By: Dr. Juli, DVM
Sharing life with a dog has endless benefits and rewards. Our dogs are family and provide unconditional love, companionship, and lasting friendship for pet parents. While spending time with your pup is primarily joyful, some dogs may exhibit less-than-desirable behaviors or habits, like excessive drooling, inappropriate chewing, or, in some cases, inappropriate mounting.
Mounting, or humping, is a common dog behavior that often causes embarrassment, shame, irritation, and sometimes laughter in dog owners. Although it can be normal behavior, excessive or frequent humping can indicate underlying health or behavioral problems, in addition to being socially unacceptable. Fortunately, there are ways to curb or eliminate this behavior in dogs. However, it's critical to first understand why your dog may hump you.
Common Non-Medical Reasons for Dog Humping
Humping is a natural, instinctive behavior in puppies between 3 and 6 weeks old. It is a typical play behavior with their littermates. Adult dogs who continue to hump may have carried this behavior over from puppyhood because they never learned it was undesirable. Other non-medical reasons your dog may hump you include:
If you've been away on a long trip or just got home from a day at the office, it's not uncommon for your four-legged best friend to jump for joy when you arrive home. Some dogs may attempt to hump you to show their excitement for your return. They may also mount their dog friend when greeting them at the dark park because they cannot contain their excitement.
In addition, every dog has their own baseline arousal level - some dogs are naturally more excitable than others. For those dogs who are easily excitable, if they haven’t been given an outlet for that energy, they may choose to hump as a displacement behavior.
Like a child misbehaving to grab their parent's attention, your dog may also use humping to get their owner to focus on them. In many cases, pet parents may inadvertently reinforce their dogs' humping when the behavior first appears by laughing or scolding their dog for mounting. In this case, giving your dog attention, whether positive or negative, is still reinforcing for the dog and does not help discourage the behavior. Attention-seeking mounting may also be accompanied by nipping, biting, or grabbing a person's hands or legs.
Some dogs use humping to assert dominance or to figure out their social status in their pack, including their owners or housemates. This may occur when you first bring home your dog or when adopting a new pet because they may be unsure of where they belong in their social structure.
Common Medical Reasons for Dog Humping
It's reasonable to assume that mounting is primarily a sexual behavior, but numerous other medical-related causes exist. However, the most common reason an unneutered male dog or unspayed female dog will hump people is a result of hormonal influences. If your dog has not been sterilized and is mounting you, other dogs, or objects, it's likely because of their circulating sex hormones, like testosterone.
Neutering your dog can reduce this behavior by around 80% and, in some cases, may eliminate it. However, your neutered dog may still exhibit humping behavior in the weeks following their sterilization surgery because sex hormones remain in their body.
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 who have already developed a habit of humping may still exhibit this behavior following their neutering procedure if they are not taught that the behavior is undesirable.
Illness or underlying health problems may also cause your dog to hump you because they are experiencing discomfort, pain, or itchiness, and mounting may help relieve their discomfort. Common medical conditions that may lead to inappropriate humping include urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, enlarged prostate, skin allergies, ectoparasites (i.e., fleas), or skin dermatitis caused by bacterial or fungal infections.
Male dogs who excessively mount are at risk for causing painful lesions or injuries on their penis, which can lead to infection or scarring of the genitals. Dogs with underlying medical issues will likely exhibit concurrent behaviors like licking around their genitals.
Bring your humping dog for a veterinary examination if they are showing any of the following signs:
- Increased or decreased urination frequency
- Excessive licking or biting at their skin or genital region
- Straining or inability to urinate or defecate (both are medical emergencies that require immediate veterinary care)
- Excessive itching or scratching
- Red, inflamed skin or swelling around or on the genitals
- Penis that does not retract back into the sheath (priapism)
Behavioral Reasons for Dog Humping
If your dog mounts you or others, it may be due to an underlying behavioral issue. Behavioral reasons your dog may hump you include:
Most commonly, overstimulation or overarousal will lead to humping behavior in dogs. This happens when your dog is at such a high level of excitement that it manifests as a humping behavior. In some cases, you may see your dog’s hackles on their backs or near their tails stand up along with the humping.
