Why Dogs Hump: Dominance and Other Factors

Mychelle Blake
With contributions from Certified Dog Behavior Consultant Gail Fisher
Small dog humping larger dog

There are few canine behaviors that elicit a stronger reaction from owners than when a dog begins humping other dogs and people. Most often than not it's just a behavior that's part of a dog's normal repertoire of greeting and play body language. There are several reasons why dogs will mount each other and while human mores may find the act objectionable, few of the reasons behind mounting are worthy of concern.

Status and Bullying As Factors in Humping

Despite popular ideas on dog behavior, Gail Fisher, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and author of The Thinking Dog, says mounting "is rarely related to dominance."

Identify the Behavior

In cases where mounting is related to dominance, Fisher says it's very clear when it's happening and when it isn't, as the mounting dog will display bullying behavior and the mounted dog will appear uncomfortable and possibly even fearful. Fisher says, "If the mountee is intimidated by it, rather than annoyed or ok, and it's clear that they are very uncomfortable and afraid, this is likely mounting related to a dog expressing his status."

Rarely Used for Dominance

Fisher says this behavior should not be allowed to continue for the sake of the dog that is being mounted. If the behavior continues, it is likely that the dominant dog is "inappropriate in his interactions with other dogs." She notes that mounting is rarely used to by dogs to express a dominant status. Rather, you will more often see other behaviors used to show status such as an intense hard stare and stiff body language.

Excitement Is a Cause

Fisher states, "One of the main reasons dogs mount each other is excitement, but it's a specific kind of excitement. It's anticipatory and related to active play, but not sexual." Mounting may occur during times of excitement, such as meeting another dog to play with, getting a new toy, or when excited by visitors entering the house. Excitement is also often a reason a dog may mount a person's leg or an inanimate object like a pillow or toy.

Humping As a Greeting

"When you see mounting among puppies, it may be bonding behavior," says Fisher. "It's often the same for adults. In the dog daycare I run, a dog that is new to daycare may be mounted by the other dogs. I think it's kind of a 'getting to know you' behavior." In other words, you might think of it as a dog's version of a human handshake and a greeting hug.

Humping While at Play

Dogs that mount each other during greetings and then continue to do so throughout their play session are generally mounting because they've learned that neither dog dislikes it and it becomes a fun part of their routine. It just becomes another physical movement they do in a collection of play behaviors that can include chasing each either, spinning, bowing, and what appears to be "play fighting." If you're not sure, observe the body language of all the dogs involved. If they seem relaxed, happy and continue to seek each other out for more play, than mounting here is related to fun.

Stress and Anxiety

Much like dogs that are excited and mount, some dogs will engage in the behavior when they feel stressed and anxious. It's a form of "displacement behavior" where the act of mounting helps to alleviate the pressure they are feeling. Think of a human chewing their fingernails or tapping their fingers relentlessly when nervous. In both species, the anxiety is being displaced with an unrelated physical behavior. Just like with mounting due to excitement, dogs like this may also mount inanimate objects, such as their toys or pillows or a person's leg.

Medical Issues

In some dogs, mounting behavior can be related to medical problems such as:

It can also be related to a type of obsessive compulsive disorder if the dog was originally mounting for other reasons and the behavior was inadvertently reinforced, or because it was due to stress and anxiety that became worse over time.

Sexual Behavior

Mounting will happen during the act of mating, but otherwise if you see dogs mounting, Fisher says, "it's rarely sexual. Sexual mounting is clear because it's for the purpose of procreation and you can really tell the difference." Female dogs will sometimes mount when they are in heat and only when they are in heat and this can be due to sexual arousal. Mounting may also be considered a form of masturbation and dogs will do it because it's pleasurable for them. It also has been observed among puppies which could be related to practicing sexual behaviors they will engage in as adults as well as bonding behavior.

Do Female Dogs Mount Other Dogs?

While the physical act of mounting looks like the posture a male will take during mating, it's quite normal for female dogs to mount other dogs for all the stated reasons. Some female dogs may only do it related to their heat cycle, although in others there may be no correlation and spayed females will do it just as well as bitches in season.

What to Do About Your Mounting Dog

For the most part, mounting is not really a problematic behavior for dogs. There are a few options for you depending on the reason for the behavior:

  • Observe how your dog interacts with other dogs and the body language of all involved. If everyone seems to be having fun, you can just allow the dogs to continue engaging in natural behaviors.
  • If you can see that a dog being mounted is annoyed, stressed or even fearful, then you absolutely should step in and stop the behavior.
  • Likewise a dog that seems to mount obsessively, even to objects, may either be feeling very anxious, over stimulated or have a medical condition. In this case consult with your veterinarian to determine the cause.
  • Spaying and neutering might help with the behavior although it's also just as likely to have no effect at all depending on the individual dog.
  • If the mounting is not related to a medical issue and you simply want to stop your dog from mounting, work on training in an alternate incompatible behavior, such as a sit or down.

Understanding Why Dogs Mount

Despite the fact that many people have a negative reaction to mounting among dogs, this may have more to do with our own human ideas of acceptable behavior. Among dogs, mounting is a perfectly normal behavior that can be based on positive feelings such as play, bonding, and getting to know new dogs. While it's often considered a sign of "dominance" it rarely is related to status between dogs and if mounting has a negative basis, the more likely reasons are medical issues, anxiety, stress or excitement that the dog has trouble regulating.

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Why Dogs Hump: Dominance and Other Factors