Dog Articles - Humping, The Embarrassing Dog Enigma

Humping, The Embarrassing Dog Enigma


Mounting, also referred to as humping, is a regularly misunderstood, and therefore often embarrassing dog behavior. We have all experienced that awkward moment when a dog decides to mount another dog or hump a person’s leg in public. This behavior is usually met with chuckles, the occasional lewd comment, and a significant amount of conjecture as to what the action implies.


Why Do Dogs Hump?

To understand why dogs hump, one must view the various circumstances during which the behavior takes place as wholly disparate. There are many different reasons, and each one applies to a particular, natural dog behavior.

The widespread misconception is that that dogs hump purely for sexual gratification. This leads to mortification at the dog park when one male dog mounts another. Misinformed dog owners see this act as an expression of homosexuality on the part of the mounting dog, which is completely untrue. The idea that there is any concept of “gay” or “straight” in the dog world is a fallacy.

When one adult dog humps another, it is often an expression of dominance. It is a testing of limits and a statement that the mounting dog is higher in the social order than the dog being mounted. If the dog being mounted allows the act to take place, he or she is confirming that the mounting dog is dominant. If he or she fights off the other dog, a struggle for dominance ensues, including stare-downs, posturing, and scuffles. These scraps are rarely violent, although the raised hackles, vocalization, and baring of teeth can be disturbing to onlookers.

Some dogs are more interested in seeking dominance than others, much of which is due to the hormone testosterone. The same chemical that makes intact (not neutered) males tend to be more aggressive and more territorial also drives them to seek dominance.

Hormones may help explain why female dogs hump as well as males. Humping is considered a sexually dimorphic behavior, meaning it tends to be displayed by one gender of the species. However, some females have higher levels of androgenic hormones (hormones which control development and maintenance of masculine characteristics), which results in higher levels of aggression and a stronger urge for dominance. This is further exacerbated in spayed females because they lack the suppressing effect of estrogen.

When dogs hump humans, they are expressing that they feel above them in the social order. When a dog humps his owner, one should take this as a sign that there is a lack of balance in the dog/owner relationship. A dog’s master should be considered the alpha dog; the leader of the pack. If a dog is humping his owner, he is vying for a leadership role, usually for one of two reasons. The dog may have an overly dominant (and therefore, usually aggressive) nature, and thus requires obedience training to be put in his place. Otherwise, the owner is not taking a leadership role in the relationship, leaving a power vacuum. Dogs crave leadership; they are pack animals and a theoretical game of follow the leader is ingrained deep within their psyche. When the master does not enforce his role as the alpha, the dog feels the stress of that lack of leadership and the need to fill the role. If your dog is humping you, he is showing you that he is boss, and this needs to be corrected.

Humping can also be a symptom of a completely different problem. Humping incessantly, especially constant humping of toys, the air, the couch and other random objects might be manifestation of extreme stress, obsessive compulsive disorder, or anxiety. Some dogs also hump pillows and various inanimate objects because of irritation in the genital area. If your dog humps unremittingly, schedule a visit with your vet to make sure he or she is physically and mentally healthy.

Young puppies’ humping is another matter all together. Young dogs play together to learn about social interaction. Most puppies will take turns between playing dominant and submissive roles so they can all learn together how the social construct of a pack works.


Stop The Humping!

One way to try to curtail humping in males is to have them neutered. There are scores of benefits to having your dog fixed, and some research has shown that neutering can reduce humping in as many as 60% of male dogs.

Neutering, however, does not always make a difference because the humping behavior has become a habit. You can break this habit (and keep the habit from forming) by consistently interrupting the act. Many dog owners make the mistake of trying to distract a humping dog with a treat or toy, not realizing that they are rewarding the very behavior that they are trying to halt. Instead, command your dog to perform an alternate and incompatible behavior and then reward him for doing so. Ask him to sit, give you a paw, lay down, or perform any other trick you have taught him. He cannot perform these actions and hump at the same time; he knows he will receive praise or treats or some sort of reward for performing the act you’ve commanded, so if the motivator is strong enough, he will stop humping. This should break the humping habit when it is not a matter of a dominance struggle, such as between two male dogs at the dog park.

Stop your dog from humping you and other people by clarifying his place in the pack, which is below humans. One simple way to assert your dominance over your dog takes place at meal times. In the wild, the pack leader eats first and all the other dogs wait until he gives them the ok. Use this instinct to your advantage. Take your dog to where you feed him his meals and ask him to sit and wait. Measure out his food and fill his water bowl and place them on the floor or in his feeder. If he lunges for the food, pick them back up and ask him again to sit and wait. Place them down again and again; every time he lunges, pick them back up. It should only take a few times for him to realize that he will not be given his dinner until he waits for a command from you. Once he holds his sit while the bowls are on the floor, give him a release command like “ok” or “go ahead,” and let him eat. If you and the rest of your family take turns doing this at every meal it will go a long way towards showing your dog where he belongs in the pack.

This is part of the principle of the Nothing in Life Is Free (NILIF) training method. Your dog must learn that all good things come from humans, and he must earn them because he is not the pack leader. Learn more about NILIF training to further curb your dog’s humping behavior.

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