Is there a Mars/Venus divide in the way men and women approach dog training? Any answer to that question is an exercise in speculation. We can’t turn to research results because there aren’t any, and gender generalities aren’t universally applicable. As Ken Ramirez, executive VP and Chief Training Officer of Karen Pryor Clicker Training, put it, “As soon as you make one generalization, there will be dozens of examples that are exceptions.”
Still, many professional trainers have observed some general differences between the ways women and men train dogs. We must, however, be clear about what these differences mean. They do not mean that all women train differently than all men—there is a lot of overlap between the sexes. Gender may predict tendencies, but it is not absolute.
So, what are these tendencies?
According to Ramirez, “Men are often more forceful and demanding when they train, while women tend to be more gentle and more emotional. However, I see that far less often in the professional training world than with the general pet owner.” Laura Monaco Torelli, founder and director of training for Animal Behavior Training Concepts, has observed a similar trend. “With my client base, the men tend to be more discipline- based.” She finds that it’s common for men to jerk back on the leash and say, “No!” while women are more likely to try something else first, and then increase the tension in their voice or equipment.
Generally speaking, men and women have the same training goals: improve off-leash recalls and loose-leash walking, eliminate counter-surfing, housetrain. Beyond those genderneutral goals, however, Ramirez notes that “in the pet world, men owners often seem to mainly care about obedience behaviors, while women are often interested in more than just basic obedience and will continue their dog’s training far beyond basics.” Lauren Hays, owner and founder of Austin Canine Consulting, Inc., says that women are often more specific in their goals, and more detail-oriented.
Just as many professional trainers observe differences in goals across gender, they see predictable differences in expectations. According to Torelli, “Overall, men want a quicker result than women. They are more often timeline- and results-oriented, and ask, ‘When will this behavior be finished?’” Hays points out that it’s more common for her male clients to have very high or even unrealistic expectations, thinking that the dog should perform a behavior “because he’s a dog and he should want to please me.”
She adds that more men than women expect a dog to be 100 percent fluent on a command without too much effort on the part of the trainer. Men are more likely to say, “He knows what to do, but he’s choosing not to do it.” In contrast, Hays says, women are tend to focus on their own responsibility, taking the attitude, “I know he’s not doing it, but I know it’s because I’m not doing something right.”
Torelli has noticed that male clients often want to use regular food rather than higher-level treats, but once they’re sold on the high-value goodies, they’re more likely to go for volume—to use big pieces—and need to be reminded to use tiny bits. They are also more likely to ask, “How quickly can we phase out the treats?”
Hays finds that women are willing and happy to lavish petting and praise on their dogs, but men often need to be reminded to do that. On the other hand, she says, women sometimes need to be reminded to save praise and attention and a “hot-dog party” for when the dog has made good choices, and to cut their chatter to their dog during a training session or walk. Of course, as Torelli notes, “It’s more culturally acceptable for women to sweet-talk in public,” and that could account for some of this difference.