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Dog training : differences between male and female dogs ???

question posed by Dr Patricia McConnell in Bark magazine, 2008

In Bark magazine , Dr McConnell discussed whether there are differences between male dogs and female dogs that affect training. Is one sex easier to train than the other.
Before writing that article, she posed the question on her own web site, https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/are-males-and-females-different-to-train in November , 2008. She got at least 48 replies (as of the time I posted my reply). Many replies gave great detail about individual dogs that the responded had lived with and trained. Overall the pattern emerges that differences between individuals are huge and that there is no clear pattern of male distinct from female.
Below is my own response, posted on her site July 13, 2009.


Dog training : differences between male and female dogs ???

question posed by Dr Patricia McConnell in Bark magazine, November,2008

with response by Pam Green, July 2009

Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, CAAB is an applied animal behaviorist who has been working with, studying, and writing about dogs for over twenty-five years. She encourages your participation, believing that your voice adds greatly to its value. She enjoys reading every comment, and adds her own responses when she can.

Dr McConnell's challenge :

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

my response :

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 desire 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. In my experience, 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 ?

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