Stress and Anxiety
Inappropriate mounting might be your dog's way of self-soothing due to stress or anxiety. Some dogs may also hump their favorite toy or blanket. This behavior is similar to someone biting their nails or tapping their foot when stressed.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Like people, dogs can suffer from compulsive behaviors, like excessively licking their legs to the point of injury. Although rare, chronic, inappropriate humping may also be caused by this behavioral disorder.
Dogs with aggressive behavior towards other people or dogs likely did not receive proper training or socialization, so fear and aggression may occur to unknown stimuli. Aggressive dogs may use humping to assert dominance over people or animals. Additionally, certain neurologic disorders may also cause aggressive behavior.
How to Prevent and Discourage Dog Humping
Humping can be frustrating and embarrassing for dog owners It's critical to determine the underlying cause so that you can teach your dog what behavior is and isn’t acceptable.
Bring your dog for a veterinary examination to rule out any underlying medical reasons for their humping. Your veterinarian may run various tests, including bloodwork, urine tests, or imaging like an x-ray or ultrasound, to evaluate your pup's urinary and overall health. Additionally, discuss with your veterinarian the best timeframe for spaying or neutering your dog to decrease their chances of exhibiting this behavior.
Once medical problems have been ruled out, it's critical to determine other possible triggers for your dog's humping to eliminate them from their environment. For example, if new people in your home cause your dog to hump from anxiety, try moving your pet to a quiet, safe space, like their kennel, before visitors arrive.
Other tools to discourage your dog from humping you include:
Teach Opposing Commands
Teaching your dog a command to sit down, go to their bed, or lay down can be a useful tool when dealing with humping. Once those commands are strongly reinforced, asking your dog to “go to their bed” is a behavior that conflicts with humping you. Once they perform the desired command, reward them with praise or a jackpot of their favorite treats. The timing here is key! Utilize clear markers to let your dog know they’ve done a good job.
Make sure your dog feels fulfilled and enriched
Provide your dog with other activities to distract or stop them from humping, such as playing fetch with their favorite ball or toy. Providing your dog with a puzzle toy filled with their favorite treat or a long-lasting chew will give them alternate activities to keep them busy and may help prevent mounting behavior. Additionally, ensure your dog receives adequate exercise to prevent them from acting out from boredom or frustration.
If your dog is humping out of overarousal or excitement,, you may choose to redirect that energy into something else.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.
Provide a Calm Environment
Dogs who suffer from stress and anxiety may inappropriately hump you as a way to soothe. Giving your dog a calming supplement before a stressful event may help decrease the chances of them attempting to self-soothe.
A calming pheromone, like Adaptil, may also help reduce their anxiety. Dogs with severe anxiety may benefit from medications, so talk to your veterinarian if natural methods are not enough to help your pup. Never give your dog any medications or supplements without first consulting their vet.
Consult a Veterinary Behaviorist
If you are still struggling with nailing down the reason behind your dog’s humping or are unsure of how to begin teaching them not to hump, consider consulting with a veterinary behaviorist to learn additional ways to safely stop your dog from humping you.
How to Dump the Hump
Humping is a very normal canine behavior, but that doesn’t mean it’s a desirable one. There are lots of reasons why our dogs exhibit this unwanted behavior - from overexcitement to anxiety to poor training and socialization. Learning the reasons why our dogs exhibit this undesirable behavior is the key to redirecting their attention to more positive outlets.
Most of the time, proper training and alternative outlets are all that are needed to curb the humping behavior. However, some dogs, such as those suffering from OCD or other anxiety issues, may need additional help. Bring your pup to the vet if you notice your dog licking excessively, or if you believe there are other underlying medical causes for their behavior. Always talk to your vet before introducing any changes to your dog’s food or medication regimen.
For more tips on your pet's health, check out the Native Pet blog.