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Bitch or dog? Which would suit you best?

Whether you pick a dog or a bitch is a personal preference, says Ellena Swift, but what can affect the decision?

Yellow labrador

Throughout my career, I have always preferred to run bitches over dogs. When I was a child my father tended to have bitches, only owning one working dog labrador. But why?

Bitch or dog?

I have found that, growing up, bitches tend to mature a lot quicker than dogs and have a much better work ethic and attitude. The dogs tend to be more playful for longer.

I have also found that dogs have a tendency to become distracted as their hormones kick in. A lot of handlers find this phase frustrating and often really struggle, particularly inexperienced and novice handlers. I am rather impatient and have always lent towards bitches, as I have found I can push them that little bit sooner in their career.

short haired pointer hunting

Bitches often seem to mature more quickly than dogs

However, if you look at the top-level handlers, you will find a great deal more lean towards dogs over bitches. I was recently extremely lucky to be selected for the England retriever gundog team with my home-bred bitch, Briar. It was not until I was home that I realised something — the other members selected were all running dogs. It did get me wondering why more prefer dogs over their female counterparts.

Retriever championships are dominated by dogs over bitches, with nearly all the winners being male. The obvious reason for preferring dogs over bitches is their inconvenient seasons. Most bitches come into season twice a year. Their seasons will last anything between three and four weeks, with the actual effect of it often lasting longer.

labrador swimming

A lot of top-level handlers still seem to prefer training dogs over bitches for various reasons

This can be infuriating for both the owner and the bitch, as it often interrupts the working season. Not only this, but walking and training become difficult, if not impossible, if you have to rely on public ground.

Seasons can affect bitches, making them subdued, distracted and generally unhappy. This means their training often has to stop, and sometimes their fitness and training level can drop. Some bitches do not change at all during their seasons, and thus you will see no difference in their behaviour at this time.

black labradors

Raising dogs with bitches can help them to learn to cope when a bitch is in season

Fighting among dogs

Even if the bitch isn’t affected, many surrounding her may be. Many dogs struggle to live in the same household as a bitch, and it has been known to cause fighting. Still, I would argue that it does help dogs learn how to cope with the distraction of bitches. I currently have three dogs (two entire stud dogs) living alongside seven bitches (four spayed), and I do find my dogs seem to cope better when working among bitches.

I believe that their constant exposure means that they learn to differentiate better between a bitch that is ready to mate and bitches that are not. We only have a few days, normally five at most, when the dogs are particularly bothered by the girls. Despite this, I do train them together as a group whether the girls are in season or not.

Again, it seems to help the boys to learn to ignore even the toughest distraction. I would probably change my mind if I had a bitch with sporadic, more frequent seasons. I have known owners with bitches who came into season more than three times a year. They were never able to get too far with training before another cycle of hormones set the poor girl back again.

clumber spaniel

Unlike dogs, bitches are not as reliable as a source of breeding income, as their litter sizes can vary

The preferred choice

From this angle, it is clear to see why dogs may be the preferred choice in the bitch or dog question. Another reason could be money. My girls tend to have two litters in their lifetimes, health tests, temperament and working ability depending.

If they have two litters, the income from those litters can range from around £2,000 to £12,000. There is no guarantee it will even get in pup, let alone how many puppies it might have. Litters vary so much, and can be anything from one fat puppy to 12 or more. A stud dog can cover many bitches, and those top stud dogs often cover over 100 bitches in a lifetime.

At approximately £600 a pop, a dog will earn infinitely more money than their female counterparts. On top of that, the dogs can keep working for a lot longer than the bitches when it comes to breeding work. Most dogs are still covering bitches at nine years old, and with the beauty of frozen semen and artificial insemination they can continue working, even long after they are dead.

Money is not only a driver for the top or professional handlers but also for novice handlers. A lot of handlers will select a bitch, because no matter how good or nicely bred the bitch is, they can choose to have a litter. If they have a dog that is lacking in ability, pedigree and temperament, it is very unlikely they will get any stud work from it as no one will choose to use it at stud.

From that point of view, the poorly bred dog is much more likely to make them money if it is a bitch, not a dog.

spaniel retrieving rabbit

Some bitches have a sheer determination that can easily eclipse the bigger, more powerful dogs

The debate

However, money cannot be the only driver in the debate of bitch or dog. With testosterone comes muscle, and very often brings confidence.

Shape, size and power are always going to put dogs at an advantage over a bitch, particularly on certain ground or over obstacles. One of my bitches is slight, and when picking the geese she always struggles more than the muscular dogs. The sheer nature of a dog over a bitch means they often has more fight in them.

Sometimes I see bitches that are a little pathetic. The dog in comparison has an air of arrogance about them that means when push comes to shove, they battle on to find that elusive runner or take on the massive swim. The drive of the dog often is too much for some handlers. The more experienced handlers know how to cope with this and get the best out of a harder dog.

A good bitch line is invaluable. I see the smallest bitches making fools of big, powerful dogs just through their tenacity and sheer determination. Many people simply prefer the smaller size of a bitch — they are easier to travel and look after, and need smaller beds. I can easily fit four, if not five of my girls in my dog box in the truck, whereas with the boys I can only really fit a maximum of three. Castration or neutering is obviously an option, and I have not seen a bitch too affected by the procedure. Sadly, both dogs and bitches can be affected physiologically and psychologically by the operation. Still, it is certainly a much smaller job for a dog compared with a bitch. The bottom line is that the decision between bitch or dog remains personal, and everyone will have had a separate experience. I will continue to run both sexes and expect the same level from both. (Read more on neutering dogs here.)