Male vs Female Hunting Dogs | Which is Better?

When it comes to selecting the right dog for bird hunting, there is plenty of advice on the best breed, best size, or best temperament. But what about choosing the right sex? All experienced dog owners know that male and female dogs have different behavior patterns and can act even more differently after being neutered. Taking these factors into account when choosing your hunting dog can make all the difference. Is a male or female dog better for bird hunting? 

There is no superior sex when it comes to a dog’s hunting ability.  Don’t listen to anyone saying categorically males hunt better than females or vice versa.  Most people vote for a sex based on their own experiences on the small sample size of the dogs they have interacted with.  While sex doesn’t dictate hunting ability, there are differences between the sexes that cause many to form a preference.  Key among these differences are size, heat cycles and marking. 

Let’s explore each:

Size Matters to Some: Male dogs are larger than their female counterparts.  Some like males because they prefer a bigger dog to handle bigger game (males of smaller breeds could be capable or retrieving game their smaller female counterparts cannot) or tougher conditions (stronger males can break cover easier than their female counterparts).  Others prefer a female as their smaller size means they take up less space (less space in the bed, smaller creates in the truck, etc) and are easier to lift (into the truck onto the vet table, etc).  Obviously, if you aren’t stuck on a particular breed you could choose a female of a larger breed or a male of a smaller breed to get the desired characteristics in this category.

Female dogs and Heat Cycle: if you keep your female intact you have to deal with this usually twice a year.  Heat cycles officially called estrus cycles can impact your ability to hunt and train with male dogs and run in most hunting dog trails and completions as females in heat are usually prohibited.  Having a female in heat is more than distracting to male dogs. There can also be varying amounts of discharge/bleeding with the estrus cycle that some would rather avoid.  You can avoid all this if you don’t plan on breeding your dog by getting her spayed.

Male Dogs and Scent Marking : Many people who hunt with dogs find male dogs’ tendency to scent mark frequently can be distracting and even a little annoying. It can be time-consuming if you have to wait for them to wander around spraying their territory and it could even startle potential prey. A dog who is busy concentrating on urinating everywhere might not be focused when you need him which can be frustrating when you have a job to do. The majority of people who hunt with male dogs are not usually put off by this and simply take it as one of the tendencies of the dog which they workaround. Waiting for them to pee is a small price to pay for a dog who is obedient and willing to give their all when you need them. This factor is largely down to personal preference as what some find annoying will mean nothing to others. It is simply a matter of taste.

Are Female Dogs More Intelligent Than Males?

Female dogs mature more quickly than males which can be a huge asset when it comes to training. The earlier your dog can fully understand the ground rules the quicker you can get their training off the ground. Female dogs are definitely easier to train than male dogs of the same age, although this difference will even out as they age as long as you are prepared to wait for your boisterous male puppy to mature. It is not that female dogs are more intelligent, they are simply ready to work at an earlier age as they mature faster.

Are Female Dogs More Temperamental?

Some female dogs can seem to experience “mood swings” where they seem temperamental or simply off their game. This can differ from breed to breed but in general, it is less common in males. Certain laid back breeds, like retrievers, seem to show less difference between males and females whereas in dominant breeds the female can be more easy-going and forgiving. Female dogs are sometimes said to be more protective of their families, including their owners, as the urge to look after their litter is transposed to their human family. However, this evidence is mostly based on anecdotes as there is little scientific research to back up the claim.

Are Male Dogs More Obedient?

Male dogs can be more affectionate than females as bitches can be a little independent. When it comes to obedience, both are as willing as the other providing your training techniques are effective. Some prefer independence in a hunting dog as a female dog is not as needy as a male can be which means you can concentrate on the hunt without worrying if the dog is content. Other hunters prefer a more affectionate dog, especially if it is part of a family and has a second job as a companion to children. An affectionate dog can help you feel you are working as part of a team and the bond between dog and hunter is vital to some elements of bird hunting. Entire male dogs can be more dominant than females and some like to compete to become the alpha male, sometimes even looking to usurp the authority of their owners. Early obedience training is vital to make sure that the dog knows its place and its job, regardless of sex or breed.

Neutering Your Hunting Dog

Spaying a female dog can be advantageous if you want to avoid the risk of unwanted puppies as well as taking away the issue of a few weeks of season twice a year. However, if you want to enter your dog into shows you need to remember that neutered dogs are ineligible and if you have plans to breed then spaying will not be an option. There is also recent research to suggest that early neutering in some breeds can increase risks of hip dysplasia and other joint problems. Spaying can also seem to change the personality of your female dog in some cases, making them less aggressive and generally more relaxed. If you need your dog to lie in wait quietly for extended periods of time, this could be an advantage as long as they still have the talent and desire to burst into action as soon as they are needed to retrieve downed prey.

Many trainers find male dogs sweeter and kinder although entire dogs might be seen to have more aggression due to an increase in testosterone. This is seen in other animals such as horses where stallions are often gelded to make them easier to handle and able to live a more varied life as they can be turned out with horses of either sex. Neutering a hunting dog shouldn’t affect their ability to do the job well, and may remove the risk of them being distracted by females on heat in the area, but a dog who knows his job and enjoys his work should be motivated and on task regardless of whether they have been neutered or not.

Overall, the differences between male and female dogs do not make one a markedly better hunter than the other. However, the differences between male and female dogs can make one a markedly better fit for a particular owner. Knowing where you stand on the key differences between male and female dogs will steer you toward one or the other.

Scott Phelan

I came from a non-hunting family, in my teens I got interested in hunting and taught myself to hunt. I got my first hunting dog after college and became obsessed with all things hunting dog and hunting dog training. I have spent the last 10 years training and hunting with dogs. My dogs and I have hunted quail, chukar, huns, pheasants, grouse, woodcock, ducks, and geese all over the USA and Canada. Hunting dogs are my passion.

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