"Anything you can do I can do better!" Who does IPO better, the boys or the girls?
Louise Jollyman and her female CJ with Martin Barrow and his male Inigo.
When it comes to selecting a candidate for IPO, it is clear that many of us have distinct gender preferences. Some handlers only work males, while others eschew males and only work females. Yet the top levels of the sport are dominated by male dogs, so does this mean boys are the best choice?
There are many stereotypes surrounding the gender question, particularly when trying to generalize gender characteristics like those described below. There are always exceptions, of course. But when it comes to selecting gender, it really comes down to preference. Which gender do you prefer to work with? Which would work better for your household and lifestyle? And just like the Puppy vs. Older Dog question, each side has its own pros and cons. Let's talk about the ladies first!
Marlene Ferguson's Rottweiler female "Brix" at the 2014 USCA Northwestern Regional IPO Championship. Photo: Brian Aghajani.
More sensitive toward and perceptive of their handlers
Tend to be more biddable
Medium size lends quickness and speed
Mature more quickly than males
Don't go through the protracted adolescence that males do
Not as distracted by the environment
Usually not distracted by other females in heat
Heat cycles can interfere with training and trialing, especially at Championship levels
Can be overly emotionally sensitive
Can be snarky toward other dogs, particularly with dogs around "her" person
May not show as much power or aggression as males in the work
May have a softer temperament that does not stand up as well under stress
Can have extreme aggression toward other females
For many handlers, one of the biggest drawbacks to females is their heat cycles. Intact females go through heat cycles anywhere from two to four times per year; the hormonal changes accompanying these cycles can influence her temperament and work ethic (but not always!). Some females are more sensitive, clingy, distracted and even uncertain during her heat cycles. Other females, however, remain unaffected. Obviously spaying a female will prevent heat cycles, but this procedure should not be taken lightly, as these hormones are essential for proper physical and mental maturation in the working dog.
Physically, females will be smaller in size than their male counterparts. While their more compact size works well for some people, others want a bigger dog that can show more physical power. However, there are some very masculine females out there who show a larger size and exceptional power!
Why aren't more females at the top levels of the sport? There are several reasons for this:
It seems more difficult to find a female with the strength of temperament, aggression, and power needed to compete at the high levels.
Many female dogs are being titled in order to be bred, and so competing at the higher levels is not as big of a priority. A female that competes at the high level and produces her strengths in her puppies is considered quite exceptional!
Simple math: males seem to be a more popular choice for many competitors.
All this being said, a good strong female is a sight to behold, and is worth her weight in gold as a brood bitch if she can pass on her strengths to her puppies!
Michelle Testa's male Giant Schnauzer "Quenlan" with helper Scott Carlson. Photo: Alissa Weaver.
No heat cycles and accompanying hormonal changes
Tend to be bolder, more confident, and more assertive
Larger size, more physical power
Tend to be less emotionally sensitive
Harder temperament, stronger under stress
Mature more slowly than females, both mentally and physically
Remain big goofy adolescents for a longer period of time
More “into” exploring their environment and surroundings
May be more likely to be dog aggressive (it depends!)
Increased tendency to mark, if the handler doesn’t curb the behavior
Easily distracted by a female in heat
Can be insensitive to the handler
Males are bigger, stronger, and show more physical power and aggression in the work, which makes them a more popular choice for Schutzhund. However, they do mature more slowly than females, and can be immature mentally for longer. The issues typically ascribed to males, such as marking and being more dog-aggressive, vary based on the dog itself and on the way the handler has raised or trained a dog. Male dogs mark on everything if they have been allowed to. So do not let him! As for dog aggression: males can exhibit same-sex aggression, particularly among dogs that are similar in age and status. However, many females also exhibit same-sex aggression, but in a much more intense and dangerous manner than males. When females fight, it gets ugly very quickly.
Which Do You Choose?
There is no right or wrong answer here. It just depends on your preferences, lifestyle, and goals. For a brand new handler with little dog experience, a big, strong, assertive male might not be the best choice. Have a household of female dogs already? Then it's wise to avoid adding yet another female to the mix. If you are thinking about breeding eventually and want a female for this purpose, then get a male. Raise him, train him, work him, title him, and learn the sport and the working side of your breed first before you ever consider becoming a breeder. It's difficult to own a female with the intent of breeding her and to hold fast to proving her breedworthiness objectively first (Should she really be bred? What value does she add to the breed?). Too many people are tempted to just breed the female they have, without asking those hard questions.
Now, where do you find the right dog? Next blog will tackle the question of whether you should import a dog, or look for one domestically.
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