This week’s blog was prompted by the owner of an 11 month old dog that was mounting members of the family. The breeder told the owner to get the dog a “hormone injection” – but this was the wrong advice and we were able to clear up the many confusing theories around this embarrassing problem.

Why Do Dogs Hump?

Mounting or humping, of course, is what male dogs do when they mate. But as I’m sure we’ve all seen, dogs don’t only mount when mating, and they don’t only mount other dogs; they may also mount furniture, other animals, stuffed toys, and people. Female dogs also mount, though less frequently than males.

Apart from actual mating, dogs still find plenty of reasons to mount. Oddly enough, people often overlook the most obvious of these: sex. Even neutered and spayed dogs display sexual behaviour, often accompanied with what looks to a human eye like flirtation–bouncy, playful and physically close.

Physiological arousal isn’t only sexual. Some dogs may also hump when anxious. For whatever reason, people tend to see high rank as the reason for showy, flamboyant dog behaviours such as humping and fighting. In fact, these often arise out of social anxiety. Something to bear in mind the next time a dog humps your leg–not an experience to look forward to, but usually not a portent of a palace coup.

Sexual humping and anxious humping can make people uncomfortable. Of course, if your dog is anxious, it’s a kindness to alleviate that anxiety even if you don’t mind him clasping leg. Also, a dog who routinely expresses social anxiety by humping fellow canines may sooner or later meet one who responds with significant aggression.

Do Dogs Hump to Show Dominance?

No! Humping behaviour in dogs has little to do with dominance. Apart from sexual stimulation and anxiety driven mounting, humping is often due to excessive excitement and is a normal part of canine play especially in puppies and younger dogs. It is also an attention seeking behaviour. Many dogs regard any type of attention from people, even being yelled at (which is many people’s reaction to humping) as a good thing, and this only reinforces the behaviour.

Dominance is used to describe the relationship between two individuals in a specific situation, and is not a personality trait. For example, in a group of dogs one dog may always end up with the best toys, because compared to the other dogs in the group, toys are a priority for that dog. So when it comes to playing with toys, that dog is dominant over other group members. However, another dog in the group may be very particular about getting the best sleeping spot. It depends on what each dog in the group values and how much effort they are willing to put in to get to that resource. Dogs don’t have a fixed linear hierarchy with an ‘alpha dog’ who automatically gets the best of everything. Similarly, dogs are not motivated to try to ‘dominate’ people.