It is generally summertime when the working bitch is sent to stud, and if the union is productive, the telephone may ring and in many cases the conversation will run something like this: ?Hi! Bess has had her puppies.?

?Great! How many did she have??

?Six, five dogs and one bitch.?

?Oh dear!?

However, should the conversation run thus: ?Hi! Bess has had her puppies.?

?Great! How many did she have??

?Six, one dog and five bitches.?

?Wow! You jammy beggar!? There you have it ? the disproportionate preference for bitches over dogs.

I speak from bitter experience, having recently had a litter where the bitches flew off the shelf while the dogs were reduced to the equivalent of last of the season?s bargains.

I decided to do some research and, while I had no intention of rubbishing bitches, I thought I might point out the merits of the male dog. My catchment areas were, first, the pet market and, second, gamekeepers and triallers. The pet market, which incidentally is by far the biggest, falls loosely into three groups: the quiet domestic pet, dogs belonging to pickers-up and beaters, and finally, amateur competitors. The majority, by a factor of four to one, preferred bitches, even if the initial asking price was significantly higher. When asked why, the stock answer was that bitches were more faithful, less likely to roam and easier to train. So universal was this sentiment that I found it difficult not to cite the bitches I have known who were anything but faithful and home-loving and which were hard headed when it came to training.

Faithfulness or loyalty is an attribute of both bitches and dogs ? bitches certainly don?t have a monopoly on that particular virtue. Once you have a male dog?s loyalty then you have it for life and, with it, straightforward affection rather than constant demands.

As for roaming, that says more about the security, or lack of it, at the premises where the dog is kept. Given the opportunity both bitches and dogs will roam, but maybe not for the same reasons. I agree that, if allowed to roam free, many dogs will follow instinct and go ?bitching?. A bitch will roam too, however, though she is generally after dustbins.

Other reasons given against male dogs are that they fight and cock their legs everywhere. In 30 years of owning male Labradors and spaniels I have never had one that fought, but like so many things in life, it is about spotting and dealing with the early signs of transgression and not leaving it until the problem is well established. That old aphorism ?It is easier to make an angel than to break a devil? is apt when it comes to any canine, but particularly when it comes to a dog puppy showing the first signs of perceived typical male behaviour, maybe of aggression or leg cocking.

Let?s hear it for dogs

I became determined to find champions for the male dog. Sadly, those that owned them, in the pet category, were fairly ambivalent and would have been as happy with bitches. The reason given for having male dogs was that they already had one and a mixed pack, with all the mayhem bitches cause, and the resultant distractions, was annoying to say the least.

I got my first positive answer in the most unlikely setting ? a drinks party, where most of the guests were pet owners of working-bred dogs. Then I bumped into a man who had two large, male black Labradors, which he had deliberately chosen for their gender. Gripping the poor fellow by the lapels, I demanded to know why he had chosen dogs as opposed to bitches. He was perfectly straightforward: he preferred the male dog?s attitude. The light dawned and I knew exactly what he meant. Attitude, though difficult to define, is all too easy to be influenced by.

He was not impressed by what he described as the subservience of the bitch, nor their clinging stay-at-home nature. Here, at last, was an owner who was able to admit to a gut response to the male dog?s traits. He also felt that when it came to committing crimes, male dogs were open and transparent, whereas bitches had a much sneakier approach.

There is another saying that a bitch is only trouble twice a year whereas a dog is trouble all the year. Though it is commonplace to spey itches, for some reason people are much less inclined to castrate the dog. But if a dog is castrated at the correct time of its life it retains male characteristics, such as a superior physique and bold attitude, without being tempted by the sexual distraction that bitches bring.

A professional?s eye

Moving on to the professionals: gamekeepers and triallers. The ratio turns around and male dogs are the first choice. Gamekeepers, whose dogs are the tools of their trade, need to be able to use their dogs every time they work, without the likelihood of a bitch being in season and the fickleness some bitches display prior to coming into season.

Triallers need to know they are not going to lose that valuable place in a trial because of a bitch being in season. Reading through the cards of many Open Trial stakes, it is apparent that the greater proportion of entries are male dogs when not only their style and drive is obvious, but the chance of getting a run is not compromised by the possibility of a season. [Ed: Interestingly, bitches dominated at both the Springer and Cocker Championships this year, as in previous years.]

When it comes to the serious competitors, it can be taken for granted that a top, winning dog, when stood at stud will repay the initial time and money put into it many times over, without incurring the worry, time and expense that having a litter can sometimes bring.

The sad thing is that whenever a puppy is left unsold in a litter you can bet your bottom dollar it is a dog puppy. It is a depressing fact that the older a dog puppy gets, the likelihood of its finding a home becomes less and less, and it will eventually turn into the canine equivalent of the gangly youth that only a mother could love. But this is where the opportunistic among us can make cheeky offers and get a genuine bargain.

One can sit down and make great long lists of pros and cons, but I think that, in the final analysis, it is about that gut feeling that a male dog gives, and I personally am prepared to put up with the perceived drawbacks that in so many cases are simply hearsay.