Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
The following cliché is quite a popular one (but it's also one dog owners would like to forget): You have some guests over for the very first time, your home smells great, you offered your guests a sumptuous meal, and now you are settling in on the couch, showing them pictures of your recent wedding. Then, seconds later, Rover goes on a humping frenzy in front of all the guests—grandma and children included. Embarrassed, you take Rover by the collar, and off he goes to his crate for a timeout.
Later that day, you start wondering what is going on in Rover's mind and think that perhaps the time has come to neuter him once and for all. But wait, did you know that humping is not always sexual? Therefore, neutering may not solve the problem as expected—even though it may reduce it significantly (it's mostly the effect of hormones). So, what can you do next time? Well, first of all, a good step is to try to figure out exactly what may be going on in Rover's mind.
How to Curb the Behavior
Curbing this embarrassing behavior requires determining why the dog is humping in the first place. For instance, if a dog is humping out of raging hormones, according to Vetinfo, neutering may reduce humping behaviors in 60% of the cases. If the dog is humping you, you may want to determine under what circumstances the behavior happens. In case of humping pillows or other toys when left home alone, a dog may be helped by removing such items and offering more stimulating toys such as stuffed Kongs or other puzzles. Severe cases may need medical management with drugs.
Humping due to a bully attitude is rude behavior at the dog park and may cause serious dog fights. This behavior should be discouraged,especially when the other dogs are not happy to be humped. And obviously, humping due to an irritation should be investigated by a veterinarian. But don't be too fast to label your dog as rude; humping can also be due to stress, arousal, anxiety and some dogs hump just for play.
Potential Causes of Humping Behaviors in Dogs
Often dog owners assume that only intact males humps, but surprisingly females engage in this behavior as well, at times even the spayed ones! This explains that humping is not always sexual behavior, but rather stems from other canine motives. Unfortunately, for embarrassed dog owners, humping is quite a natural behavior in dogs, so if you love dogs, that is part of their canine behaviors you will have to deal with every now and then. Of course, if you know what may be causing the behavior, you may curb it as needed.
Of course, on top of the list is sexual behavior, but it's not as often as thought. Yes, your intact male may be aroused and vent off its sexual frustrations using its favorite stuffed animal or other unfortunate animals that live with you. This can be further exacerbated if there is a female in heat nearby, since male dogs appear to sense a female in heat from up to three to five miles away, depending on the breed and the direction where the wind is blowing.
If you have recently neutered your male dog, do not get upset if he still humps for some time, since it takes some time for the testosterone levels to lower. Give it a bit of time, but if the humping behavior was mostly out of assertiveness, expect it to not subside as desired.
Curiously, females in heat may engage in humping behaviors as well, and it does not matter if the other dog is a female. This is quite normal behavior that is often seen in multi-dog households. This behavior may not only be sexual per se, but can also be a sign of a status-seeking attitude, towards another dog.
And then we have dogs humping merely to make a point. This dog is humping simply to tell the other dogs he is a bully. Humping, however, may elicit fights if the other dog is not willing to be the humpee. If the dog is humping humans, you must evaluate in what context this happens. However, keep in mind that dog "dominance" is often an overused default explanation for many behaviors in dogs that are simply caused by a dog that simply was not taught otherwise. For more on this, read about dog dominance theory.
If you watch puppies play, you will notice that they will engage in humping behaviors at a young age. This is done just for play as they are practicing behaviors they will engage in when they grow up into adults. The principle is the same as play fighting, and play hunting.
At times, dogs engage in humping behaviors to vent off frustration. For instance, a dog that is left at home alone for large amounts of time may engage in humping behaviors to get relief from their frustration. If this is done frequently enough, there are chances this behavior may become an obsessive-compulsive behavior difficult to eradicate.
Itchiness or Irritation
Dog humping is not always stemming from sexual behavior or assertive behaviors, at times, some local irritation may cause frustration in the dog and humping is a good way to get rid of it. Rule out something itchy going on down there by inspecting for irritated skin or unusual bumps. Consider this especially if you own a dog that has never engaged in humping behaviors before.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 28, 2020:
If the humping behaviors lead to fights it is best to prevent it from happening through redirection. For help, consult with a dog behavior professional for in-person guidance.
?? on March 27, 2020:
My 2 male dogs, Oreo, a shih-tzu and Brownie, a chihuahua have weird humping behavior. Its either Brownie or Oreo who does it. Brownie will mount Oreo and do the whole procedure, but Oreo doesnt do it right, so im not concerned about Oreo. Anyways, when Brownie does it, Oreo doesnt really react, but when Brownie jumps off of Oreo, they just start fighing. When Oreo does it, Brownie just gets grumpy and bites anything in his way. So...? I think ite Bully Behavior, but both of them do it and get mad at each other, and neither of them seem to be non-dominant. Both of them have a kind of rivarly to each other though, and Oreo usually pins Brownie using his size.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 18, 2013:
Nothing stooopid about your questions. I'm sure they cause some head scratching in those who study wolf behavior. My take is that yes, boredom may play a role but also the fact that dogs seem to be perpetually stuck in juvenile behaviors. I'm sure wolves in the wild have much more serious issues and play also less. If you read my article on play you'll see that play is a sign of well-being, animals that are well-fed, healthy and not stressed will play.
Larry Fields from Northern California on January 16, 2013:
Wow, I didn't know that this canine behavior was so complex!
Now here's my stooopid question of the day: Are humping behaviors more common in domestic dogs than in wolves? If so, there may be an element of boredom involved.
Voted up and interesting.
Sinea Pies from Northeastern United States on June 09, 2011:
We have two Yellow Labs. One male (neutered) and one female (spayed). I can attest that the male does do this on occasion.
Cliff Beaver from Murfreesboro, TN USA on June 08, 2011:
Nice. Very informative. I always wondered why my dogs in the past would do this quite often. Even to dogs of the same gender.