Can dogs be gay?

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Watching your pet dog getting extra-friendly with another pup of the same sex has led many an owner to ask the question – is my dog gay?

It’s a straightforward question, but the answer isn’t entirely simple.

Do dogs have gay sex?

Any dog owner will be well aware that male and female dogs will happily mount other dogs of the same sex. You can hardly stop puppies humping anything they happen across – littermates of both sexes, playmates, your leg, and your newly-bought sofa. And that’s just when they’re taking time out from licking themselves.

Some dog experts think this rubbing-happy behaviour is “practice” for when they’re old enough to have sex. Some say it’s to assert their social status, because they’re happy, because they’re stressed, or because they just want a play.

A dog at Pride in Cyprus

Some suggest it’s just that – hey – it feels good. Even after they’re neutered or spayed, many dogs will continue to hump things and mount other animals. If they’re engaging sexually with another dog of the same sex for pleasure, it seems fair enough to describe that from our human vantage point as gay sex.

But does that mean my dog is gay?

Sexual or not, does any of this behaviour mean that dogs can actually be gay?

For people, “being gay” certainly isn’t as simple as “having gay sex”.

As a sexual orientation, homosexuality has emotional and romantic facets, too. It can also be part of a person’s individual and community identity.

Most of us see ourselves as more than just a collection of our behaviours. Our sense of identity is bound up in how we feel and what we think. And while self-knowledge and honesty aren’t always absolute, the easiest way to find out if a person is gay is to just ask them.

With their bigger brains, people are more complicated than dogs. Do animals feel those sorts of feelings? Can a dog be self-aware? It’s an open question. They don’t seem to recognise themselves in a mirror but have better luck using their sniffing powers to spot their own scent.

Even if a dog does have a sense of self, we as people can only infer their preferences and motivation from their behaviour. Asking if a dog is gay in the human sense of the word is probably asking the wrong question.

Are there other gay animals?

Hundreds of species of animals, including dogs, have been observed “exhibiting homosexual behaviour”. As well as same-sex parenting (penguins are famous for it), affection (in polar bears), courtship and pair bonding, that also includes sexual behaviour, including mating games, sexual display behaviour, genital stimulation and full-on copulation.

Indeed, back in 2006, the Natural History Museum in Oslo hosted Against Nature? the first-ever museum exhibition dedicated to gay animals, claiming that same-sex behaviours had been observed in 1,500 different species.

That includes everything from dolphins and penguins to giraffes and chimpanzees.

Then there was the case of Benjy the bull – condemned to death for his supposed gay leanings but saved in part by The Simpsons creator Sam Simon after a fundraising drive.

A twist came a year later when Benjy appeared to come out as bisexual, perhaps, when he tried to mate with cows.

Can dogs be transgender?

Again… this is probably the wrong question. To be transgender is to have a sense of personal identity and gender that does not correspond with your assigned sex. That type of self-awareness is more than likely being beyond most pooches, no matter how smart they appear.

Even if they can and do feel that way, they don’t have the ability to express it to us. But gender reassignment surgery for dogs is most definitely a thing. Molly the Jack Russell has recovered after undergoing such an operation when vets diagnosed her as intersex.

Why are people so bothered about animals being gay or not?

Animal sexuality is about a lot more than animal sexuality. Many, though not all, homophobes claim that human homosexuality or bisexuality is “against nature” but the fact that the animal kingdom is full of what looks like homosexual and bisexual behaviour seems to fly in the face of that.

Sometimes, it all gets a little silly. Back in 2014, a youth member of the far-right British political party the BNP Jack Renshaw complained on Facebook about his dog “licking the penises of other male dogs”.

“Don’t challenge my principles,” he added to his poor pup, “because my principles will likely win”.

A less chucklesome approach to a “gay dog” happened in Tennesse in 2013, when a dog was taken to an overcrowded kennel and condemned to death after his owner decided his hunching over another male dog meant he was homosexual.

Thankfully, Elton, as he was later named, was saved from being put down when a new owner was found after a Facebook appeal.

It seems that while homosexuality – of a sort – has been observed in over 1,500 species of animal, homophobia has only been observed in one…