There are few things more embarrassing than a dog that has decided to hump a lamp or someone’s leg in the middle of a park where everyone can see and judge your dog. It’s especially horrible for us to experience this if we work hard at helping our dogs learn proper behavior through obedience training. What’s going on with your normally well-behaved dog? Is it something to worry about? Here’s what you need to know.
Why do dogs hump random things?
You probably already know the answer to this, as it’s a common thing for onlookers to say when you make a comment on it. It’s because they like that thing or person! They find it so exciting that they show their appreciation through humping. While it’s not appropriate from our human perspective, it’s totally normal and healthy from a dog’s point of view.
What is humping behavior for dogs?
Humping is a common term for what veterinarians call mounting behavior. This is when a dog puts their front legs around another dog, and then thrusts their pelvis repeatedly (the humping motion). The mounting behavior can be directed towards the hind end of another dog, or sometimes the other dog’s head or side, or even toward a person.
Both male and female dogs, whether they are spayed or neutered or not, can perform mounting behavior. So why do dogs hump dogs, people, toys, or just the air, even after they are fixed?
Mounting behavior is a natural, instinctive behavior that occurs in puppies 3-6 week of age, most commonly during play. Both male and female puppies may mount each other.
Mounting can also occur when adult dogs play with another dog or person. People commonly think mounting behavior is strictly sexually motivated.
But people assume the behaviour will stop once their dog has been neutered. While neutering will reduce the mounting behaviour, not all humping behaviour is sexual in nature.
What does humping mean for dogs?
That’s all well and good, but what does it actually mean when dogs hump things? There are several reasons for dogs to hump things, and some of them may surprise you! Take a look at the most common reasons for dogs to hump all sorts of objects, other dogs, or people:
- Exerting dominance
- Getting overexcited
- Showing an underlying illness or concern
- It can also indicate various feelings such as anxiety, boredom, conflict, frustration, that you may need to decipher and address
- Dogs are programmed to want to climb the ranks as far as their pack is concerned. If your dog is humping you or someone else (including other pets in the house), it could be because they are trying to exert dominance. You should never let your pet fight your other animals for dominance. You should be the pack leader and always keep your other animals in line by not fighting each other.
- When dogs get overwhelmed with excitement, they can show it by humping things. It isn’t sexually motivated at all; they’re just so excited that they can’t stand it and have to show it somehow. They could hump the person that is exciting them, or they could just hump a random pole. Whatever is closest, they use that item to work off some of that emotional energy.
- Dogs can have urinary issues or general health issues without us even knowing it. Sometimes, humping can be a way to get our attention and draw our focus to our dog’s health. It could be an infection or issue with the groin area, or it could be something with the stomach or even your dog’s rear end. If your dog is frantically humping things out of the ordinary, it’s a good idea to get them checked out!
Is humping a normal behaviour?
Yes, humping is totally normal behaviour. Puppies and adult dogs will both hump things at random. Some dogs are more likely than others to do this. Some dogs will hump everything in sight every single day, and others will rarely ever show this behavior.
If your dog’s humping things, it can absolutely be normal behavior, even if you don’t particularly like it! If it appears suddenly in contrast to usual behaviour, however, you should check with your vet to find out if there is some sort of health issue causing it.
Is humping a sexual behaviour?
As humans, we may tend to assume that humping is always a sexual behaviour. This is because mounting and humping are how dogs mate. However, it’s not right to assume it always to be a sexual behaviour. Dogs don’t just start humping things only for a physical release. They are programmed to feel mating urges in response to specific biological triggers.
That being said, neutering or spaying your dog can help reduce this behavior. It takes the hormones out, and this may reduce their likelihood of humping.
Do boy and girl dogs hump things?
It may surprise you to learn that both girl and boy dogs can and will hump things. Again, this isn’t a sexual behavior in most cases — it can be just part of how they show many different feelings (excitement, boredom, frustration, anxiety, conflict…) toward something or someone. It’s just as likely that a girl dog will hump something as a male dog!
What should I do about the humping behaviour?
We get that this behaviour can be embarrassing and frustrating, especially when many people think it is a sexual exhibition. It’s normal and perfectly acceptable to feel this way, no matter how much we love our dogs!
It is important to understand why your dog is humping so you can help sort out solutions.
- Talk to your vet about when it is happening ( i.e is it when your dog is anxious or bored or in conflict with another dog in the house)
- You can go to indoorpet.osu.edu/dogs/ for ideas to add in enrichment to your dog’s life:
“Environmental or behavioral enrichment is the process of manipulating an animal’s environment to increase physical activity & normal species typical behavior that satisfies the animal’s physical and psychological needs. It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time.”
There are a few things that you can do to help your dog learn other ways to learn how to communicate. These include:
- Offering positive reinforcement for doing other appreciation behaviours (ex: bringing a toy to you)
- Withdrawing attention/affection when they hump
- Teaching them other ways to communicate with you
It’s important to understand that this humping behavior is part of your dog’s primitive brain programming, and this instinct isn’t something that can be easily unlearned, depending on why it is happening. Even with proper training using positive reinforcement, some dogs may still hump things. They’ll just do it less.
Scolding or punishing your dog for doing this is just going to cause damage to your relationship. They don’t understand why this behavior makes you uncomfortable, and no amount of yelling or punishment is going to change that.
Just do what you can to help them learn other ways to show their feelings, and this will help reduce their need or compulsion to hump things! Dogs always want to do whatever they can to make us happy. If they understand that humping things doesn’t make us happy, they’ll quickly switch to something else that does make us happy. This is a much better option than punishment.
While humping is not a fun behaviour for us, it’s certainly normal for dogs, unless it is due to a medical problem or other treatable (emotional) cause. This education and information will help you curb it as much as possible and help your dog learn better and more socially acceptable ways — from a human’s point of view — to show their feelings!