Canine Sexuality: Why Gay Versus Straight Doesn’t Matter to Dogs

Pet Care


October 26, 2021

Dogs of the same sex having sex is nothing new. They’ve been doing it for far longer than our own ever-evolving ideas of sexuality.

But just because dogs sometimes “do it” with partners of the same sex doesn’t make them “gay” anymore than mating makes then “straight” – and here’s why.

Gender Is a Construct

First of all, it’s worth noting that the very ideas of “gay” and “straight” aren’t universal concepts. In fact, according to philosophers such as Michel Foucault in his History of Sexuality, they’re fairly recent by-products of the Victorian Age’s neo-puritanism and conflation of wealth, ethno-nationalism, traditionalism, and patriarchy. Before the Victorian Era, gender roles were a fluid, changeable spectrum, from Greco-Roman homosexuality to Shakespeare’s gender-bending heroines to 18th century “female husbands.”

And that’s just the West. Long before the legal debates over trans rights today, Native American tribes have historically had ideas of “two-spirit” individuals with gender defined far less rigidly than simply “gay” or “straight.” It’s important to distinguish here between “gender” and “orientation” (which give us “gay” or “straight”) and biological sex (mostly “male” and “female,” with some individuals biologically blurring those lines).

All of which is to say that gender is a construct that we, as humans, invent for ourselves. Sex is “natural,” but gender is our own “invention.” Dogs aren’t going around writing plays, novels, and treatises on gender, sex, and sexuality, so it’s safe to say they aren’t imagining themselves as “gay,” “straight,” or any other gender and orientation-related identities we make for ourselves.

Same-Sex Sexuality in Animals

So “gay” and “straight” don’t work as descriptors for dogs and other animals. Nor does “homosexuality” – “homo” is Latin for “man,” after all. That said, same-sex attraction and sexuality can be seen in thousands of animals worldwide. In fact, scientific study of same sex attraction in animals is a pretty fertile field at present, with new research being done all the time revealing how natural and commonplace it is.

Of course, no matter how natural it is, this can still lead to some awkward owners for pet owners, such as dogs pursuing other dogs (or people) for sex in public. What’s more, if you have two same-sex dogs together with none of the opposite sex, they may see that same-sex partner as the only “option.” It’s not “gay,” just their natural animal urges and desire for sex.

Of course, to dogs, there is no such thing as “in public,” because there’s no constructed divide between public and private space. There’s just their territory and the outside world. Anyone in the former is fair game, and if you take them out into the latter, they’re bound to want to “explore.”

Why Dogs Have Sex in Public

Dogs don’t have strict gender roles and the question of “dog sexual orientation” (like the larger meta question “can dogs be gay”) is still very much up in the air, so there are likely many reasons for same-sex sexual interactions. The most obvious reason is that sex is, by design, pleasurable. Without the strict moral codes that pervade human sexuality and identity, to dogs, if it feels good…do it.

In fact, if another dog is not around, dogs may take matters into their own hands (or paws) by masturbating. If they do have another dog at their disposal, these urges can lead to them mounting the other dog. Not only is this sexual gratification, but it can also be seen as a way of “socializing” with one another. It’s hard to argue dog-on-dog sex isn’t an “intimate” relationship.

The same holds true for why dogs sniff one another’s butts. Dogs experience the world to a great extent through their sense of smell, and so sniffing one another’s anuses gives them details of where the other dog has been. This, like the most anally-fixated dating app ever, helps dogs determine if the other party is a good “match” before deciding whether or not they want to “get down to business.”

Anxiety or Stress

Given the pleasurable nature of sex, it’s no wonder that some dogs may use it as a manner of stress relief. This is yet another reason why dogs may choose to hump other dogs, even if they are of the same sex. It isn’t about being “gay” or “straight” to them, but simply about relieving stress and anxiety with the nearest potential sexual partner possible.

Of course, that can lead to some pretty awkward moments if they come across someone else’s dog in the park, or even start to hump their leg, or your own. It is thus essential for dog owners to train their dogs to understand what is and isn’t an okay way to relieve their sexual urges.

A good way to avoid this, of course, is to learn to recognize warning signs of anxiety in dogs so you can address them before they manifest as humping or other sex-centric stress relief.

Medical Issues

However, there are other, potentially more problematic reasons why dogs may engage in humping behavior, same-sex or otherwise. For example, if your dog licks an erogenous zone repeatedly, it could be a sign that they are suffering from a urinary tract infection or allergy of some kind which has affected that region. Males in particular can be susceptible to the former, which can cause them to hump for “pain relief.”

Displays of Dominance

From the Marquis de Sade and Simone de Beauvoir to Foucault and Judith Butler, philosophy and critical theory are awash in ideas on gender, sexuality, and dominance. Dogs may not be up on their feminist theory or BDSM fetish culture, but even if the idea of “alpha dogs” is a discredited one, there is no denying that dogs have a deep understanding of dominance which can cross into sexual boundaries.

Once again, dogs don’t care about gender roles, and so don’t really care if they are attempting to establish dominance over a male or female. To them, the important thing is that they are dominant, full stop. If you have several dogs and one starts humping the others, they may be trying to establish themselves as the “top dog” in the house – literally.

There are plenty of reasons why dogs can engage in sex with other dogs, be it same-sex sexual encounters or one with the opposite sex, for pleasure or for mating.

However, as has been mentioned several times above, it is critical to note that our ideas of “gay” and “straight” are human inventions (and new ones at that), which do not apply to dogs. As such, while dogs have sex with dogs of the same sex all the time, they aren’t “gay” or “straight” based on who they have sex on. For dogs, the key thing is the sex itself.