Gay-nines: Can Dogs be Gay?

Would you dump your dog if he was gay?

In a story that recently went viral on the internet, a man in Tennessee surrendered his dog to a shelter for just that reason. The male Bulldog mix was apparently mounting other male dogs, giving the homophobic owner the skeeves. Fortunately, the dog was saved from euthanasia by a more enlightened human, who gave him a new life and a new name – Elton.

Two dog tails meeting to form a heart
Love is love.

After hearing that story, a lot of people have asked whether dogs can, in fact, be gay. Little do they know what a complicated and controversial question that is. The bottom line is that science offers no clear answer – just heaps of data that allow people to come to their own, often conflicting, conclusions.

Dogs Acting Gay

One thing we know for sure is that both male and female dogs often mount other dogs of the same gender. In other words, what Elton the Bulldog mix was doing was probably normal dog stuff. It wasn’t necessarily sexual, and definitely shouldn’t be taken as proof of sexual orientation.

Gay dog
Not what we’re talking about. Photo Credit: tinou bao cc

Dogs hump each other to sort out who the top dog is. Even if a female dog is around, male dogs in a group may try still to mount other males because that’s who they see as the threat. That doesn’t mean they’re not interested in female dogs, especially ones that are in heat.

Dogs mount other dogs of the same sex for sexual gratification as well. But then, they also get it on with legs, stuffed animals, cats, and just about anything else they can get on top of. Even female dogs and neutered males do this (though to a lesser extent). In most cases, it’s just a form of pleasure that doesn’t say anything about their sexuality.

Put it together, and it sounds like the sort of homosexual behavior that goes on in prison (don’t drop the soap!). Rather than reflecting long-term sexual orientation, a lot of dog-on-dog action is more about power and the limited supply of available sex partners.

Of course, that doesn’t rule out the possibility of genuine homosexuality in the dog world. After all, it seems to exist in other animals.

Homosexuality in the Animal Kingdom

Scientists have observed homosexual behavior in a lot of different species, but actual examples of what humans call being gay – that is, a clear preference for the same sex even when members of the opposite sex are available – are relatively rare.

Here are some of the more interesting ones:

  • According to a 2003 study, about 8% of male sheep prefer the company of other rams. The study found that a part of the brain called the ovine Sexually Dimorphic Nucleus was smaller in gay sheep than in straight ones.
  • Committed same sex relationships have been noted in many species of birds. Male penguins in particular have been known to not only engage in homosexual sex, but to adopt orphaned eggs and raise chicks together.
  • The bonobo appears to be bisexual as a species. These great apes, which along with the chimp are the closest relatives to humans, will use any excuse to have sex. Female-on-female sex is particularly common.
Picture of a bonobo ape
Bonobos are the swingers of the animal kingdom

These examples shouldn’t lead anyone to the conclusion that there are gay members of every species. However, they do suggest that being gay or bi isn’t just a human phenomenon.

Is Your Dog Gay?

Whether animals can be gay is a controversial issue because it impacts the gay rights debate.

Some argue that homosexuality isn’t natural because it only happens in humans. If the examples above are valid (some say they’re not), then that blows a hole in that theory.

In any case, there’s no arguing that homosexual behavior – whatever its motivations – is well-documented in a lot of species, including dogs.

Some would also argue that the dividing line between gay and straight is artificial. You can be sure it doesn’t matter to your dog, who just does what feels good in the moment. In other words, the old saying “everyone’s a little gay” could apply just as well to dogs as it does to people.