Dog or bitch? How do you decide?

By: Geraldine Cove-Print


Dog or bitch? How do you decide?

WHEN SOMEONE contacts rescue and firmly states that they want either dog or bitch we tend to presume they have a good idea of why they choose one over the other, but I seriously wonder if that is true.

  In many cases it is because they have had a particular sex in the past and are trying to recreate that experience by replacement. The opposite occurs too of course, a bad experience is based on the gender of the dog rather than the other factors that would have much more bearing on the individual. One of the strangest reasons I was given for wanting a bitch was explained to me by a rather prim lady, she coyly said: "Well, if you have a male… when they lie on their backs… they are… untidy”. Frankly I didn’t know whether to laugh or launch into an anatomy lesson! 

  Tidiness aside, I think there are some valid reasons for choosing the gender of either a puppy or a rescue dog. If you intend to add to your canine family you must consider the dynamics of a group of dogs, more than one is already a pack. The breed or type of both the current occupier of your sofa and the new dog coming in has an impact on the choice but even more than breed type it is the individuals concerned that govern the best choice of companion. As a general rule a male and a female will rub along well, but that could fall apart if the age difference is extreme, some older dogs really cannot be bothered with the energy of a puppy or a terrible teenager wanting to play all day. Introducing a potential rescue dog to an established companion dog should be done with sensitivity and skill, avoiding the face-to-face confrontation. It’s so much better to walk them side by side first to allow them time to get used to the scent of each other.

  There are some breeds and crosses that have a reputation for geniality but don’t bank on this being the case, when introducing two entire dogs or two entire bitches to each other be aware of the signals the dogs will send even before they get up close and personal. If your own dog is well socialised he or she will approach with a relaxed attitude but it may be the rescue dog has not been taught the acceptable manners of dog-to-dog contact. If you know the history of the rescue dog forewarned is forearmed but it is always wise to watch carefully for fear or failure to make eye contact as well as a slightly stilted approach with head lowered. 

  I’ve been told that in some breeds the male has a definite whiff about them compared to the bitch; in entire dogs certainly the need to mark is a drive in most so paying attention to your male dog’s personal hygiene is important. Long or heavy coated males need a wash and brush up to keep them smelling sweet and some do have a very unsavoury habit of licking at urine so it’s difficult to expect minty freshness from that end either!

  However, entire bitches also have their fair share of aroma, having the same problem with long coated males that are not groomed daily. When entire bitches come into season there is a whole new scent in the air, some bitches seem to smell very little while others fill your house with a cross between a poissonnier and a boucherie.

  In the case of neutered animals that rather musky male smell does tend to disappear but keeping any heavily coated dog clean is a challenge. I believe that you really have to live with a number of dogs over the years to really build an opinion of the differences in gender behaviour and temperament in your chosen breed, so if you are considering a different breed or cross then it makes sense to talk to someone who has had that experience and can offer advice based on personal observation.

  Next time someone approaches your rescue and asks for a particular gender perhaps we should ask them why and if it is just a case of habit maybe we can offer advice on choosing the individual rather than the personal gender scenario they have in mind. 

  Mark Hardy emailed me earlier in the week and thought I would be interested in his efforts to rehome Labradors in the East of England, specifically Norfolk. There are already established Labrador rescues throughout the UK and so I asked Mark why he felt there was need for another. He told me: "I’ve been rescuing for 13 years or more and although I love Norfolk it is a large county, mostly rural and I believed that if I could help people get in touch within the county we could make the difference to a lot of dogs.” Mark acts as a match maker for those seeking a dog and those who have to rehome, nothing new in that but the difference is he chooses not to ask for donations and his service is absolutely free. This is a new approach to rescue, facilitating the contact but actually making no attempt to temperament test or home check, instead leaving it up to the two parties involved to make their minds up using the advice given by Mark as to questions to ask and checks to make.

  This may not be the way you like rescue to run but some organisations do pretty much the same thing, but they then ask for a hefty donation for the relatively little effort made. Mark feels he can offer both adopter and ex-owner some safeguards with carefully constructed agreement forms that will protect the future of the individual dog. I look forward to seeing how this venture turns out. If you would like to contact Mark Hardy he can be emailed at