Dogs Humping and How To Manage It

It's important to find out why your dog humps and then look for ways to manage the problem behaviour.

By: THE VETERINARY BEHAVIOURSTS AT SYDNEY ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR SERVICE

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Do you recognise either of these scenarios? A guest visits your home and as soon as she sits down, your dog humps her leg. You take your pet to an off-leash dog park and soon after playing with the others, he starts humping another dog. 

These scenarios are embarrassing for you (and probably for your house guests!), but what does it actually mean? Should you be worried? What should you do about dogs that hump? 

What dog humping means 

Let’s start with the facts. You need to be aware that dog humping is a perfectly normal behaviour. While it is most commonly seen with entire male dogs, female dog humps (entire and desexed) can also be seen. It does NOT mean that your dog is oversexed, that your dog was not desexed properly or that your dog is trying to be “dominant”.

Humping (or ‘mounting’ as it is also sometimes called) is not just seen in adult dogs either. Just go and watch a litter of puppies playing and you will soon see that humping is commonly displayed there, too. While other dogs are the most common target, it can be displayed towards other animals (such as a long suffering cat), people (particularly if they are down on the floor or sitting with their legs crossed) or inanimate objects (such as a favourite toy). 

So humping sits in the category of behaviours displayed by dogs which are normal but inappropriate to the owner. You can’t just stop a dog from humping!

It is important to realise that no amount of training will remove the desire to perform this behaviour. It is an innate response not a conscious choice on the dog's part, so fits into the category of behaviours which require management.  It is often helpful to think about it a bit like scratching an itch – it just feels good.

Most observant owners can usually predict when their dog is likely to begin humping. Some common triggers include times of increased excitement or arousal (not necessarily sexual). This means that it usually occurs when a dog gets too excited, usually during play or perhaps when someone has just arrived home or when visitors arrive. 

How to manage dog humping? 

So how do you manage these situations? First of all teach your dog to settle on cue. Once your dog knows how to do this – perhaps on its mat – you can ask your dog to do so.  You can also ask your dog to sit or drop and reward your dog for doing so. But if the situation is just too exciting, it may be advisable to remove your dog to a quieter place and allow it to calm down.

If you miss the signs and your dog starts humping, simply separate the dog from whatever it is humping and allow your dog to settle. Never punish your dog or yell at your dog if it is humping. This will only lead your dog to be more anxious and concerned and may turn your dog into a “hidden humper” – the dog will still hump, but only when you are not looking, which really does not help you or your dog. 

If there is a person involved, it is often easiest for the person to remove themselves rather than dragging the dog off and trying to push them into another room.  There is no point punishing the dog for getting too excited; you simply need to make a mental note to manage things better next time and improve your management skills. You could do this by enrolling you and your dog in a positive reinforcement dog training class!

Dr Jacqui Ley, Dr Caroline Perrin and Dr Gaille Perry are veterinary behavourists and Dr Kersti Seksel is a veterinary specialist in behavioural medicine at the Sydney Animal Behaviour Service.  




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