Why do dogs hump?

Many dog owners will be familiar with the awkward scenario of their dog humping another dog, an inanimate object, or even a human’s leg. But why exactly do dogs hump — and should you do anything about it?

If you’ve spotted your dog humping, you might be keen to resolve the issue. Here, Ross McCarthy, canine behaviourist from the London Dog Behaviour Company, answers some common questions about this behaviour.

Is humping sexually motivated?

Sometimes, but not always. Depending on the age and gender of your dog, humping can sometimes be classed as an exploratory behaviour. Humping is usually primarily triggered by excitement, but it can also be linked to your dog’s arousal levels.

Essentially, humping can be a pleasurable activity for an excited dog. Some dogs may bark when they get excited, others run around, and others may hump instead. Over time, humping can become an embedded response that you might see your dog exhibit in certain situations.

When your dog gets over excited, they may run and grab a toy to hump, or mount something else like their bed, or furniture. There don’t seem to be any particular breeds that are more prone to humping than others, however.   

Why does my dog hump more when we have visitors?

It can be slightly awkward when your dog starts humping as soon as your guests walk through the door. But, in this case, the cause is usually excitement. The arrival of visitors can be an exciting and fun time for your dog, and their humping is often a type of displacement behaviour.

It can also have something to do with your responses and those of your visitors. If the attention and fuss from your guests makes your dog feel even more excited, they may continue humping as a way to displace this excitement.

My dog is neutered. Why does he still hump?

Neutering does decrease the amount of the sex hormone testosterone within a dog’s body, which can make neutered males less likely to hump than unneutered males. But, even in neutered male dogs, a certain amount of testosterone still remains. That means he may still be on the lookout for female dogs to mate. The scent of a female dog may occasionally trigger humping behaviour in a neutered male and he’s just responding to natural mating messages.

Humping is also learned and practised during puppyhood, well before sexual maturity. Puppies use it as a way to test out their physical abilities and social potential. More dominant members of a litter may try to assert themselves over their littermates by mounting them. Some dogs never grow out of this learned behaviour.

Why do female dogs hump?

It’s not unusual to see female dogs humping too, particularly when they’re puppies. Just like male puppies, they’re establishing their social position among their littermates and testing out their abilities. Usually in female dogs this behaviour decreases as they mature, but some female dogs will still use humping as a response to stress or excitement into adulthood.

How to stop dogs from humping

Our dog’s humping might be embarrassing to us, but for them it’s simply a natural and normal behaviour. That means, in most cases, it’s nothing to worry about and you don’t necessarily need to try and stop it. Keep an eye on your dog’s humping behaviour to see if it seems to be triggered by a particular event, for example, visitors or when they meet other dogs for the first time. 

Sometimes, humping can have an underlying medical cause, such as a urinary tract infection or skin allergy. Often, medical issues like these may be accompanied by your dog increasingly licking around their genitals. If your dog has suddenly started humping when they never did before, or they’re suddenly humping a lot more than usual, it’s worth asking your vet for advice.

If you’ve ruled out any medical conditions but are still concerned that your dog is humping too much, positive reinforcement training can be a useful way to help stop this habit and teach your dog an alternative response. A qualified behaviourist will be able to assess your individual situation and suggest the best course of action.

Does your dog hump objects, people, or other dogs? If so, did training or other strategies help you keep this under control? Let us know on social media using #PethoodStories.

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