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When we got our second dog - a female puppy named Luna - we never thought we'd have to deal with her humping. But around the time she turned one, she started mounting many of her dog friends. And she was spayed. Our older, neutered, male dog has always had a knack for humping. So we finally wanted to know why do dogs hump and how to resolve it.
Before we dive in to why dogs hump, let's address the fact that our female dog is humping. Is this normal? Actually, yes. While many believe that just unfixed male dogs do it, humping is also a normal behavior for fixed male and female dogs. One theory is that some female dogs may exhibit more mounting behaviors because of prenatal testosterone transfer or prenatal masculinization. This phenomenon occurs in litters, when testosterone in a male fetus transfers to one or more fetuses in the womb. The hormonal transfer then influences the receiving fetus development, resulting in partial masculinization of behavior and cognition in females. That being said, it's normal for female dogs to hump whether or not they've experienced such a hormonal transfer. Just make sure it's not getting anyone into trouble.
Humping is most commonly associated with sexual desire and dominance. These are two of several reasons why both male and female dogs may hump:
Humping is often a sexual behavior. Puppies may start humping as young as six weeks old and continue the behavior until they reach sexual maturity (at around one or two years old). This is believed to be a form of playful, sexual education. Female dogs in heat often mount their male suitors during courtship, as well as other females also in heat. Dogs may continue to be sexually motivated to hump even after being spayed or neutered. While fixing a dog prevents reproduction, it does not take away the pleasure they get from learned sexual behaviors such as humping or licking their genitals. In general, when humping is sexually motivated, it's often seen along with flirting such as pawing, play bows and a raised tail.
How to resolve sexual humping: recall training can limit the frequency and intensity of sexual humping; provide more physical activity and mental stimulation; training to redirect behavior, such as obedience and desensitization training; follow up with preventative measures.
The second thing people usually think of when it comes to humping is dominance. Many dogs will mount another to assert dominance and establish themselves as the "top dog." This behavior is not exclusive to male dogs. Most often, however, humping in female dogs has not been observed to be a sign of dominance but rather a playful behavior. It's likely a sign of dominance if the mounting is accompanied by aggressive behaviors (such as stiff posture, tense body language, standing over others, direct stares and resource guarding). But mounting on its own is not a signal of status.
What many people don't know is that humping is a common behavior that isn't always related to sex or dominance. It's a dog's natural response to arousal, excitement and overstimulation (none of which have to be sexual in nature). For example, dogs may hump from the excitement of receiving a new toy or meeting a new person or dog. It's a way of releasing their pent-up energy, much like zoomies or barking.
Mounting is also a normal part of dog play. Dogs often take turns briefly mounting one another during play and you may observe a dog humping when they become particularly excited (like in rowdy play). As long as the mounting isn't upsetting the dog, this behavior is completely acceptable. For instance, mounting in female dogs has most frequently been observed during play. And those that commonly engage in mounting will often exhibit other friendly behaviors, such as muzzle licking. In addition, some under-socialized dogs hump relatively quickly during play because they become overaroused and don't know how to play well.
How to resolve playful humping: recall training can limit the frequency and intensity of play humping.
Humping can also be a result of attention seeking, boredom or frustration. While some dogs howl, bark, cry, whine, or turn to destructive behaviors in response to these feelings, others hump. This occurs when a dog isn't getting enough physical exercise, mental stimulation or affection. A need for attention may also arise if your dog is left alone for many hours during the day. For many dogs, the negative attention they would receive from being told "no" to humping is better than no attention.
How to resolve attention seeking, boredom and frustration humping: provide more physical activity, mental stimulation and quality time; establish more of a routine schedule for walking, running or playing.
Humping can also be a dog's natural response to stress, which is another form of non-sexual arousal. When a dog is stressed, it can manifest in various ways. Some lick their lips or paws, some run and hide and others hump. While it may seem odd, humping can be a natural response to a tense situation. For instance, some dogs may try to hump or mount during a dog fight.
Humping can also be a displacement behavior or activity, where a dog turns to out-of-context behaviors when coping with a stressor or facing conflicts. Though uncommon, humping can become a compulsive behavior disorder if it's a response to being stressed.
How to resolve stress, anxiety and compulsive humping: training to redirect behavior, such as obedience and desensitization training; follow up with preventative measures.
Some health issues and medical conditions can cause dogs to hump. For example, urinary tract infections, incontinence, skin allergies and priapism (persistent and painful erections) can all lead to the behavior. Physical pain or itching from these issues can be relieved through humping. You may also see your dog licking or chewing their genitals, rubbing against objects, as well as experience frequent or difficulty urinating and dehydration. So if you notice your dog humping, especially if it's a sudden development, you may want to take them to the vet to rule out any health issues.
Although humping is a normal behavior for dogs, it's not a totally a desirable one (especially depending on the reasoning behind it and how accepting other dogs are of the behavior). Fortunately, there are ways to halt your dog's non-health-related humping habit:
One effective way to stop your dog's humping is to redirect them. This type of training indicates to your dog what behaviors are not desired and what are. When your dog is humping, ask them to do a command (such as sit, stay, down, etc.) and reward them when they do. You can also redirect with playtime or exercise.
To stop your dog's humping, you'll need to address it while it's happening. So catch your dog in the act and interrupt the behavior with your dog's name and a verbal cue like "stop" or "off." If your dog stops humping, reward them based on what they like most between a treat, toy or praise and affection.
Pro tip: "No" is so often used in conversation that it makes it less ideal as a halting command. And "down" may be confusing if your dog knows that command for lying down.
You may have to use a reward to interrupt the behavior if you can't get your dog's attention with a verbal command. Use something of high value and consistently repeat your cue every time they hump. Provide praise to your dog when they turn their attention to the reward and away from humping.
The command "leave it" can be very useful for many situations, including interrupting humping. This command teaches your dog to leave alone an object, person or dog. Once your dog has obeyed the command, reward and distract them.
Pro Tip: If your dog doesn't obey their "leave it" command, remove them from the situation entirely.
If your dog humps to get attention, it's best to ignore the behavior. Whenever your dog isn't humping, give them plenty of attention and exercise.
Dominance training may be the answer if your dog humps to assert dominance, especially over you.
This may not always be possible if your dog is humping you or a large object, such as furniture. In those cases, you may need to quietly and calmly remove your dog from the room.
Sometimes, our dogs need more advanced training than we can provide and that's okay. If you're having trouble stopping your dog from humping, or it's turning aggressive, you can always turn to a professional.
Humping may develop early on, so try to work on the habit as soon as possible. This will make it easier to train your dog out of it.
If your female dog's humping is sexually motivated, spaying can decrease the desire behind the behavior. Neutering most likely will decrease a male's desire to hump females, but not necessarily their overall mounting behavior.
Learn what triggers your dog to hump, as well as the warning signs and their body language when gearing up to do so. Then once you see the signs, distract your dog with a treat, toy or training. If you can, take your dog on a walk or run to direct their energy elsewhere.
This command can be useful in preventing your dog from humping, as long as you can catch your dog before he or she begins mounting.
As aforementioned, many dogs hump as a way to release pent-up energy. To prevent this type of humping, make sure you're giving your dog the proper amount of physical and mental exercise. Chews, puzzle toys, brain games, walks, runs and other playtime can all help. In addition, tiring your dog out with mental or physical exercise before triggering situations (such as when guests come over) may minimize humping.
Sometimes you may just have to avoid situations that cause your dog to hump.