Women’s History Month
Let's hear it for the bitches!
Art by Portland, Oregon based artist Christa Pierce. I bought a print of this “Bitches Unite” art for a dog trainer friend for Christmas….I’m pretty sure I now need one for myself. Check out Christa’s Etsy Shop.
There is a stereotype that exists both in the dog world, and just in general society that male dogs are better.Than male dogs have a steadier temperament, have better coats, are easier dogs to live with. This year for women’s history month I wanted to dedicate this column to...you guessed it the girls or as dog people lovingly call them, the bitches! I grew up obsessed with dogs and showing dogs so it wasn’t until sometime in high school that I understood “bitch” to be anything other than a very socially appropriate word for a female dog - this probably tells you a lot about how “cool” I was back then (not that I’m much cooler now).
Along the way in my journeys in the dog world spending all my free time training and competing in dog sports I I brought into the idea that male dogs were better. My childhood dog just happened to be a boy and then when i began competing in dog sports i ended up with boys because my trainer and friends told me they were best. I was boy (dog) crazy teenage lesbian! I believed male dogs were better, stronger, smarter, more competitive, less moody. Both of my competition agility dogs were boys. I didn’t just come up with these ideas in a vacuum. I got these ideas from the friends I made in the dog world, from the women I spent every weekend training and competing with.
Although women are extremely active in dog training/dog show world - in fact just anecdotally I would say women make up the majority of dog sports competitors and trainers at least the ones that I’ve ever met and seen at dog shows/training classes from the West Coast to the East Coast. Yet, Patriarchy is alive and well in the dog world. As is homophobia (though thankfully that has begun to shift a lot in recent years) I’ve written before in this column about my experiences of being kicked out, losing my dogs and becoming homeless as a teenager agility competitor. I actually have a book “Healing/Heeling” that is me finally telling the full truth of this trauma, survival, PTSD and (re)building a queer dog centered life. It’s now available for pre-orders print and ebook more info here.
At eighteen, when I was coming to after surviving homelessness I sought out a service dog to support my healing process. My service dog (now retired) is male, though I told the breeder temperament was my number one priority (and it was), but gender was a close second in terms of priority to me at the time which in retrospect was hilarious because I had just come out as genderqueer! Over the last sixteen years, my opinions on dogs and gender have changed a lot. In large part because of the badass bitches that have entered my life and family.
Charlotte my former street dog (now eight years old) is the first female dog I’ve ever shared my life with. Beyond being an incredible dog, she brought me back to a world of dog sports and training, and she has far surpassed all of my expectations of her she’s even a Trick Dog Champion! My youngest dog is also a bitch! When my partner and I were told there were only girls left in her litter I was not disappointed. Sure, males tend to be bigger but she’s a Newfoundland, a GIANT dog so big is relative and besides, size isn’t everything. She’s petite, and also a total badass. Sirius is an amazing puppy, she just turned two is tons of fun and has racked up trick dog titles, becoming only the second Newfoundland in the world to achieve Trick Dog Championship status.
Many people think that male dogs (or just simply dogs as they are officially referred to as) more competitive/successful in performance sports and confirmation (dog’s parading around a ring - the stereotype of dog shows). There was an article that was making the rounds last year that showed that male dogs win Westminster (the world series of dog shows in the US) twice as often as female dogs. In large part this is because when conformation show dogs are at peak condition is the age that those winning dogs are typically bred, making it less likely that after achieving Championship status they will go on to show and win at large prestigious shows like Westminster. The article stuck with me because even though I like to think of myself as pretty enlightened it was a topic I actually hadn’t thought of how pervasive this kind of misogyny actually is within the dog world.
In many dog sports, bitches in heat (many competitive dogs even in performance events like Obedience, Agility, Rally etc. are intact and not spayed/neutered for good reason - these successful dogs are likely going to be breed to further their breed) aren’t allowed to compete when they are in season. So twice a year, high performing performance dogs have to be pulled from competition not because it would be physically dangerous for them to compete but... So the boys aren’t distracted. I’m not kidding. That’s the reason.
Bitches in season are kept out of competition to make things easier for boys. This is misogyny. It’s about setting up a world where male dogs are able to succeed at the expense of female dogs even being able to play the game. Is a female dog in heat distracting to a male dog competing? Absolutely. But do you know what else is distracting? The person eating a hot dog outside the ring, a dog peeing in the ring before you go in (happened at my youngest dog’s first Rally Obedience competition). As dog people, we train for distractions every day. Training male dogs to ignore the scent of a female dog in heat while they are working/competing shouldn’t be and isn’t a problem for a skilled trainer. People are just lazy and the inherent misogyny (often internalized misogyny) of the dog world has enabled that to continue prioritizing male dogs at the expense of females.
Now thankfully this is starting to change in some performance organizations allowing bitches in heat to compete. Usually involving notifying the show committee in advance, a protective mat will be put under the pup at the start line, there may be a special kenneling area, and she will have to wear panties when on the show grounds, or otherwise be visually marked as in heat. While imperfect this feels like a good (slow) first step at leveling the playing field for female performance dogs. As a queer person, and especially as a queer femme I feel like it’s important for me to stand up to misogyny wherever and whenever I see it and that means in the dog world too. Basically, I’m here for the bitches!
Do you have a gender preference when it comes to dogs? What kind of stereotypes have you heard about female dogs? Let us know in the comments!
Sassafras Lowrey is a straight-edge queer punk who grew up to become the 2013 winner of the Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Award. Sassafras’ books have been honored by organizations ranging from the National Leather Association to the American Library Association. Sassafras lives and writes in Portland, Oregon with her partner, and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Sassafras’ forthcoming books include: “Tricks IN THE CITY: For Daring Dogs and the Humans That Love Them,” “Healing/Heeling,” and Bedtime Stories for Rescue Dogs: William To The Rescue. Learn more at www.SassafrasLowrey.com