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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.