Why Do Dogs Hump?
By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz July 03, 2020
For some dog parents, humping behavior can cause frustration and embarrassment. Even though the behavior is completely natural, many owners would prefer their dogs to keep this behavior to themselves or not acted out at all. In this article we will discuss the underlying reasons why dogs perform humping and mounting behaviors. Moreover, practical solutions for pet parents to prevent this behavior from occurring will also be provided.
Why Do Dogs Hump?
Dogs will hump other dogs, humans, or objects. Humping is part hormone driven, part learned and reinforced behavior. In our neutered or spayed dogs at home, humping is typically a sign of excitement. The behavior may also be used to relieve boredom or to cope with anxiety. For intact dogs, humping may be sexually motivated. Hormones cause intact dogs to feel a strong desire to hump if they are exposed to a dog in heat or are in heat themselves.
Reasons Why Dogs Hump
- Reproduction or Mating
Most of the time, our dog’s mounting behavior is nonsexual in nature. However, humping behavior plays a critical role in reproduction. When dogs mate, an intact dog will mount a female dog that is in heat. The typical copulation behavior sequence starts with mounting and clasping, followed by pelvic thrusting, leading to ejaculation, and concludes with a copulatory lock in which the dogs remain ‘tied’ for a period of minutes (Hart, 1967).
Some believe that nonsexual mounting of dogs is generally a dominance, control, or challenge behavior (Schilder et al., 2014). However, others debate the behavior as more related to play. Mounting, when used in conjunction with other behaviors may be used to determine social status. But when dogs are playing, dominance can be difficult to determine because they will often reverse roles. This means that mounting may not be directly related to a dog’s social rank (i.e. the more dominant dog may be receiving or delivering mounting behavior) (Trisko, 2011).
- Play Behavior
During the socialization period between 3 and 12 weeks of age, mounting is a common behavior during social and sexual play in puppies (Freedman et al., 1961; Scott and Fuller, 2012). Mounting is also a common behavior observed in adult social play, along with chasing, nipping, and circling (Burghardt, 2005).
- Over Stimulation or Excitement
In preadolescent and neutered dogs, mounting is generally a byproduct of physiological arousal. Dogs may be triggered by sensory stimuli, such as company coming over for a visit or getting to play with their best friend, motor activity, and/or emotional reactivity (Andrew, 1974). In other words, dogs will use mounting or humping to displace built up energy.
- Anxiety or Boredom
Sometimes mounting and humping behaviors may be used as forms of stress relief (Bekoff, 2015). For instance, dogs may hump couch cushions or pillows when left home alone due to separation anxiety. They may also direct their humping towards humans when they’re experiencing a stressful situation. Dogs will also hump when they are bored. This could be an outlet for pent up energy or it could just be a behavior that feels good to them.
- Underlying Medical Conditions
Finally, humping or mounting may be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, or allergies that is causing sensitive body parts to itch. Dogs may rub or lick areas of their body that are in pain to comfort themselves. Additionally, excessive humping could be a sign of compulsive behavior, especially if the dog is performing it to the point of causing injury to themselves or if it prohibits them from performing daily life tasks.
Do Male And Female Dogs Hump?
Both male and female dogs will perform humping behavior. However, the behavior seems to be much more prevalent in male dogs. Intact male dogs may be sexually motivated to hump, or they may use humping as a learned behavior to displace excitement or anxiety. Female dogs that are not spayed have been shown to hump potential male suitors or other female dog when they are in heat (Beach et al., 1968).
Does Spaying Or Neutering Have An Effect On Humping Behavior?
Spaying and neutering dogs may reduce the occurrence of sexually motivated humping. These procedures greatly alter a dog’s hormones, reducing their desire to breed. One study found that castrating adult male dogs reduced roaming, fighting with other males, urinating in the house, and mounting other people or dogs (Hopkins et al., 1976). Another study found that not all male dogs underwent a change in behavior following castration (Hart and Eckstein, 1997). This could largely be due to the fact that not all mounting is sexually driven. Finally, studies have not found significant correlations between the percentage of improvement with age of the dog or duration of the problem behavior at the time of castration (Neilson et al., 1997; Hart and Eckstein, 1997). In conclusion, spaying or neutering may reduce the occurrence of mounting (especially sexually motivated mounting), but it will not likely eliminate the problem entirely.
