Women and Big Dogs: An Easy Target for Everyday Sexism

31/03/2015 13:48 | Updated 30 May 2015

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I'm no stranger to everyday sexism, but it still manages to creep up on me when I don't expect it. Before I added a boisterous puppy to my home a little over a year ago, I had no idea the sexism I would encounter every time I left the house.

Bruce is an Airedale Terrier. The largest terrier breed, Bruce was also the chunkiest of his litter. I had never planned to get a big pooch, but after years of researching the perfect pet for my lifestyle 'Dales were a clear winner. He's lively, smart, independent and has a great sense of humour - all my favourite personality traits rolled up into a ball of fur. Notoriously naughty in their first three years, young Airedales play rough, like to mouth, and find it difficult to contain their excitement.

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In his first year Bruce managed to bust my lip open twice from sheer exuberance during play time. He got onto the conservatory roof once, much to my dismay and horror, and I'd rather not admit to how many dinners he has stolen from the kitchen counter when I haven't had my wits about me.

His intelligence makes him devious. He plots. He creates distractions in the kitchen so he can steal shoes from the bedroom. He figured out how to open doors so I had to get a stair gate to keep him from getting into the office. This week he finally sussed how to unlock the pet proof kitchen bin. He is a clever little monster, and I love him for it. His cunning makes me proud in the way that only a dog owner can be, and I find myself boasting about how smart he is rather than feeling humiliated over how naughty he can be.

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Daily training, lots of play and plenty of exercise means that over the past year Bruce has learnt right from wrong and knows when he is being a bad dog, though it doesn't always stop him from getting into trouble. What fun would that be, after all? I've poured my heart and soul into moulding this big bouncing bundle of fur into a sweet and well behaved guy, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished. We're best buds, and he even prompted me to start a lifestyle blog just for dog lovers. Yes, there are days when I am sure he is the spawn of Satan, but then there are the days where he spends hours manoeuvring himself onto my lap when I don't feel well, or plays gently and calmly with young kids in the park.

When I took the plunge and brought Bruce into my life I was ready for the hard work, the continual training, the dedication I would need and the vast amounts of attention he would demand. I was ready to lose a few possessions to him in the teething stage and to shell out on pet insurance, vet trips and a seemingly never ending supply of toys for him to methodically rip apart.

However, there was one thing that I wasn't prepared for. The blatant sexism I would face as a small woman with a big dog.

At first it wasn't much of a problem. My little pup had a big personality and stacks of confidence, but was loved by everyone he met. I didn't get many comments on his walks apart from the usual puppy adoration. Then, he started to grow, and he was growing fast.

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First up, came the clique of older women with their adorable, ageing lap dogs. When they had once chatted happily to me and made cooing noises at my pup they now wouldn't crack a smile. I was told he was too big for someone 'like me', that I wouldn't be able to manage him and that he would get frustrated without having a proper leader. They told me I would be better suited to a miniature poodle. Having spent five years researching breeds, I found this rather irksome.

It didn't take long for the comments to start rolling in from other dog walkers, strangers in the street and visitors to the house. Bruce was about five months old when people started hurling insults at me. He was gaining size and no longer looked like a puppy, but was still very much in the early learning stages. He was unpredictable and erratic and more playful than anything I have ever seen. He was also super friendly, which didn't always go down well. Once, I dared to walk Bruce past in front of a man eating a sandwich on a park bench and when my curious little furball excitedly looked over at the tuna bun he was shovelling into his mouth two feet away, I was branded a 'stupid girl' and told I should have walked the other way round the park. I debated throwing a full poo bag at him and legging it, but decided to smile, wish him a nice day and continue with my walk.

During Bruce's early adolescence I had countless sexist insults thrown my way. When he was learning recall on a training lead and got too close to an unsocialised dog, I was given abuse by the owner several times on different walks for being a 'skanky, badly dressed bitch'. Besides the fact that I was wearing Burberry, I like to think that Bruce's training isn't hindered by my choice of outfit.

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I had a puppy who was sociable, non-reactive and well behaved with people and other dogs, but in the end he was just that - a puppy. He got into mischief on occasion, but according to society it's not because he was young and still learning his training, it was because I am a woman and therefore failing as a dog owner. Bruce wasn't difficult down to the fact that he's a big dog with a puppy personality, no, I was failing him because having a vagina means I am ill equipped to train anything taller than my ankles.

Now that Bruce is fully grown I don't tend to get insults anymore. It's a fun fact that people generally don't want to insult anyone walking an overgrown terrier with very large teeth. However, the sexist comments haven't abated, just morphed. Wolf whistles and cat calling may sounds pun-tastic in this instance, but they are a part of my everyday life when I choose to take Bruce out, which I do twice a day without fail.

It seems there is something about a 50kg woman walking a 30kg dog that means I am a target for letches all over London. I have lost count of how many times I have been asked if Bruce is too big to handle while being not so subtly winked at. I can't make it to the park without having someone beep their horn at me. It's a failure of myself that I now make a conscious effort to make sure I'm not wearing makeup when I take him out, because I want to draw the least attention to myself as possible.

Of course I shouldn't be surprised. Sexism is rife in all areas of life, why wouldn't pet ownership be included? Perhaps I should have just resigned myself to going crazy and getting 20 cats, and leave the canine best friends to the men.