Battle of the Sexes in the show ring – new research from Australia

A recently published paper has investigated dog show results in Australia and examined the success rates of dogs and bitches at Best of Breed (BOB) and Best in Group (BIG) competitions. Given that the proportions of dogs and bitches at these shows was roughly 50-50, the findings were that males were more likely to take top honours than females.

The paper is “Battle of the sexes in Best of Breed: Sex influences dogs’ success in the show ring” by Wilson, Kaasbarian, Dhand and McGreevy. It is an Open Access paper, available here:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30567298

The study looked at Toy and Giant breeds to see if there were any differences at either end of the size spectrum. The breeds included were: Bullmastiff, Great Dane, Rottweiler, Central Asian Shepherd Dog, Bloodhound and Komondor, representing the larger breeds, and Min. Schnauzer, Pug, Toy Poodle, Smooth Fox Terrier, Norwich Terrier and Norfolk Terrier representing the small breeds.

Among the exhibits included in the results from 18 shows, 48.4% were males and 51.6% were females. The researchers assumed that there would be no reason for there to be more dogs than bitches entered and tested this statistically. (For the nerds, the Chi Squared test showed the actual proportions of males and females was no different to the expected 50:50 split) This is rather different to what I would have expected as, in the Dachshunds, we are used to having larger bitch entries than dog entries.

BOB Winners

Despite the similar proportion of males and females entered, male dogs were significantly more likely to be represented in the Best of Breed winners. Of the 137 BOB awards, 62.8% went to males (41 dogs) and 37.2% went to females (32 bitches). This was a statistically significant difference.

In the Toy breeds, 65.5% of BOBs were won by males and among the giant breeds, 58.5% of BOBs went to male dogs. In the case of the giant breeds, this was not quite statistically significant (p=0.078).

The researchers also separated out the more popular breeds and found that 59.6% of males won BOB and, again, this was statistically significant.

Group Winners

Among the 12 breeds at the 18 shows, there were 19 Best in Group or Reserve Best in Group winners: Pug (8), Rottweiler (1), Smooth Fox Terrier (7) and Great Dane (3). Of these 78.9% went to male dogs and 21.1% to bitches. Given that more BOB winners were males, it wouldn’t be surprising to find more male Group winners as well. However, the researchers corrected for this factor and found the male dominance at Group level was not statistically significant.

Why are there more male winners?

The researchers suggest 4 reasons why dogs might be more likely to be top winners than bitches and they also suggest ways on which these could be tested.

Reason 1: the wording of Breed Standards could offer an advantage to males and judges might be using this to select, preferentially, males. I don’t know much about other breed Standards but my reading of the Dachshund Breed Standard is that it is pretty much “gender neutral”.

Reason 2: Judges might have a preference for males, perhaps because they are, typically, bigger and more impressive. The fact that bitches might be more likely to be “out of coats” as a result of a season, may also be a factor.

Reason 3: The fact that males are stood in front of females in the BOB challenge might subconsciously bias a judge’s choice. They may simply be more likely to pick the dog at the front of the line.

Reason 4: Breeders might not be showing their “best” bitches. This seems rather unlikely!

Does any of this matter?

The authors say that their findings indicate a need for further exploration of this topic and its implications for breeding practices. Interestingly, they suggest that favouring males in the show ring might weaken the so-called Popular Sire effect by creating a larger pool of potential top-winning stud dogs than might be the case if there was a more even balance of BOB titles between the sexes. It is certainly an interesting observation that this male show-bias might also influence breeding-bias and selection pressures in breeding programmes.

It does seem likely that this bias towards males in the show ring could influence breeders’ thinking about what the ideal type might be within a breed. If that winning male type was sufficiently different from that of females, this might mean breeders narrow their choices of types of females to breed with.

If you own a bitch and aspire to get into the Group competition, this analysis suggests you’ve got a harder job than exhibitors of male dogs. Is there a “glass ceiling” for bitches and is it associated with unconscious biases of the judges? The study tells us nothing about the sex of the judges or the dogs’ handlers and that would have been another interesting dimension to investigate.

Finally, we must remember this study was done in Australia and a similar study in the UK might come up with completely different results. No doubt, my UK readers will have their own views depending on experiences in their own breeds.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting paper that adds a further dimension of evidence that the show world can and does influence the overall direction a breed takes, be that for conformation, temperament or health.

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