When selecting a Golden Retriever or any dog for that matter, potential owners must inevitably decide whether to get a male or female. You might wonder, are there differences between males and female Golden Retrievers, and does one gender make one dog better than the other?
“Females are calmer, less confrontational with other dogs, and more independent. Males are more friendly and eager to please”. Those are some of the comments you’ll often hear. Most people have a strong bias or opinion and have already set their minds on their pick well before bringing the dog home.
But is there any truth to these labels we put on gender differences between Golden Retrievers, or are they just misconceptions or unsupported stereotypes. What are the differences between male and female Golden Retrievers?
Male Golden Retrievers grow physically larger than females, mature more slowly, and may excel in training and performance. However, the unique personality and background of each individual Golden Retriever are the most critical factors in behavior, not gender.
Physical characteristics (size) and sex is the most apparent differences in male versus females Golden Retrievers and can be readily measured. Beyond the physical differences, the question of whether there are legit gender differences in trainability, performance, affection, or dominance is a fascinating one.
But, fascinating or not, we’ll soon see that it’s a difficult question to answer. Maybe an impossible one. At least for now. Much of what we have to go on is personal observations or anecdotal evidence. Research on the topic is currently sparse or non-existent.
However, there is a pattern that seems evident. That pattern being that gender differences are mostly insignificant. Instead, the personality and background (breeding) of any Golden Retriever impacts its behaviors much more than gender does.
Differences Between Female and Male Golden Retrievers
Size is the most legit difference between females and males and is readily measurable. I don’t think anyone would argue there is a genetically determined difference in size between the genders. Males typically weigh more and stand slightly higher. Golden Retrievers are considered medium to large dogs.
Males are also more muscular than females, which is not surprising considering the size disparity. Males can thank the hormone testosterone for that difference, including being carrying more muscle on their frames.
As shown in the table below, males can grow upwards of 10 to 20 pounds more than females and stand up to 1.5 to 2 inches taller.
|Male||23 to 24 inches (58 to 61 centimeters)||65 to 75 pounds (29 to 34 kilograms)|
|Female||21.5 to 22.5 inches (55 to 57 centimeters)||55 to 65 pounds (25 to 29 kilograms)|
Gender Consideration: Those looking for a smaller dog may be more suited to a female. A smaller female may be better for those living in a smaller space or want a dog with a bit less size and muscle. That said, some females can get as large as a small male, so owners need to talk to the breeder and meet a dog’s parents, giving some idea about the dog’s size.
All Golden Retrievers, regardless of gender, are valued for their friendly, kind, and tolerant nature. The breed is good with children, other pets and is a loyal and trustworthy companion. It’s the Golden Retriever’s renowned social nature and their ability to get along with most everyone that makes them popular choices for families, as well as for service and assistance dogs.
However, many feel that female Golden Retrievers are more independent and mature. Male Golden Retrievers are more friendly but immature (goofy for longer). Females are less dominant and don’t display behavior such as humping, aggression, or corrections compared to their male counterparts. Females are easier to train, while males are more eager to please but learn less quickly.
Is there any truth to these generalizations? It depends on the source. But, the truth is that it probably lies somewhere in between the two.
Maura Phelan, who has bred, showed, and rescued Golden Retrievers, agrees with many of these generalizations and disagrees with others. The past president of the Golden Ribbon Rescue, Ms. Phelan, states emphatically in her article Boys Vs. Girls. Why Boys Are Better Than Girls that;
“males are usually more affectionate, attentive, and attached to their people. The females are more independent, stubborn, and territorial than their male counterparts. The females are also much more intent upon exercising their dominance by participating in alpha behaviors such as “humping,” correction, growling, and even marking.”
Contrast with Patricia McConnell’s article in The Bark, entitled What Are the Differences Between Male and Female Dogs? Do male and female dogs learn differently? Ms. McConnell queried a group of certified applied animal behaviorists and veterinarians, a couple renowned in sheepdog training, and experts in police and military dog training on the differences between female and male dogs.
And, the responses? Widely contradictory, ranging from females are softer, more independent, and easier to train to males are softer, more independent, and easier to train. So, some of those queried did respond similar to Ms. Phelan, while others reacted opposite.
The most notable trend among participants was that “the personality and background of any individual dog were more important factors than sex.”
