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What to Do About Your Humping Dog

Embarrassed or worried by your dogs’ mounting behavior? Usually, humping is normal.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
October 20, 2009
Episode #033

What to Do About Your  Humping Dog

Last weekend my best friend came to visit--a rare treat, since we live on opposite coasts. My dog Juniper adores Patti and was thrilled when she appeared--so thrilled that he made a complete air-humping circuit of my admittedly tiny living room. Once I managed to stop laughing, it occurred to me that humping, that common, sometimes embarrassing, often misunderstood behavior, deserved an episode all its own.

Why Do Dogs Hump?

Mounting or humping, of course, is what male dogs do when they mate. But as I’m sure we’ve all seen, dogs don’t only mount when mating, and they don’t only mount other dogs; they may also mount furniture, other animals, stuffed toys, and people. Once a dog whose behavior I was evaluating got on the back of the sofa behind me and began to hump my head. Female dogs mount, though less frequently than males.

Dogs May Hump for Sexual Reasons

Apart from actual mating, dogs still find plenty of reasons to mount. Oddly enough, people often overlook the most obvious of these: sex. Even neutered and spayed dogs display sexual behavior, often accompanied with what looks to a human eye like flirtation--bouncy, playful, physically close. You may see a female dog lift her tail away from her genitals just as she would if in heat and preparing to mate. Male dogs may ejaculate after humping, though if they’re neutered, of course the fluid contains no sperm. Masturbation humping is common, if I can judge by the number of clients who’ve told me about their dog’s special relationship with a pillow or other soft object.

Dogs May Hump When They are Excited or Anxious

Physiological arousal isn’t only sexual. Juniper’s response to our houseguest reflected happy excitement; he had an erection, so maybe there was a sexual component too. Dogs may hump when anxious. I’m not aware of any studies of whether the behavior lowers heart rate and blood pressure or promotes muscle relaxation, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised. I also suspect that this anxious humping is the kind many popular training books explain as a status grab or an assertion of rank. For whatever reason, people tend to see high rank as the reason for showy, flamboyant dog behaviors such as humping and fighting. In fact, these often arise out of social anxiety. Something to bear in mind the next time a dog humps your leg--not an experience to look forward to, but usually not a portent of a palace coup.

Sexual humping and anxious humping can make people uncomfortable. Of course, if your dog is anxious, it’s a kindness to alleviate that anxiety even if you don’t mind him clasping leg. Also, a dog who routinely expresses social anxiety by humping fellow canines may sooner or later meet one who responds with significant aggression.

Dogs May Hump When They are Bored and Seeking Attention

With pretty much any behavior that you wish your dog wouldn’t do, consider whether he might be bored or seeking attention.

With pretty much any behavior that you wish your dog wouldn’t do, consider whether he might be bored or seeking attention. Take an honest look at how much physical exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction your dog gets. If your bored, underexercised, lonely young dog has learned he can get your attention by humping the couch cushion every evening right after dinner, the best way to stop the humping is to give him something else to fill his time.

What Is Normal Humping and Mounting?

All that having been said, humping isn’t always abnormal. In fact, it usually isn’t. If your dog, like my Juniper, sometimes humps excitedly, laugh and let it go. If your dog flirts and humps, or is humped by, some of his or her dog friends, no worries. Occasional humping as anxiety relief is normal, and so is masturbating. There’s no real way to put this delicately, but the fact that laundry may be unpleasant for you doesn’t automatically signify that your dog has a behavior problem. If your dog humps you occasionally, your best bet is to just get up and walk away.

Compulsive Disorders and Medical Problems

So when should you worry? First, if your dog humps to the exclusion of other activities or constantly licks at or rubs her genitals, you might be looking at canine compulsive disorder or a medical problem. Allergies, for example, can make dogs itch like mad. Check out my podcast on excessive licking for more about canine compulsive disorder, and schedule a vet check ASAP.

Significant Anxiety

Second, if your dog humps every visitor to your house or every dog and dogette he meets at the park, you have all the evidence you need that that social situation is too much for him. Visit the dog park only when the place is less crowded, go elsewhere altogether, or limit playtime to familiar friends. Let your dog rest in his crate with a chew toy when people visit.

You may hear the advice to teach your dog a cue meaning “Leave that alone”; my only objection is that though it may solve your immediate manners problem it doesn’t address the cause. If you believe your dog’s humping arises out of anxiety about people or other dogs, consult a behavior specialist for advice.

Do Dogs Hump to Show Dominance?

As I mentioned earlier, you’ll often hear that humping is a dominance move. Perhaps it sometimes is, but beware of default “explanations” arrived at without much thought.  Take that dog who tried to hump my head. He repeatedly pushed into my space. He wasn’t friendly. And he had a history of guarding his resting spots and his toys. So maybe when he climbed up on the sofa back behind me, he was pulling rank. On the other hand, he was a young, intact male who had never had training of any kind--in other words, a hormone-packed adolescent who’d grown up in a household with no rules. Maybe he was trying to dominate me, or maybe he was just one of them boys who don’t know how to act. Either way, he needed a good reward-based dog trainer to show him some moves.

As for me, your comments and questions help me shape future episodes. E-mail dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com or call 206-600-5661. And come see me on Facebook. Thanks for listening. Goodbye!

Excited Dog image from Shutterstock

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