The behaviors of intact female dogs are quite different compared to the behaviors of intact male dogs who are notorious for their unwanted, sex-driven behaviors such as urine marking, mounting, escaping, and aggression.
However, when it comes to questionable behaviors, intact female dogs are not very far behind. Indeed, contrary, to popular belief, intact female dogs exhibit most of the behaviors intact males do.
The only difference is that females tend to exhibit those behaviors when in heat and around the heat period, while males are rather consistent and constant in their shenanigans.
In this article, we will review the dog’s heat period and the expected unwanted behaviors in intact female dogs.
Behaviors of Intact Female Dog Going into Heat
Usually females reach sexual maturity when between the age of six and 12 months old. This timeframe coincides with the onset of hormonally-driven behaviors.
At this point the dog experiences her first heat cycle and then has heat cycles around two times per year. Each heat cycle lasts between 21 and 28 days.
The first “in season” signs a dog parent will notice are swelling of the vulva and blood-tinged vaginal discharge. This first stage (proestrus) manifests with light urine marking and increased affection and cuddling tendencies.
The second stage (estrus) is when the female is fertile and receptive to males. During this phase the vaginal discharge becomes intense red or brownish. Now, the female dog lets males sniff her and even lick her genitals.
During the next stage (diestrus) the vulva goes back to its original size, the discharge stops, and males start losing interest in the female.
The period after this stage and until the next heat is called anestrus and it is marked by inactivity of the reproductive organs.
Rear Showing and Flagging
When the female dog is ready to mate she will lift approach males with elevated rear end and with her tail in an almost vertical position. The tail elevation and butt-showing position are popularly termed as “flagging”.
To avoid agitating other dogs, it is best advised not to take your female dog out in public places during this phase.
If she is going in doggy day care or boarding facility, you need to accent that she is the most delicate point of the heat cycle and proceed based on the facility’s rules regarding this question.
Urine marking is much more pronounced in males, but intact females are also prone to this unwanted behavior. In females, urine marking is generally present only during the heat cycle.
When urine marking, most female dogs will squat but some prefer to raise one of their hind legs. Before the female dog urine marks, you can notice intense sniffing of the area that will be marked.
Just like males, females like to mark low but prominent objects – fire hydrants, shoes, dog beds, or small plants.
Positive reinforcement training techniques and behavior modification can be used to prevent or stop this behavior.
If your dog urine marks inside the house, it is important to clean the marked areas with pet-friendly enzymatic cleaners.
Asking to Go Out
Dogs are driven by their instincts, and when in heat, the female dog’s instincts are telling her to mate. This mating drive is limited by you keeping her inside the house.
Therefore, females in heat, just like males, will frequently ask to go out. By ask, we mean whine, cry and scrape at the door. Depending on the circumstances, some dogs may try to escape.
A dog in heat must never be let off leash unless in an enclosed, secured, and monitored area. When it comes to escaping, dogs can be more creative than you can imagine.
Mounting and Licking
Mounting (or humping) and masturbating are embarrassing, but sadly common behaviors in all dogs regardless of sex and even regardless of their reproductive status. Yes, as unbelievable as it may sound, even “fixed” dogs mount and masturbate.
Female dogs are willing to mount on the same specter of objects as males – pillows, dog beds, plush toys, other dogs, and people’s legs (known or strangers).
However, unlike intact male dogs whose mounting may be sex-related, female dogs usually mount due to other reasons – boredom, stress, and attempt to show dominance over the mounted dog.
In addition to mounting, female dogs may be licking their genitals and stimulating themselves. Once again, the licking does not have to be sex-related. Some female dogs can lick their genitals as a stress relief, because of boredom, or due to an underlying medical issue – like, urinary tract infections.
If you are not sure where your dog’s mounting and licking urges stem from, do not hesitate to talk to a veterinarian or dog behaviorist.
In study from 2019, “Behavioral risks in female dogs with minimal lifetime exposure to gonadal hormones” researchers found that intact female dogs are more prone to excessive howling than spayed females.