Ms. McConnell goes on to say that that statement is very much aligned with her own experience.
My experience with our female and male dogs was pretty much the same. It depends on the individual dog.
Now granted, Ms. McConnell’s article is on dogs in general and not Golden Retrievers. Still, I suspect this holds true across all dog breeds.
Gender Consideration: Like humans, Golden Retrievers are individuals and will possess their own unique personalities. A dog’s background (breeding, socialization, adequate time with mother, environment, training, etc.) also plays an essential role. You may get a male or female dog that is biddable, social, shy, and more steadfast and stubborn.
Puppyhood and Maturity
Golden Retrievers are well known to stay puppies longer than most other dog breeds. Dogs reach full maturity between 18-24 months of age and are considered “adults” at year 2. However, Golden Retrievers can extend their puppyhood well into adulthood.
Many dog owners believe that male Golden Retrievers are slower to mature than females. Males are more often described as goofier, more easily distracted, and slower to mature in adolescence. Females, in contrast, mature quicker and become calmer and more steadfast earlier than males.
If this is indeed true (and I believe it is), it would not be entirely surprising since this trait is common in our species as well. I suspect most humans would be inclined to agree, especially if they have male and female children.
Now, depending on your personal preferences, this may not necessarily be a bad trait. Have a more goofy, playful dog for longer, maybe actually suit your household well, and is a trait you find appealing. In that case, the extended puppyhood of the more immature, playful, and goofy personality of the male Golden Retriever is a positive one.
Gender Consideration: While males Golden Retrievers seem to mature more slowly than their female counterparts, remember that Golden Retrievers, as a breed, typically stay in puppyhood longer than other breeds. Male Golden Retrievers eventually do mature and become more focused. Still, they may stay “younger at heart” and be more playful/goofy longer than their female counterparts.
Training and Performance
Like other traits, you will find a wide disparity between those that believe females are easier to train and others who believe males are easier to train.
For example, Ms. Phelan notes that in her experience with Golden Retrievers that males are generally more trainable; “most boys are easily motivated by praise and food, and so eager to please that training is easy.”
And, it seems there may be some anecdotal evidence for that belief. Let’s turn to the world of competitive canine sports, where training is an important component. In competitive events, we see that males dominate dog competitions ranging from herding to Schutzhund to retrieving.
Twelve of 15 winners of the last 15 years of International Sheepdog Trials were male, and two were female dogs. One could have been either (gender determination was based on the dog’s names). Similarly, since 1990, in the U.S. National Open Retriever Championships, 16 were males, two were female dogs, and one could be either.
And this trend appears to be consistent across other competitive canine performance sports.
Once again, these competitive trends are for all dog breeds, not specific to Golden Retrievers only. But, I suspect we’d find a very similar pattern in the Golden breed as well.
However, Patrica McConnell raises some good points. She points out that males can compete more consistently (versus a female in heat or pregnant, assuming the dogs are left intact). And then there is the issue of money. A male that is a top-notch performer can breed many times per year; whereas, a female-only once or twice per year with the added downtime of not competing. A dog that can’t compete cannot win and make money. Seems logical that these play a role.
There is little doubt that males being able to compete with little downtime definitely plays a role. It has to.
Ms. McConnell acknowledges that another possibility is testosterone, giving the males a more competitive drive and advantage. Testosterone is a significant hormone in more muscle growth and size.
Males are typically larger and more muscular than females, possibly giving them an edge in performance and some sporting activities. Testosterone may also play a role in behavior, as in imparting a more competitive drive.
Or could it be a combination of many factors?
Suppose we accept that males are more eager to please and more motivated by praise and are easier to train, as argued by Ms. Phelan. And we accept that testosterone somehow imparts a competitive advantage due to increased size, muscle, and drive. In that case, there may be a legit difference.
After all, a motivated, eager to please, and easy to train dog that possesses a competitive drive, as well as athletic and physical prowess, would probably have an advantage in training and ultimately in performance.
Gender Consideration: While it appears there are challenges in determining why males are dominant in canine sports, at this time, there is a clear advantage for male dogs. Stud fees, competitive money, pregnancy, and heat cycles, may play a role, as might hormones such as testosterone. More research focused explicitly on this sex difference is required.
