By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
The carefree nature of dogs is one of many things we humans adore about our four-legged best friends. Your dog is likely always up for an adventure, whether a trip to a new park or an afternoon binge-watching your favorite show. But for all the love and rewards that come with being a pet parent, there is the occasional cringe-worthy and embarrassing behavior that some dogs may exhibit, like inappropriately mounting objects, other dogs, or even people.
This socially unacceptable behavior can be awkward and uncomfortable for pet owners, especially when surrounded by friends at the dog park. However embarrassing it may be to talk about, mounting can also be problematic because it may indicate an underlying behavioral or medical problem.
If your pup is exhibiting a habit of humping, you are not alone. Inappropriate mounting is a common behavioral problem in dogs. Let's dive into why it happens and how to address it.
Is Dog Mounting a Sign of Dominance?
Many dog owners are concerned that mounting signifies dominance and aggression. While this could be why your dog is mounting other dogs or people, the humping behavior is rarely your dog's way of becoming an “alpha dog” or attempting to be dominant over other dogs or people.
Mounting may occasionally signify dominance in older dogs who have learned the behavior and have never had it corrected. In some cases, dogs who mount other dogs may be trying to determine their place in the "pack" to see if their potential playmate will accept the behavior. However, this can lead to unwanted interactions and dog fights at the park, so it's best to prevent your pup from exhibiting this behavior by removing them from the situation as soon as they show body language, indicating they may begin to mount.
Why Do Dogs Mount Other Dogs?
The most common reason that intact male and female dogs will mount other dogs is due to high levels of circulating testosterone. Spayed or neutered dogs are 80% less likely to engage in undesirable mounting behavior. It’s important to remember that although mounting behavior exhibited by intact males is related to hormones, any behavior can continue to be reinforced and become a habit over time if left unchecked. In many cases, neutered males may still exhibit this behavior in the weeks following their spaying or neutering procedure.
Mounting is also a normal play behavior seen in young puppies, especially when they are still with their mom and littermates; without being taught to stop, they may continue into adulthood. In many cases, an ordinarily submissive dog may mount another dog, and acceptance by the playmate is an example of trust and a healthy relationship between them. In rare cases, dogs mount other dogs to challenge or remind them of their dominant status.
Why Do Dogs Mount People?
There are multiple reasons why your dog may hump you or other people. This awkward behavior can strain your bond and cause embarrassment or frustration for dog owners, so it's critical first to understand the possible reasons. If your dog mounts you every time you return home from work or a trip, it's likely their way of expressing excitement. They may also mount a new visitor due to over-excitement or being unsure how to react to a new person.
Paying attention to the context and events preceding your dog's mounting will help to understand possible causes. Mounting can be a play behavior with other dogs, and your dog may be using this behavior to play with you or to get your attention. Because any attention can be considered favorable to your dog, many pet owners will accidentally reinforce this behavior by scolding or laughing when their dogs mount. However, it's best to ignore your dog and walk away to avoid rewarding your dog or reinforcing him the behavior.
Other Common Reasons for Mounting
One of the more common reasons for mounting is anxiety, stress, or another emotional conflict. Dogs may use mounting to displace feelings of overarousal, similar to people who bite their nails when stressed. Dogs may also use mounting in response to anxiety caused by being punished.
Other common reasons for mounting include:
Some dogs may use mounting to soothe or comfort themselves before bed or after a stressful event. Mounting in this context is similar to a child thumb-sucking when attempting to nap or sleep.
In some cases, dogs may not know how to contain their excitement from meeting new people, dogs, or a special treat, so they mount as a result of a sudden energy burst or when overstimulated.
Because mounting is a typical puppy play behavior and a normal response to circulating hormones in intact dogs, some may continue this behavior into adulthood. It may also be a warning sign of a compulsive disorder or behavioral problem, like excessive licking at legs or paws or compulsive water drinking.
Similar to a child misbehaving to grab their parent's attention, dogs may also use humping to get their pet owner to focus on them or to get the attention of a canine or feline housemate, especially if they’ve been inadvertently rewarded with attention in the past for the habit.
Underlying Medical Problem
If your dog is suddenly humping, it may indicate an underlying medical issue, including a urinary tract infection, urinary incontinence, or skin allergies. Bring your pup for an immediate veterinary examination if they have problems urinating or if you notice hair loss or inflamed skin around their genitals.
Anxiety, Stress, and Boredom
When to Be Concerned About Dog Mounting
In some cases, mounting is a normal canine behavior, especially in puppies or unsterilized dogs. However, mounting can lead to frustration amongst pet owners because it's not socially acceptable behavior. Mounting may be the first clue that your dog suffers from a behavioral or medical disorder. Observing the context around your dog's mounting can also help determine the underlying cause for this behavior. It's critical to bring your dog for a veterinary examination to rule out any medical reasons for mounting.
Dogs who excessively mount are also at risk for self-injury or exacerbating underlying musculoskeletal problems like arthritis. Additionally, dogs who mount due to anxiety and stress have a decreased quality of life because they are experiencing mental conflict. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a series of blood, urine, and imaging tests to rule out any medical problems causing your dog to mount.
How to Stop Your Dog from Mounting
Once medical causes for mounting have been ruled out, it's best to address this behavior when your dog is young to prevent them from carrying the habit into adulthood. Ignore the undesirable mounting behavior so you do not accidentally reinforce your dog by giving them attention. Redirecting their behavior with an alternate activity like a game of fetch or working on basic commands can also help to stop or decrease mounting.
If your dog is exhibiting humping due to overarousal, consider calming games such as teaching them a “scatter” cue and scattering a handful of treats on the ground; sniffing and eating food is a great way to reduce arousal in dogs that are overexcited and unsure where to place their excess energy. In some cases, consulting a veterinary behaviorist or professional dog trainer may be advised to provide you with tools to stop your dog from mounting.
Other ways to prevent or decrease your dog's mounting behavior include:
- Ensure your dog receives plenty of exercise to prevent mounting from excess energy.
- Give your dog a variety of enrichment toys, like puzzle toys, lick mats, or a long-lasting chew, like Native Pet Yak Chews, to focus their attention away from mounting.
- Spend quality time training with your dog, teaching them tricks, and engaging their brains. Provide anxious dogs with a safe and calm space away from visitors, like a crate lined with a soft blanket and sprayed with a calming pheromone, like Adaptil.
- Talk to your veterinarian about possible medications for your dog's anxiety or a calming supplement, like Native Pet Calm Chews.
There are numerous reasons why our dogs hump or mount us (or other dogs), but it's rarely a dominance behavior and aggression. Just because it’s a normal dog behavior doesn’t mean we want to encourage it. Always check with your veterinarian to ensure your dog has no underlying medical problems. For more tips on your pet's health, check out the Native Pet blog.