Every dog owner knows their dog is either a male or a female because of their biological makeup and sometimes from how they behave.
But what about dogs? What can they know about this?
Do Dogs Know Their Gender?
Dogs do not know their gender, nor do they have a gender.
Humans categorize dogs as male or female solely on biological traits related to reproduction and anatomy.
But dogs’ physical makeup is not enough to assign them a gender identity, which is a human socio-cultural construct.
This article explores some of the core issues around dog gender.
Specifically, I will answer whether dogs have gender and if they know what it is.
I’ll also discuss the basis of sex differences in dogs and whether referring to female dogs as “she” and male dogs as “he” is a gender differentiation issue.
NOTE – You might also find this post interesting about why dogs get stuck after mating.
Do Dogs Have Gender Identity?
So far, science hasn’t found a method of accurately reading a dog’s mind.
However, we have a good idea of what they can and can’t comprehend.
We can say with a high level of confidence that dogs have no idea what gender is.
They don’t have the complexity of thought to understand the concept. They just act on urges and emotions.
While we won’t focus on whether dogs know, we can allow ourselves to say that dogs don’t know their gender because they do not have a gender.
Although often used interchangeably with biological sex, gender is a human social construct.
According to the WHO, the gender concept differentiates women and men, boys and girls in their:
- Social roles.
- Adherence to social norms.
- How they relate with each other.
These differentiating characteristics vary from one society to the other.
In addition to the socially determined aspects, gender is also something that humans experience within themselves, creating a sense of identity.
So, can dogs build a social idea of gender, and do they feel male or female or build a sense of identity as male or female dogs?
Some people think some animals may have a sense of gender. However, the commonly adopted stand among scientists is that dogs, like all animals, do not have a gender.
Gender essentially entails socially determined roles and behavior identities, and dogs are biologically and not socially determined.
Let’s talk more about dog sex determination in the next section.
Sex Differences in Dogs are Biological and Evolutionary
Some people argue that dogs and other animals have a gender because of notable differences in appearance and behavior, qualifying them as males or females.
For example, dog breed lists by national kennels such as the AKC often indicate a larger body size and heavier weight for male than female dogs.
Also, research has shown considerable differences in how male and female dogs behave.
A 2016 study on gender and breed differences in dog behavior showed these behavior differences between male and female dogs:
|Male Dogs||Female Dogs|
|More aggressive towards family and other dogs.||More trainable.|
|Have more pronounced territorial defense tendencies.||Are easier to housetrain.|
|Portray more watchdog barking.||More affectionate.|
|Active.||Not as active as their male counterparts.|
|Bark and snap more.||Tend to have calmer demeanors.|
A recent study also reported that male dogs tend to be left-pawed while females are more right-pawed.
In addition, female dogs seem better at focusing on a social or physical stimulus than male dogs, which could explain their trainability.
The question that arises from these differences is whether they serve to draw clear gender differences among dogs.
The answer is no.
Male and female dog appearance and behavior differences are not determined by a social or cultural system created by dogs.
Instead, they are defined by natural biological factors and environmental factors passed through human training.
Even sex-differentiated roles and behaviors in the dog world that seem to have an evolutionary heritage have remained unaltered despite artificial selection.
For example, male dogs have always been linked with aggressive behavior.
But sex alterations in aggression are only related to training and environmental factors in the domestication process.
Even in extreme and rare cases where dogs have shown indeterminate sex-defined behavior, as in the case of Molly, a dog who looked female on the outside, acted like a male, and had female and male genitalia, the differences were purely biological.
But what about the pronouns we use to refer to dogs?
Does that categorize them as being of the male or female gender?
WAIT – Before you carry on reading, feel free to take a look at this video from an experienced dog trainer talking about the sex differences between male and female dogs.
Just click to start playing:
NOTE – Click here to read our post looking at: why can’t dogs talk?
Dog Gender and Pronouns
If you love reading about dogs, you’ve certainly come across gender pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’ to refer to dogs in place of the inanimate pronoun ‘it,’ generally used with animals.
As with the question of whether dogs know their own gender, the pronouns we use with male and female dogs purely reflect our relationships and ideas about dogs.
Animal welfare approaches by animal rights organizations like PETA UK consider the use of inanimate pronouns with dogs as speciesism or a form of human superiority that equates to the exploitation of animals.
Other animal activists have also made the fight for dog gender identity public.
For example, consider this open letter to the Associated Press in defense of dogs as “who” and not “what” and as having a right to gendered pronouns.
Other approaches like the one by the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage suggest that animals (which includes dogs) should be addressed as “it” unless their sex is mentioned or they are given a personalized identity with a name.
Without underestimating animal activists’ attention to animals and their welfare, the truth remains that dogs do not have a gender.
Dogs don’t think like humans and will not assign genders to their conspecifics based on appearance and behavior. Instead, they act on biologically-defined tendencies.
As such, a female dog will not make out if you are calling them a “she,” and a male dog won’t realize that you called them “it” instead of “him.” It all boils down to our human preferences.
Key Takeaways On Dogs Knowing Their Gender
Gender is a human social construct. As such, dogs do not have a gender because they do not socially construct gender roles and behavior expectations.
Dogs don’t know their own gender.
Even if they could know, they wouldn’t know their gender because it doesn’t exist.
What appears to be role differentiation and gender-differentiated behavior in dogs is biologically determined. That is, dogs have sex differences and not gender differences.
Your dog doesn’t realize that you are using a gender pronoun with them. It’s you who does!
The most important things you can do for your dog are to love them, feed them, exercise them play with them, and keep them safe, don’t worry about a thing like gender.
Leave that for humans to think about!
Thanks for taking the time to read this post answering the question – do dogs know their gender identity?
And thanks for visiting The Factual Doggo.
Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!