• Raychel Hill BSc (Hons)

Help! My dog has started humping

So following on from last month blog post tackling the myth of dog dominance, I thought humping would be a good topic to cover this month as A LOT of dog owners will regard humping as a dominant behaviour, however funny enough it actually has nothing to do with dominance at all. Dominance refers to priority access to a resource and I have yet to see a dog use humping to gain access to toys, food or even space.

Now, I know firsthand this behaviour can be very embarrassing, especially if your dog is the one humping. However the embarrassment can subside if you and the other owner understand why humping occurs. It can occur in entire dogs, neutered dogs, entire females and neutered females and therefore neuter status do not tend influence this behaviour.

My dog Scrumpy tend to default to humping when he’s unsure or excited, especially when meeting a new dog. And I have seen many clients’ dogs that do the same. I like to explain it as dancing (especially if children are present) and some dogs tend to dance with their hips to burn off extra energy, whether it is excitement or nervous energy.

There are four main reasons why a dog may start to hump and the reason why your dog at home is humping maybe one if these or a combination, try to assess the situation is which your dog is humping- and none of these reasons are anything to do with dominance.

1. Arousal: So before you think it… no this doesn’t refer to sexual arousal! Once a dog reaches a certain level of excitement their energy has to go somewhere, some dogs express this joy through zoomies, some bark and some may just ‘dance’ the extra energy away- think about when you hear your favourite song on the radio.

2. Anxiety: So also anxiety leads to arousal, and as mentioned above, that leads to humping. It is called ‘displacement’ behaviour. Scratching, sniffing, lip licking and yawning are all displacement behaviours too (luckily humping is not usually one of them!). Think about what you do when you are feeling a bit awkward, you may check your phone, look at your watch or play with your hair.

3. Play: Play behaviour tends to be useful behaviours all mixed up in different sequences, and these behaviours have very useful roots such as chasing, stalking, and pouncing are useful hunting behaviours; mouthing and wrestling are useful fighting behaviours; and humping is a useful sexual behaviour. Play is believed to be subconscious practice for the real world. By mixing these useful behaviours with other signals that mean “just kidding” dog a chance to practice to increase their chances of surviving where the behaviour is actually needed. Think of a child playing with a dolly, practising parenting skills.

4. The feel good feeling: Okay let’s talk frankly, all mammals tend to masturbate, and some dogs will hump a favourite toy or pillow. From a behavioural standpoint there’s no reason not to let your dog to have a little “me time” on occasion, behind closed doors as not as it is not causing problems.

Management techniques

So now you may ask that even though this is a natural behaviour for our dogs- sometimes it is not appropriate to do so and how can I prevent it.

So I draw the line at humping people and during play with other dogs if the other dog is uncomfortable with the behaviour. So think of toddler, if you constantly say no and stop them they will only get frustrated so the best way is give them something that is more appropriate to hump- such as a favourite toy or their favourite blanket. Also you can give them something else to do that is incompatible with humping, such as fetch or a fun trick to perform instead. I have taught Scrumpy a solid ‘spin’ cue- so when I see he is about to hump I ask him to spin, he in unable to hump and spin at the same time!

Good luck and please get in contact if you need any further advice to tips.

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