somewhere else!  Males tend to remain exuberant and puppyish their entire lives, enjoying games and other fun activities well past their prime. 

    I recommend neutering your male puppy between 5 and 6 months of age to eliminate sexually based "humping", the tendency to wander and hunt for females and the claiming of territory (hiking of legs and aggressive/possessive behavior).  Many neutered males never learn to lift their leg when neutered early and this procedure can help minimize/eliminate/prevent other dominant behavior problems. 

    On average, male Cockers will be about 1 inch taller at the shoulder and slightly heavier than females.  The breed standard states that adult males should be 14 1/2" to 15  1/2" at the shoulder with females being 13 1/2" to 14 1/2" at the shoulder.  Most of my boys will be 18 to 25 pounds and around 15" at the shoulder.  I do have some that run larger, but there are also some that may be smaller. 

    THERE ARE NO "MINIATURE" OR "TOY" COCKER SPANIELS!!!!  The AKC/American Spaniel Club breed standard specifies the sizes above as the correct size for American Cocker Spaniels.  Any dog measuring above the height limit is considered over-sized and this is an automatic disqualification in the show ring.   Dogs that are under the minimal specified size are to be penalized in the show ring for being too small.  Responsible, ethical breeders breed for dogs that meet the breed's size requirements and do not try to make a buck by breeding/selling/advertising dogs as miniatures or toys!

  • FEMALE DOGS - Females tend to be more reserved and dignified, less out-going with strangers and may be moody and stubborn.  They can be more of a challenge to train as they sometimes believe they know what you want better than you do!  They do tend to stay focused better on the task at hand, but may also get bored with repetitive activities and may rush to get done so they can take another nap.   Females may seek and enjoy your attention, but once their need has been fulfilled, they're off to other interests.   Girls may be loving and attentive, distant and reserved or grumpy and uncooperative as the mood strikes them.

    Females can be extremely clever and inventive when it comes to getting their own way.   They are less likely to stage an outright war with their human owners, but are geniuses at convincing you that you really wanted to go left instead of right and that a walk was YOUR idea (even though she brought you the leash and pushed the door open!).   Dominance battles with females are most often markedly quiet, personal conflicts.  The female dog may have one or two or more individuals that she has an issue with and the interaction with these people may be decidedly hostile, grudgingly cooperative or she may ignore these interlopers in her life to the best of her ability.

    Your female puppy will need to be spayed as soon as possible to avoid temperament and other problems tied to reproductive issues.   An intact female dog goes "into season" about 2 times a year, with the first season usually beginning between 6 and 12 months of age.  When a female dog has a season, there will be a period of approximately one to four months in which the dog will have fluctuating hormones and bodily changes.  You may see mood fluctuations in the female and increased attentiveness of male dogs for as much as 30 days prior to a female's actual season.  Once the female's season begins, she may be cranky, she may look for ways to escape confinement and she may become sexually aggressive (humping people, furniture or other pets).  For more information on females in season, check out my FEMALES in SEASON page.

    On average, female Cockers will be about 1 inch shorter at the shoulder and slightly lighter than males.  The breed standard states that adult females should be 13 1/2" to 14  1/2" at the shoulder.  (males are 14 1/2" to 15 1/2" at the shoulder).  Most of my girls will be 15 to 22 pounds and around 14" at the shoulder.  I do have some that may be smaller, but there are also some that may be larger. 

Choosing Your Puppy:

The best advice I can give on which sex of dog is right for a particular family is to forget the sex of each dog entirely and base your puppy choice on the personality/temperament of a particular dog.  The second bit of advice I will give is to listen to your breeder.  A responsible, knowledgeable breeder should be able to give you a reasonably accurate assessment of the personality/temperament of each puppy.  

Remember that you will only get out of your puppy/dog what you put in.  ALL dogs will require training to be trustworthy house companions and buyers must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to get their dog house and potty-trained.   Training is ALWAYS the key to successful dog ownership.   I recommend all puppy buyers enroll their new pet in a puppy kindergarten class and follow this with a basic obedience course once the puppy is 6 months of age.  I recommend that buyers of older puppies or adults enroll their new pet in at least one basic obedience course.


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Last revised: January 10, 2006