Layne is an animal lover and grew up in a household full of rescued critters. She is a registered veterinary technician.
Why Do Dogs Try to Hump so Much?
Humping in dogs is often understood as an attempt to mount, which carries sexual implications. However, humping in dogs can occur for a number of reasons—they might try to hump air, people, legs, stuffed animals, their beds, and other dogs. In addition, male and female dogs, whether fixed or unfixed, can exhibit this type of behavior due to causes like frustration, nervousness, excitement, dominance, and more. Find out what is causing your dog's embarrassing humping. Also, if dogs tend to hump you specifically, find out how you can have more command and presence and teach them to stop with body language and a simple “no.”
6 Reasons Why Dogs Hump
- Reproduction and Hormones
- Medical Problems
1. Reproduction and Hormones
One of the obvious answers as to why a dog will hump another dog is due to natural instinct, which is to reproduce. Dogs mate fusing the very action of humping, so if you have a male dog that is unmetered, you will see this behavior readily displayed especially if your dog is in the presence of an intact female. A lot of undesirable behavioral problems can be relieved by simply spaying or neutering your dog. In addition, you prevent unwanted or accidental breeding. Already, there are too many animals to home every year and adoptable dogs are euthanized each year because the shelters are over capacity. Save a life and help reduce your dog’s behavioral problems by spaying or neutering.
Why do dogs hump other dogs? Dominance might be the straightforward reason for this behavior. When you take your dog to the dog park, they are suddenly thrust into a new social world with unfamiliar faces and smells. It would be like you showing up to a party with a group of strangers. Suddenly, your dog is expected to make friends and understand every single angle of every personality on the dog field. There will be dominant dogs, submissive dogs, easy-going dogs, anxious dogs, and even breeds that behave true to their breed (think dominant terriers and heelers that like to chase). As dogs try to establish social hierarchy amidst one another, they might start off with a sniff-sniff, circle, and then one or both might try to hump.
Some dogs allow it to happen, and it can be because they simply don’t care one way or another, and other dogs might be irritated by it and snap at the offender. You might notice that your dog tries to hump male or female dogs regardless. This is actually not all that abnormal.
Most importantly, you will want to stop your dog from humping dogs that are too small (and might get hurt) and dogs that won’t tolerate the humping and might snap and hurt your dog or another. Always supervise playtime at the dog park and interrupt the humping behavior by calling your dog's name, distracting them with a toy, or even guiding them away with treats or by calling them to come home. You should work with your dog on training if they have a tendency to hump so that you can recall them easily before they get out of hand.
Dogs will hump each other, people, stuffed animals, their beds, and the air because they are excited and are displacing their excitement. Dogs aren’t humans, and we can’t hold them to the same standard. They can’t say, “Hey, I’m so excited to see you!” Instead, they express it through body language and barking and try to jump up on us, chase us, lick us, or even hump us. While this is annoying and oftentimes embarrassing, they are ways to stop it or to redirect your dog’s attention to break the cycle. Do not scold them, as this can only trigger anxiety around the excitement, but instead, offer them something that will help them to relieve the tension and distract them from the pent up energy.
Think about training them to come and sit, and then have the new guest feed them a treat. You can also pull out their favorite toy and give that to them instead. You might take your dog outside to dispel some energy (running or playing fetch) until they are exhausted enough to come greet the house visitor inside when everyone is settled and seated down. You can also crate your dog (make it rewarding and not punishing) and can temporarily drape a sheet or towel over the front of their kennel so that they stay calm and aren’t hyperstimulated when someone enters your house. Then slowly, with good training, let them out to meet and greet everyone once they’ve settled in.
If your dog gets overly excited before going to the dog park, take them somewhere private or even in the backyard and exhaust them with frisbee or a game of fetch before they meet other dogs. You can also hike them, walk them, and exhaust them using other exercise methods before they are thrown into a large group of rambunctious dogs.
How to Stop the Embarrassing Humping
Anxiety, much like excitement, can cause a dog to hump air, legs, people, toys, dog beds, other dogs, and various nonsensical objects. Again, your dog’s senses are being flooded and their system might be cranking into overdrive (fight or flight); with such an intense overwhelming feeling of anxiety, your dog will act on any behavior that seems to release the pent up nerves—this means acting on their urge to hump.
Your dog might be anxious about being introduced to a large group of dogs; luckily, the more you socialize them, the more normal it will be for them to join a large pack during doggy playtime. Your dog might also hump things in the home or a visitor who enters the house because they have anxiety about the change or the new person. Letting them hump things like their bed is fairly benign, but you need to stop them from going after other people.
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You can do this by training your dog and working on building their confidence with a behavioral specialist. Training is a great confidence builder and an excellent way to manage your dog’s unwanted behavior. Similarly, you should understand your dog better—this includes knowing a bit more about their history, their breed type, or even what it is that is triggering them to be anxious in the home. Never hesitate from discussing such matters with your veterinarian.
