Humping - A Mounting Problem

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Ah, Spring . . . when flowers burst forth and trees swell with buds . . . when we celebrate the earth’s lush fertility with images of bunnies and lambs . . . when a young man’s fancy turns to love.  Given the season, you’ll forgive us for being so forward, won’t you?  Because today we’re going to talk about humping.

Actually, we want to talk about your dog’s humping — your leg, the chair, another dog, your cat, a teddy bear, a shrub.  Just what is that about?  And what can you do to help your embarrassingly humping horndog become more socially appropriate?

First, the behavior’s probably not what you think.  Much popular wisdom about this behavior has been debunked by current behavioral science.  For starters, mounting isn’t necessarily socially inappropriate —  if you’re a dog.  “Exactly!  Like sniffing crotches.  It’s inappropriate to invade someone like that in our culture but it’s appropriate in dog culture,” says Certified Pet Dog Trainer Denise Mullenix, who founded Behave Canine Solutions in Portland.

Other well-worn myths would have you believing your Royal Mounty wants to either dominate you or mate with you.  But it’s probably neither, says Dr. Christopher Pachel, a veterinary behaviorist and owner of Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland.  “People get embarrassed if they think it’s sexual,” says Pachel, noting that some reach pretty comical conclusions about their dog’s sexuality when he mounts males and females, young and old, and anything that will hold still.  Mounting is sexual if an intact male dog is testing the sexual receptivity of female dogs, but most mounting has little to do with puppy-making impulses.

Mounting also isn’t evidence of a dog’s evil plot to lord over you.  “People have been told it’s a dominant behavior and if they let the dog get away with that it will create a lot of other dominance behaviors,” says Pachel.  “Can it be a dominant behavior?  It can, but usually it isn’t,” he says.  To understand a dog’s motivation, you must consider the circumstances.

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Usually, a humping dog is simply a happy dog.  “You’ll see the behavior in puppies as play experimentation,” says Certified Pet Dog Trainer Debbie Schaefer, who owns The Well-Mannered Dog in Eugene, OR.  “You see it in animals that are overexcited.”  Because people often attribute the behavior to motives other than emotional excitement their response (e.g., punishment) can do more harm than good.  Schaefer recalls antiquated techniques that she “wouldn’t even want mentioned,” says Schafer, “I think people are less inclined to react that way now, but they still don’t know what to do.”

So, what to do?  It depends.  If family pets are playfully mounting each other, Pachel says, “We can just keep drinking our coffee.”  But if the humper fails to see his humpee objects, redirect his excitement with a toy or game.  Redirecting can also help avoid possible squabbles among dogs meeting for the first time.  Definitely distract with play or treats.  “You have to offer something as good as or better than what they’re excited over,” says Mullenix.  Punishment or embarrassed human squealing won’t help.  “Sometimes people run in and yell and grab leashes.  This is a condition of emotional arousal, so increasing the emotional energy is counterproductive,” says Pachel.

Redirection is also a great tactic for dogs who mount people.  The dog wants play and attention, so ignore the humping and entice her away with more appropriate fun.  Schaefer, who sees training as a quality of life issue, says undesirable behaviors limit family activities and hamper the human/dog bond.  “The more a dog behaves well in public or with guests the more it opens opportunities for people and dogs.  And the bond that develops in those circumstances is just multiplied.”  With patience and consistency, any mounty can learn better ways of getting attention.