Why Do Dogs Hump (and What You Can Do)

Wondering why your dog is humping other dogs, objects, or humans? Here's what you can do about it.

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You may be embarrassed by your dog’s proclivity to mount other dogs, cushions or pieces of furniture, or even (horrors!) humans. You are not alone; dogs all over the world can be seen wrapping their front paws around what seems to us to be inappropriate targets and thrusting their pelvis in what appears to be sexual behavior. 

Mounting and/or humping is a natural, normal canine behavior – and it’s not just male dogs who mount; female dogs do it too! – but it’s one that humans all over the world tend to get upset about. Sadly, many caretakers see the behavior as grossly unacceptable, and their dogs may suffer for it. 

Such was the case in late March, when a North Carolina couple surrendered Fezco, their 5-year-old, 50-pound male Shepherd mix to their local shelter because they had observed him mounting another male dog and were aghast at the thought of having a “gay dog” in their home. The uneducated owners were apparently unaware that while there are a number of reasons why dogs “hump” other dogs, being gay is not considered to be one of them. (Happily, when this story made national news, the dog found a forever home with a gay couple elsewhere in North Carolina.)

The misinterpretation is somewhat understandable; humping sure looks like sex! But reproduction is only one of the many reasons your dog may mount dogs, humans, or objects, and those reasons are far more common than the intent to breed:

  • Reproduction. If you’re intentionally trying to have your female dog impregnated, you’re happy to have humping happen. If not, manage the behavior by separating the dogs until the female’s heat period is done; then talk to your vet about spay/neuter surgery.
  • Play. Yes friends, this can be a normal part of play interaction between dogs, including but not limited to puppies. As long as both puppies are enjoying the play and the mounting isn’t excessive to the point is becomes oppressive to the mountee, you can leave them alone and let them play. 
  • Stress and/or anxiety. Your dog may mount other dogs (or whatever) as a means to relieve stress. You’ll see this most often in dogs who tend to be stressed. Again, there’s no real harm in allowing the behavior in the moment, but you would do well to reduce stress in the dog’s world and address the generalized anxiety so he no longer feels the need to mount to try to relieve his stress.
  • Excitement and/or arousal. Some dogs are inclined to mount when they get over-excited – for example, when visitors arrive at your home. You can manage this by putting your dog away in another room before (or when) people arrive and bringing him back out on leash when things have settled down. Keep him on leash for controlled greetings (restrain so he can’t mount visitors’ legs) and let him off leash only when he is over his initial excitement.
  • Attention-seeking. Dogs are pretty good at figuring out what they need to do to get what they want. If they want your attention and you hustle over to stop them every time they mount someone or something – mission accomplished! The game is on, just like the dog who learns to pick up forbidden objects so you’ll chase after him. The answer: Find a different way to intervene when intervention is called for.
  • Masturbation. This can be due to a medical issue – a urinary tract infection or allergies, perhaps, that cause the dog’s private parts to itch or be painful. It’s always a good idea to have your dog checked by your veterinarian to see if there are any medical issues causing or contributing to behavior challenges. But some dogs have learned that it feels good to hump a pillow, stuffed toy, or other animal – and behaviors that are self-reinforcing are likely to increase. 
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is a very rare cause for mounting behavior, but it can happen. If your dog’s behavior doesn’t seem to fall into any of the above descriptions, if it’s difficult if not impossible to interrupt the behavior, and he’s doing it with a frequency and intensity that is damaging his quality of life, then it may be due to an OCD. If you suspect this, a visit to a qualified behavior professional is in order. (See “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Dogs,” September 2010.)

IT’S NOT DOMINANCE!

There is a fairly widespread misconception that mounting behavior is about being “dominant.” It’s not. 

In behavior science, “dominance” is about gaining access to a mutually desired resource – it’s not about oppressing the other dogs in the social group. Sometimes one dog gets to be dominant in an interaction because they want the resource more and are less willing to defer, and sometimes the other dog gets the resource. Mounting has nothing to do with gaining access to a resource.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

Just because mounting is a natural, normal behavior doesn’t mean you have to put up with your dog humping everything in sight! There are things you can do to decrease his need and opportunity to mount.

  • Rule out or treat any possible medical contributors to the behavior. All your modification efforts will be for naught if a medical condition is driving his mounting behavior.
  • Increase the amount of exercise your dog gets. This doesn’t have to be hours of hiking in the woods – you can use interactive games, cognition, and scent work to tire his brain as well as off-leash exercise to tire his body. This can help keep his excitement level down, so he feels less of a need to release his energy through mounting. Tired minds and bodies are less likely to need or want to run around humping. Increased exercise can also help reduce stress.

(For information about brain-engaging tools and exercises, see “The Best Food-Dispensing Toys,” WDJ April 2019; “How to Engage Your Dog’s Brain When Activity Is Restricted,” March 2021; and “How to Teach Your Dog to Play Nose Games,” September 2019.)