Frustration, much like excitement or anxiety, is another reason why dogs hump random objects, people, and other dogs. Frustration can occur when a dog is kept separated from something they are trying to reach—this might be another animal, a toy, a person, or even caused by something like being kept behind a fence while watching other dogs play. If a dog is being deprived of something they desire, they resort to pacifying behaviors or displacement behaviors. You might ease your dog’s frustration by interpreting what exactly it is that they are seeking and figuring out how you can help them to access the thing, person, or activity in a timely or appropriate manner.
Distractions and adequate enrichment and exercise are also important. If your dog is not properly stimulated, is isolated, or lacks affection and care, bad behavior often creeps up. Guess who is responsible for that? You as their guardian. Bottom line is, don’t neglect your dog.
6. Medical Problems
Medical problems can also be behind the behavior, in which case, you will need to work with your vet to diagnose and pinpoint the cause of the issue. Is there anything else concerning that is affecting your dog’s health?
- Neurological issues can cause strange behaviors like air-humping or obsessive compulsive humping of objects and things. Certain types of cancers, especially cancer of the brain, can trigger abnormal behavior out of the blue.
- Hormonal issues (imbalances) or hormones resulting from a dog being intact can also trigger abnormal behaviors. Spay or neuter your dog.
- Infections of the urinary or reproductive tracts might cause your dog to hump (for relief); observe your dog for difficulty urinating, pain, discharge, or other signs of health issues. Take them to the vet right away if you notice blood or signs of infection (like pus or discharge) coming from the urinary tract or reproductive organs.
Why Do Dogs Hump Other Dogs?
As mentioned, domestic dog social order is somewhat hierarchical. There are dominant dogs and submissive dogs, and sex rarely has anything to do with it. Small breeds or dogs might be the most dominant dog in the pack or a large dog might be the most dominant in the pack. Similarly, male or female dogs, spayed/neutered or intact, might be the most dominant dog in the pack. Humping is one way of establishing who is dominant. Most dogs will tell the other dog whether or not the humping behavior is okay with a snap or a growl, which means “back off.” Also, senior dogs that have aches and pains tend to be intolerant of humping.
It’s also important to note that some dogs hump just for play. Humans have come to interpret humping as something that is bad, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes dogs just like to rough and tumble, and in that mix of canine expression comes humping. It’s not always attached to a meaning.
Why Do Dogs Hump Me?
Dogs hump people because the person is either in the wrong place at the wrong time or they haven’t established proper boundaries with that dog. It is very likely that you aren’t comfortable around dogs or are nervous, and dogs pick up on that nervousness. They might even pick up on that nervousness and act on what they sense to be submission. You will need to work on your body language and command of presence.
How to Get a Dog to Stop Humping You
By following the advice below, we are assuming you are working with an otherwise nice dog. Here’s how to stop a dog from humping you:
- When the dog approaches you, stand tall and acknowledge their presence. It helps to talk to them and to greet them by their name by saying “Hi, Jake.”
- If you are familiar with the dog, you can offer them the back of your hand for a quick sniff and greet. Some dogs might be plenty satisfied with this and leave you alone. Never draw your arms up into your armpits as that indicates nervousness unless you truly feel threatened. Remember, as you decrease the space you take up with your body you are just inviting the dog to take it.
- Don’t turn your back to the dog and if it approaches you on your side, slowly face him or her. The dog is unlikely to try to hump you from the front. This is a good, passive technique to discourage the behavior. Face them and keep the front of your body directed to them at all times so they can’t sneak-attack.
- If the dog tries to latch on to your leg, clasp your hands in front of you calmly and walk towards the nearest wall or object in the house, as if casually walking by, and brush the dog alongside it to dislodge them. You are doing this gently and passively. The dog is not going to follow your leg into a chair or into the wall. In a sense, you are gently smearing them off of you without using your hands. You can also try to lift your leg up away from them as it might get them to fall off. Avoid pushing them off with your hands as some dogs can redirect and bite when excited.
- While you detach the dog from your leg, give a firm command. Say the dog’s name, “Jake, off!” or “Jake, no” or “Jake, down” or “Jake, sit.” Use whatever command the owner uses in the household. You might have a treat in your hand if you are asking them to sit. Have them wait for a moment to disassociate the humping and the command to sit. Then, give the treat when they have calmed down. It’s even better if you have them walk with you to a new location to associate following you under good behavior with a treat.
- You will also want to recruit the owner’s help here. Maybe you set up a special greeting with them where you approach the dog with their special toy as you walk through the door and toss it away from you for them to chase.
- Talk to the owner about how uncomfortable the humping makes you feel. I am sure they are equally embarrassed and want to put an end to the problem. It’s especially important that they put an end to the problem if the dog is trying to hump kids or small children as they can easily fall down or get injured depending on the dog’s size.
All in all, you really just want to exude confidence and act like you're a human who can give commands over someone who is dog-shy and fleeing. It’s the fleeing behavior (running away or getting scared) or the nervousness that gets a dog to be even more enthusiastic about trying to hump you. Although it’s embarrassing, the dog is not approaching you in a sexual manner. They are most likely just excited that you are there or they see you as another playmate (hey, it’s better than receiving a growl!).
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.
© 2021 Laynie H