This is important for dogs living in urban areas where the excess howling would be frowned upon by the neighbors.
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According to the same study, intact females are less likely to return immediately when called (during off leash time) and also less likely to fetch or attempt to fetch thrown objects like sticks and balls.
Chewing Inappropriate Objects
According to the study mentioned above, intact female dogs are more likely to engage in destructive chewing of inappropriate objects.
It is not particularly clear how this behavior is linked with the dog’s spaying status. It is postulated that intact females resort to destructive chewing due to increased irritability and mood swings.
Intact females, especially when in heat can be overly attached to their owners and leaving them alone can result in separation anxiety. Destructive chewing is a known coping mechanism in dogs with anxieties.
Dislike of Other Females
Like girls tend to see other girls as competition, especially during the teenage years, female dogs see other females as rivals. This female-to-female dislike is constantly present, but mostly accented during heat.
If you have more than one intact female in the households, you will need to make special arrangements while each of them is in heat. The dislike can sometimes culminate with a fight and the consequences might require an urgent trip to the vet’s office.
It should be noted that this dislike is focused solely on females. Intact female dogs get along well with males regardless of their “fixing” status.
Female dogs are prone to pronounced mood swings during heat. There are two main reasons – first, the presence of drastic hormonal changes and second, the pain some dogs feel while ovulating.
The drastic hormonal changes and ovulation pain usually make females more likely to snap and react aggressively, especially towards other females and even people. This also applies to dogs that have never shown aggression before.
On the other hand, the same reasons make female dogs more affectionate with family members and more likely to engage in cuddling sessions and attention-seeking attempts.
The female dog’s reproductive system is built to produce puppies. Therefore, even if the dog does not mate, the reproductive organs can become confused and assume the female is pregnant.
In this case, they will start preparing the body for the upcoming babies – you may therefore notice belly enlargement, swelling of the breasts, and even the production of milk.
A dog going through false pregnancy can start nesting, adopting plush toys and items and exerting her mothering behaviors towards those toys.
She may even become aggressive towards other pets and family members because of her over-protective behavior.
Females with false pregnancies tend to overcome these symptoms in around 14 to 21 days.
Medical Conditions of Intact Female Dogs
Worth mentioning are also a couple of medical conditions seen in intact female dogs which may cause your dog to behave differently.
Pyometra is the medical term that indicates inflammation of the uterus due to pus accumulation.
This life-threatening condition can develop in all intake females, but it is prevalent among females who went through false pregnancy and it usually develops around two months after the heat cycle.
Common clinical signs include reduced energy levels, refusal to eat, increased water intake, fever, foul-smelling vaginal discharge (tainted with blood and pus).
Pyometra is a medical emergency and the only treatment option is surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries.
According to statistics, over 25 percent of the non-spayed females will develop some type of a mammary tumor at some point in its life.
Around one half of the tumors are malignant and the other half benign. If properly managed, even the malignant mammary tumors can be managed and turn out to be not fatal.
However, all mammary tumors are painful, uncomfortable, and require extensive management protocols and treatments.
Certain dog breeds have higher than average risk of developing mammary tumors. Interestingly, one dog can develop different types of tumors on different breast complexes.
The decision to spay your dog should be based on rational and well-educated, objective reasons. Preventing the above listed behaviors is not the only aspect you need to consider.
While it is true that spayed dogs are less likely to develop mammary cancers and obviously cannot develop pyometra or false pregnancy, certain conditions are more likely to occur in spayed females.
For example, urinary incontinence, hip dysplasia, and certain types of cancer are prevalent in spayed females.
Even if you do decide to spay, the next concern would be when. Recently, it has been shown that the spaying procedure timing is much more important than it was initially believed.
Bottom line, all concerns regarding your dog’s spaying must be extensively discussed with your trusted veterinarian.
Curious about the behavior of intact male dogs? Here are some pointers: the behavior of intact male dogs.