Your Dog's Awkward 'Mounting' Problem

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

why do dogs hump

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you’ve observed your dog engaged in mounting behavior, it may not be a big deal, but if he makes such behavior a habit, you may be dismayed enough to wonder if there’s something you can do to prevent it
  • Neutering or spaying your dog may not necessarily help with the problem; the habit may develop beforehand and may continue afterward
  • If your dog appears to have a humping habit, figuring out if it stems from hormones, playfulness, excitement or aggression is crucial
  • Depending on your dog’s training and obedience, redirecting your dog can be as easy as calling your dog’s name, but if he doesn’t come to you immediately, you may have to approach him and gently lead him away from the situation
  • Everyone loves it when their dogs are playful appropriately, but not if humping is their go-to behavior, especially around children, so seeking a professional to help may be necessary

Depending on where your dog is and who else is in the vicinity at the time, it can be of no concern whatsoever or excruciatingly embarrassing when your dog makes what one might call amorous moves on another dog, an inanimate object or, worse, a person.

The Bark pretty much nails it when it notes that dog humping can instantly make everyone feel weird, citing a scenario at the dog park during which your neighborly pooch decides to "befriend" another dog, and in no time your thoughts range from "Woo-hoo, our dogs are playing!" to "What in heaven's name is going on with those two?"1

While some refer to the earthy behavior as humping, the technical (and probably less disconcerting) term is mounting. From your dog's perspective, it's getting a job done. He or she has an itch, and he may simply be looking for the most expedient place to scratch it. If it's a one-time thing you've noticed, or very rare, it may not be a big deal, but if your dog makes such behavior a habit, you may be dismayed enough to wonder if there's something you can do to prevent it.

When you observe a dog begin to engage in this behavior, it's generally more disconcerting when someone else is around. It doesn't matter to dogs — unless, of course, the dog on the receiving end of all the attention is just not that into it. Many dogs become agitated when another dog tries to mount them, so knowing why the behavior is occurring can be important.

If it's not clear if the instigator is simply initiating an awkward attempt to play, it doesn't matter what their intent was if the offended party is ready to rumble, so if the recipient responds by growling or snapping back, it can get a little dicey. How do you gauge your reaction? According to The Bark:

"If the other dog doesn't care and the other people don't either, the mounting need not be an issue, especially if it's short-lived. Often, great play happens after the initial excitement is over. If the humping is relentless or if the recipient of this behavior keeps trying to escape, you should intervene and break it up."2

Depending on your dog's training and obedience, "breaking it up" may be a challenge, but the best-case scenario is when you call your dog's name and he trots to you. This means you've put the important time into training an excellent recall, something that must occur long before you need it. If he's a little hesitant, you may have to go over and gently lead him away from the situation, either by his collar or his leash.

Immediately afterward, if attempts to engage his attention on another activity or toy don't do the trick, you may have to remove him from the area. The key takeaway, however, is to maintain a calm demeanor on your part.

Factors That Explain a Dog's 'Wednesday' Behavior

We all know what the middle of the week signifies, and while for some it's a relief, some dogs can think every day is "hump day" and act accordingly. But experts say it's perfectly normal behavior for dogs. It usually occurs when there's a peak in their arousal level, but The Spruce Pets explains:

"Humping, or mounting, is an action that seems inherently sexual in nature. However, this is not always the case. Humping is part instinct and part learned behavior and, most importantly, it is completely normal for dogs. It only becomes a behavior problem when your dog humps people or upsets other dogs by humping excessively."3

So why do they do it? The "sexual tension," if you will, may simply be a habit, it may be instinct and it may be learned behavior. A few more specific clarifications may help clear up the basis of the behavior:

Hormones — When it's a hormonal response, it may have something to do with whether or not your dog is spayed or neutered. If your intact dog encounters another intact dog, there's a stronger likelihood that mating will occur, so intervention may need to take place. However, as registered veterinary technician Jenna Stregowski note to The Spruce Pets:

"Having your dog neutered or spayed may help with the problem, but be aware that dogs may develop the habit of humping before they're altered and continue it afterward."4

Aggression — To determine what makes your dog mount other dogs, especially if it happens often, certain behaviors can signal a dog's intention; either way, the aggression — not just the humping — needs to be addressed.

Board certified veterinary behaviorist Wailani Sung advises that stiff, tense body language around other dogs (or people), or mounting the neck and shoulder area of another dog, can be interpreted as the beginnings of or possible signs of escalating aggression. If it's your dog in question, according to Vetstreet:

"Avoid problematic situations like doggy daycare and the dog park and seek professional guidance from a veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist, or a veterinarian working in combination with a reward-based trainer. Aggressive behavior will not go away on its own — you need to get help for your dog as soon as possible."5

Playfulness — It's easy to see how dogs being dogs, especially those with friendly or excitable personalities, can lead to mounting. Everyone loves it when their dogs are playful appropriately, but not if humping is their go-to behavior, especially around children.

Sung6 says if your dog seems to be a "serial humper" out of simple playfulness and you want to nip that behavior in the bud, he should be closely supervised, then immediately intercepted at the appropriate time. Sung explains:

"Usually you will see the mounter place his or her head over the other dog's body and then grasp with both forepaws … As soon as the dog starts to place his head over the other dog's body, the owner can distract him and redirect."7

No matter what size your dog is, the key in this endeavor is patience and persistence. If removing the dog from the situation seems necessary, it should be done calmly and safely. Sung adds that if owners interrupt consistently before actual mounting takes place, the behavior will eventually diminish.

Excitement — Sometimes dogs get excited when something in their environment changes, such as another dog entering the room, children running or making noise or simply taking a walk outside. They can get the "zoomies," aka FRAPS (frenetic random activity periods) and, sometimes, they'll seize the moment as an opportunity to mount something. Dogster notes:

"Before the zoomies hit, dogs often get a glint in their eyes, and they may … run quickly from one side of the yard or room to the other, back and forth, or spin in circles until they fall down …"8

According to Vetstreet,9 dogs for kids should be neither so large that a child gets bowled over (though this isn't a concern if your dog knows his manners), nor so small they can be injured by a child accidentally. A "good" dog should be playful but not overly excitable, and easily handled on a leash — behaviors you can help your dog learn using positive reinforcement training.

If you're looking for dog breeds that are kid friendly, poodles, collies and retrievers — especially the golden and Labrador varieties — are known to be especially gentle, patient and protective of children, but mixed breed dogs at animal shelters can be excellent family dogs as well. All dog breeds can be amazing, based on their upbringing.

Dogs aren't humans, and even the friendliest, gentlest dog will display instinctive behaviors from time to time. Children should always be supervised when a dog is around until they understand how and when to initiate interactions with their pet.

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