Some Situations When Dogs Hump
- Why Does My Dog Hump After Eating?
Some dogs experience so much excitement from receiving their meal that they will hump other dogs, objects, or people. If you have multiple dogs and one frequently humps the other around mealtime, consider feeding them separately and giving your dog some time to cool down before rejoining the family. Using a feeder toy may also help with mealtime humping. This will help your dog burn off some physical and mental energy while they eat to reduce their need to displace the energy through humping.
- Why Does My Dog Hump Babies And Or Children?
The most likely explanation for why your dog is humping children is due to anxiety. Children can be loud and unpredictable, and they can stress out even the most seasoned dog. Dogs will hump as a way to self-comfort themselves. Additionally, bringing a new baby home can be an extremely stressful experience for your dog that increases anxiety reducing behaviors such as humping. If your dog is displaying these behaviors towards young children, you should intervene as soon as possible to prevent injury. Care should be taken to reduce your dog’s anxiety to help prevent humping behavior directed towards vulnerable individuals.
- Why Does My Dog Hump Stuffed Animals?
Dogs may hump stuffed animals for the same reasons they hump couch cushions or pillows. These objects provide a comfortable outlet for this behavior. Stuffed animals often become the target for humping as a form of stress relief, to relieve boredom, or because it is pleasurable for the dog.
- Why Does My Dog Hump The Air?
Typically, excitement is the motivating factor behind humping the air. Excited dogs may get super wiggly, wag their tails excessively, and may even perform humping motions. Air humping may also be a way for a dog to relieve tension.
How To Stop Your Dog From Humping
If you are concerned about your dog’s humping behavior, your first step should be to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical conditions. If your dog receives a clean bill of health, then you may consider ways to eliminate the behavior, if desired. In many cases, humping is a completely normal and natural behavior, and as long as it is not harming anyone or the dog themselves, then consider allowing them to perform the behavior. Providing them with a designated object, such as a stuffed animal, may reduce humping of more valuable items such as your furniture or blankets.
Brief mounting towards play companions (other dogs) can sometimes be tolerated, but owners should intervene if the other dog does not tolerate the mounting, or if the mounting is excessive or causing harm. If humping is directed towards guests, educate your guests that humping is likely due to excitement and direct them to ignore the dog or walk away when the behavior happens. Any attention given to the dog while humping people (positive or negative) could reinforce this behavior.
You can also try to redirect the unwanted behavior. When you anticipate that your dog is about to start humping, ask the dog to perform another behavior (such as sit) and give them a reward. You could also direct their energy towards a more acceptable outlet such as chasing a ball or playing tug-of-war with their favorite toy. Learn what triggers your dog to hump. Knowing your dog’s triggers can help you avoid them altogether or it can help you be prepared to intervene when needed. Additionally, stay aware of behaviors that could indicate your dog is about to hump such as sliding up to something or someone and starting to pant, lick, whine, paw, or rub against the person or object (ASPCA, n.d.)
If humping behavior is something you cannot tolerate in your household, then consider working with a professional to provide behavioral therapy for your pet. Some underlying motivations for humping may be difficult for dog owners to correct on their own, such as anxiety (Cannas et al., 2018). The earlier you can intervene with this behavior, the better. If your dog’s humping behavior becomes obsessive, causing physical harm to their body or inhibiting their daily life, then pharmaceutical intervention (used in conjunction with behavioral therapy) may be considered.
Most often our dog’s humping behavior is completely normal, albeit sometimes embarrassing or comical. Understanding that most humping is motivated by excitement or anxiety can help us manage this behavior to a level that everyone is comfortable with.
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