Do Men and Women Prefer Different Types of Dogs?

Men and women have different preferences when adopting dogs from shelters.

Posted Apr 30, 2019

MaxPixel CC0 Public Domain
Source: MaxPixel CC0 Public Domain

I recall a conversation with an acquaintance from the university a while back. She told me, "Since I retired from teaching I've been volunteering a half day each week with the SPCA animal shelter. Perhaps because I spent so much of my academic career looking at gender-related issues, I noticed that people who are coming in to possibly adopt a dog bring with them the same kind of sexual stereotypes that we apply to people. I can't tell you how many times people have walked in and started their selection process by saying something like, "We were hoping to get a sweet girl to be a companion for our family — we don't want a pushy boy.

"Of course, that's a stereotype that people have when dealing with humans. The idea is that women are affectionate and men are more aggressive and dominant. From everything that I've been able to gather, that stereotype doesn't work for dogs. For some types of breeds, like the Terriers, there appears to be very little in the way of sex differences in their behavior. But for other types of dogs, particularly the sporting and working breeds, behaviorists and breeders seem to agree that it is the male dogs that crave affection and human interactions more than the females. Females tend to be more independent and require more alone time. That's not to say that female dogs don't form loving bonds, it's just that once they get their fill of affection they often go off and find a quiet spot to spend some time by themselves. Contrast that to male dogs that soak up all the attention their human family is willing to offer and then still want more.

"Anyway, that got me to wondering about whether the people who come in to a shelter to adopt a dog have different preferences on the basis of their own gender. I mean to say, do men have different preferences when it comes to adopting dogs than women do? I asked the manager of the shelter about this, but she said that they didn't keep any records which could answer that question, so I thought that I would ask you if you know of any research on that issue."

At that time, I only knew a few bits of data from studies which mentioned sex differences in dog selection processes, and these were usually casual and secondary analyses. For example, there was some data which suggested that women prefer to get their dogs from animal shelters more than men, who prefer to get their dogs from breeders.

Because I didn't have the answer to her question at that time, I was quite interested to find a recent article which directly looked at the effect of the human adopter's gender on shelter dog selection preferences. The report was based on research by team of investigators headed by Barbora Vodičková of the University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Brno (the second-largest city in the Czech Republic).

This was a rather ambitious study since it involved examination of the records of 955 dogs who were adopted out of a single monitored shelter over a seven-year period. Much like the scant findings from earlier research, these researchers found that significantly more dogs were adopted by women than by men (53% versus 47%).

I must admit that I was a bit surprised to find that men and women had no particular preference as to whether the dog that they adopted was the same sex that they were. On the other hand, size of the dogs seems to be an important factor: Women adopt more small dogs and men tend to adopt larger dogs. Both sexes tend to adopt medium-size dog at about the same rate.

There seems to be some small effect of the dogs coat color. Brown dogs were adopted more often by women while black dogs with dark markings were more preferred by men. There was no difference in terms of preference of men and women for purebred or crossbred dogs, but this may be due to the fact that only about one quarter of the dogs in the shelter were purebred.

One finding which may be consistent with our usual gender stereotypes was the fact that although men and women were equally likely to adopt puppies and adult dogs, older dogs, the ones that might be expected to require more care and attention, were more likely to be adopted by women.

As I think back to my earlier conversation, I do remember adding one other bit of rather irrelevant information that I knew about shelter adoptions. I told my acquaintance that I recalled reading a study from the UK which found that 76% of all adoptions of cats from shelters were by women.

I remember her smiling and quipping, "I suppose that explains why we often hear of 'dotty cat ladies' and virtually never about 'dotty cat men.'"

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Barbora Vodičková, Vladimír Večerek, Eva Voslářová (2019).The effect of adopter’s gender on shelter dog selection preferences. Acta Veterinaria Brno, 88: 93–101;