Grooming, Barking, Health, and Activity Level
Across all other traits, there seems to be little difference based on the sex of the dog. There may be differences from dog to dog, and this is expected. Just like no two humans are similar – even siblings or twins in a family – no two dogs will be identical.
Are you looking for less grooming time and thinking (or hoping) that maybe one gender will have less maintenance than the other? Sorry, both require the same amount of grooming. Nails will need to be clipped, teeth brushed, and the occasional bath will be necessary – nope, no differences here.
And yes, both males and female Golden Retrievers shed. Weekly brushing is required most of the year. Twice per year, a Golden Retriever blows its coat, and brushing almost daily will be required during those times. It’s the small cost of owning such a wonderful and beautiful dog.
Female or male, Golden Retrievers live about 10-12 years. Golden Retrievers can be prone to some serious and costly health issues. However, the sex of a Golden Retriever does not appear to predispose it to more significant health issues.
As for barking, Golden Retrievers typically do not bark without reason. The breed is typically not constant barkers and rarely barks without cause. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a dog that might bark more or less, they’re individuals after all, but gender does not appear to be a distinguishing factor.
Lastly, Golden Retrievers are active dogs and require a high level of physical and mental stimulation. Exercise is a must for this breed. Being a female or male Golden Retriever does not impact the level of activity. Golden Retrievers are social dogs as well, so you’ll need to ensure all three needs are met.
Gender Consideration: Traits such as health, barking, life span, and activity level are, as a whole, similar in the breed and not determined by gender. There can be individual differences, but these are primarily impacted by background and personality and can vary from individual to individual. All Golden Retrievers shed and required regular grooming and maintenance.
All of us human beings have our own subjective reality. That is, we see the world through our eyes, which include our past experiences, upbringing, family and peer influences, environment, beliefs, and so forth. As such, we all have biases based on that subjective reality, including how we see and relate to males versus females.
It’s reasonable to assume then that this bias occurs with our dogs as well. We may have a predetermined set of characteristics attributed to female Golden Retrievers and others for males. As we discussed previously, in those surveyed by Ms. McConnell, the traits for female and male Golden Retrievers were highly contradictory. It’s logical then to wonder how much of that depends on what we see through our biased lens.
If we have cultural biases on how we view male and female dogs (or people), do these biases affect how we view our dogs and how we interact with them? Does it impact how we train them? It must. How can it not?
If biases exist in us, they must express themselves in how we relate to our dogs. I strongly suspect it plays a role in which gender we select and how we see and raise the dog.
However, Patricia McConnel notes in her article that “there is something inherently different about male dogs and female dogs that is not just a misplaced human attribution, and that goes beyond the obvious differences. That makes sense. There are biological and hormonal differences between males and females, and those play a role in behavior.
So, it’s probably an interplay of both. Our own subjective biases on what traits we attribute to “maleness” and “femaleness” combined with actual inherent biological differences between the genders.
The issue of behavioral differences between female and male dogs, specifically female and male Golden Retriever, is complicated. The discussion is further complicated by the lack of research and our own human biases.
Ultimately, however, I think a few things are clear. First, we have our own predetermined bias that we attribute to our male and female Golden Retrievers. As we saw from those that Patrica McConnell queried, it can be very contradictory. This is not surprising and is especially pronounced in those with a preference for one gender over the other.
Secondly, some differences do exist. Males are larger – both in weight and size and typically carry more muscle. They also seem to mature more slowly. And they seem to excel in canine sports.
However, at this time, it’s unclear whether that competitive edge is due to their “maleness,” including hormones, or some other reason such as stud fees (money) and less competition downtime.
Lastly, we can’t discount individuality. A dog’s personality and background seem to be the most significant determinant in any behavioral differences. Soft, stubborn, independent, goofy, affectionate, clingy, biddable, and eager to please. These traits, and many more, are what make a dog an individual. They’re what we call personality, or “who they are.” The traits are not gender-specific but rather dog-specific.
Either way and whatever you get, male or female, the Golden Retriever is one the best dogs. That’s undebatable (maybe a little bias?) In a Golden Retriever, you can expect a dog that is smart, loving, patient, kind, and tolerant: a great friend and a great companion.
And, maybe that’s the lesson. We should focus less on the differences between the genders and more on the remarkable traits that this breed possesses regardless of gender.