Last updated on April 18th, 2023 at 04:34 pm
When we think about the type of dog we want to adopt, we often consider whether we want a male or female. And in some cases, we may not care at all about the sex of our dog and focus more on the dog’s personality. Even so, when adopting a dog we will usually want to know if it is male or female. Therefore, we may wonder if our dogs know their gender.
Even though we like to project our human concepts onto our pets, dogs do not really know their own gender. Dogs do not really think about who or what they are, but react to stimuli and others in their environment in an instinctive way. In other words, dogs “do” rather than “think” about who they are in relation to the world and others.
Since we have such a strong sense of personal identity which often involves our gender, you may find it curious that this seems to be a non-issue with dogs. Keep reading to learn more.
Do Dogs Really Know if they are Male or Female?
Dogs really don’t know if they are a “boy” or “girl” dog any more than they have a personal sense of “self”. As an example, dogs will respond to their name when being called, but they do not actually identify themselves with a particular name. Hearing their name does not define who they are, but how they respond when they hear their name being called. You can read more about dogs and names in my post, “Is it Okay to Change Your Rescue Dog’s Name After Adoption?”
Dogs are Biological Rather than Cultural Beings
To carry out their basic sexual instincts, dogs will sniff other dogs as well as places where dogs have urinated to determine who has been there and whether they were male or female. A male dog will certainly be interested in a female dog who is in heat and may show aggressive tendencies toward other males in the area.
When dogs are neutered or spayed, these interests in the opposite sex may be lessened due to the reduction in sex hormones. However, they will usually remain at some level.
Having said that, an interesting phenomenon exhibited by both males and females is the action of “humping” as well as marking their territory. Both males and females will exhibit this behavior. According to vets and behavioralists, humping is not necessarily a sexual activity but one of general excitement and sometimes dominance. This would explain why females hump as well especially when playing or play fighting.
Marking territory by urinating is also something that has more to do with leaving their calling card rather than soliciting sexual activity. See my humorous post about How Dogs Get the Daily News for more insights.
The Human Definition of Gender
The notion of gender is actually a human construct based on our social interaction with others. Gender is how we perceive our identity in the context of a social structure and often how we are seen by others.
Webster–Merriam’s medical definition of gender as a noun is: the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex. But Webster-Merriam also describes how the term was used starting with the 15th century. It began as a sub-class (female) description. But the modern-day interpretation has more to do with self-identity.
This definition is based more on presiding cultural norms than on biological sexual differences. Therefore, a dog would not have any sense of gender identity based on our human interpretations. Dogs react to biological stimuli and their basic instincts rather than any sense of identity as a male or female.
A study that was done at the University of Davis, California noted that on average, male dogs tend to be more aggressive than females. They also noted that female dogs tended to be more affectionate than male dogs. However, all behavioral differences varied significantly more depending on breed and environmental factors. Therefore, the sex of a dog was only one of many variables which molded behavior.
Adopting Dogs of the Same Gender
Many articles warn dog owners not to adopt dogs from the same litter. They especially warn to avoid adopting littermates of the same sex. Supposedly, adopting littermates will cause them to bond with each other and not with you. Additionally, if they are of the same gender, especially female, they may become territorial and fight as they mature.
Related post: Should I Adopt a Bonded Pair of Rescue Dogs?
First of all, dogs do not really know their gender. So adopting two females or males at the same time does not matter. Additionally, if adopted shortly after being weaned, they will learn to bond with their human family. And thirdly, any dogs who are similar in age may engage in territorial behavior. This is a maturation process similar to human teenagers trying to find their way in the world.
I have personally raised two sets of female litter mates at different times, who got along famously. Yes, they bonded very closely with one another. And, they also had some serious spats as they reached maturity. But it was more about growing up than about gender. Both sets of dogs worked through it with the help of a trainer in one case.
My current female littermates have their little arguments. But they also have their sweet moments of affectionate licking and grooming of one another. And, they love to snuggle up on the couch together every evening before bedtime.
They are also very bonded to me as well. So, I think it is a myth that dogs of the same sex cannot get along. They really don’t seem to care or even know that they are both females.
Dogs do not have a sense of their own gender. And, they really don’t care if they are male or female. Rather, dogs act on their biological instincts and not some pre-conceived identity that humans may bestow upon them.
So, if you accidentally call your pooch pretty boy instead of pretty girl by mistake, she probably will not notice!
Deanna Euritt is a dedicated dog enthusiast with over three decades of experience in raising and training a diverse range of dogs, including many rescue pups. Her practical expertise is rooted in real-life experiences, where she has successfully navigated the challenges of nurturing rescue dogs into confident, well-adjusted companions. Residing in Northern California, Deanna’s days are filled with adventures along trails and beaches with her beloved dogs, Charlotte and Georgia. In her writing, she offers insightful, compassionate advice to fellow dog lovers, leveraging her extensive personal journey in the world of dog care and training. See About Us.