Humans have kept dogs as pets for thousands of years. During this time, we've been able to observe many behaviors, and we've learned a lot. But some things still remain a mystery to us, and many dog owners have wondered: Is it possible for dogs to be gay?
Domesticated animals display a wide range of sexual behaviors, some of which can be interpreted by humans as "homosexual." You might remember the 2013 incident involving Elton the "gay" dog; a Pit Bull whose impressively homophobic owner sent him to a shelter after observing him hump another male dog. Thankfully, Elton's story has a happy ending, and he now lives in a loving home free of canine homophobes.
But was his owner right? Did a same-sex humping incident mean his dog was gay?
Experts say maybe, but not necessarily. As most dog owners know, dogs are not especially discriminating when it comes to humping. A male dog may mount another male in a display of dominance, or out of sexual frustration. Dogs have also been known to hump an impressive array of non-canine objects, ranging from other household pets to their favorite blanket.
That said, there are some male dogs who show a lifelong "preference" for other male dogs, even ignoring females in heat. Whether these are indeed "gay dogs" is another matter entirely. The concept of being "gay" is very human-centric, and it's tough to say whether we should extend it to canines. As Brian Palmer at Slate points out, "no one knows what's in the mind or heart of a dog."
Palmer's article also details some interesting cases of humans associating dogs with gay sex. There were the Enarieae, "pagan priests in the pre-Christian Eastern Mediterranean who engaged in sodomy to celebrate the rising of Sirius, the dog star." Curiously, there has also been "canine homophobia" for an astonishingly long time. Palmer points out that the Old Testament describes male sex workers as "dogs."
Palmer theorizes that "mankind probably associated dogs with homosexuality simply because they had so many opportunities to observe canine copulation." Since humans have kept dogs as pets for so long, we've had many more opportunities to observe them than other animals. If we had domesticated other animals early on, we might have known that there are many, many examples of homosexual behavior across the animal kingdom.
Female Japanese macaques sometimes mount each other even when males are available. Male penguins occasionally and adorably pair up to raise a chick to the delight of millions. Some 6 percent of male rams have sex with other males and do not respond to female rams who are in heat.
Studying this behavior is difficult enough in the wild and in zoos. It's even more difficult when you're dealing with animals that are usually pets, like cats and dogs. Even if your male dog prefers sexual contact with other male cats, how would you ever know? If he's the only dog you own, the topic is likely only to come up at dog parks or on playdates with other male dogs. And as we know, a couple incidences of homosexual sex do not make a "gay" dog.
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Another consideration is that spaying and neutering decrease sex hormones that our pets would make use of in the wild. This fact makes it even more difficult to say what kind of sex a dog might prefer in its "intact" (meaning not spayed or neutered) state.
The greatest challenge in this field is that we must be careful not to anthropomorphize dogs, or other animals, for that matter. Scientists point out that although homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom may look similar to homosexual behavior in humans, it doesn't mean that our concept of being "gay" necessarily applies to them.