  • Look for ways to reduce your dog’s stress levels. Manage his exposure to things that worry him and get rid of any stressors you’re able to (such as shock, choke, or prong collars; verbal or physical punishment; and other aversive training techniques). Also, use counter-conditioning and desensitization (CC&D, carefully pairing high-value reinforcers with things that worry him) to change his opinion of his stressors. (For information about reducing your dog’s stress, see “Counter-Conditioning and Desensitization,” March 2020, and “Stressed Out,” April 2020.)
  • For dogs who mount others too persistently in play, occasionally use a “positive interrupt.” The idea is to move him away from the other dogs and give him several minutes of quiet time to reduce his arousal level. If you cheerfully interrupt every time your dog becomes too much of a pest to his playmates, he may learn to self-modulate his mounting behavior. At worst, you can use it to easily let him calm down while giving his play pals a break as needed.

My favorite positive interrupting exercise is “Walk Away,” which teaches a dog to not just leave alone the object of his interest, but also to return to you for a reinforcing treat.  (See “How to Teach Your Dog to Just Walk Away!” September 2018.) 

  • If you haven’t already, make a commitment to good manners training for your dog. This may take the form of group classes, private training, or training on your own if you have these skills. Teach your dog how to greet people politely to reduce excitement mounting, as well as a multitude of other useful behaviors (Down, Touch, Go to Your Mat, etc.). 

The more he responds to your cues for a variety of behaviors, the more easily you’ll be able to ask him for alternative, incompatible behaviors when he gets that humping gleam in his eye. Plus, the better the two of you can communicate, the less stressful life is for both of you! (And remember, the less stressed he is, the less likely to mount.)

  • Finally, get ready to make some judgment calls. You’ll want to be able to determine which of your dog’s mounting behaviors might be innocuous and allowed to continue, and which need intervention and/or behavior modification assistance. Your friends will be relieved when they can come visit without having intimate relations with your dog, and your dog (and his friends) will be happy that they can engage in normal play activities. 
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WDJ's Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Our late boy was abit of a mounter, didn’t fit into any of the categories in the article. He was laid back, great with people & dogs, confident & independent, well exercised but he looked & considered dogs for mounting. He never mounted until we adopted a female greyhound who mounted him now & then when he was about 6+ months old. When we moved overseas we worked with a trainer so he (3.5 years old then) could be off leash without mounting dogs he considered right for mounting. The trainer said that because the mounting was a learned behaviour it was difficult to break. We worked with him, always kept an eye in him, discouraged him by distractions & it came to a point when we could see he was considering a dog for mounting we used to just say “Don’t even think about it!”, he’d looked at us & moved away!

  2. The people mentioned in the article should never have any living creatures. The Shepherd is far better off away from them. We’ve had female dogs mount other dogs. We just tried to distract her and our other dogs, especially if the mountee showed anxiety or aggression. We always supervise any interaction our dogs had, even when off leash in an enclosed dog park. Dogs have no sense of straight or “gay”, I would love to use other terms to describe those owners but I’m trying to be polite.

  3. Would love to hear professional opinion about our dog Jazmin’s humping. It happens every time in two different instances:
    1. When we are about to go for a walk. She’s excited so this one makes sense. We really just ignore it, because its short lived once she is leashed up and we’re going.
    2. Every night at the same time. This is after her walk, after her dinner, after EVERYTHING. We are sitting on the couches, watching tv. Anywhere from 5-30 minutes after, Jazmin will come over to my husband (who is sitting on the couch) and start humping. EVERY night. We used to just let her, because really we don’t care, but its starting to get more energetic, for lack of a better word. We stop her immediately, have tried redirecting, have tried getting up and moving before it happens, etc. It all stops the behavior, until the next night. Its her nightly ritual at this point!!! Any thoughts?

    • Your comment is such a relief. I thought I was the only one. Basically, similar thing happens here. Tuur is my first boy, and was quite early ‘mature’. So I let him do his thing not realising this was permanently and not just him trying out new things. His only moment is when I want to go to bed. He needs his humping and then goes to sleep ;-). He doesn’t bother anyone else with it, so I let it be for now. I also tried to stop the behaviour, obviously too late, but it all starts again the next evening. While writing this I realise I should be more persistent and correct him each evening, but (a) he looks so sad (oldest trick in the book), but (b) what if he tries to hump other humans or dogs if I don’t allow him? So far, I’m his only object he wants to hump and it’s his ritual too before going to bed.

  4. Hi Shari,
    You could try replacing that behaviour with another behaviour that you might find more acceptable. If your dog likes to play with a certain toy, have that available the moment you see the sparkle in her eye and play with her for five minutes. It may take awhile but replacing the behaviour with another enjoyable behaviour for your dog, may help. Also, don’t forget to praise her when she goes for the toy. The other option, if she’s not a toy playing dog, is to replace the behaviour with a sit or a down and then reward with a treat ( which you’ll be able to phase out by using verbal praise in the future).
    It has become a habit and as I’m sure you know, habits can be hard to break, so this may take a while. As well, when we change a long term behaviour we may also experience what is called an extinction burst, which may cause the behaviour to increase before it finally dies down. So if you see an increase in the behaviour, don’t be alarmed, that is a normal part of breaking a habit.
    Best of luck!!

  5. Really informative article, as usual, BUT your readers would have to read past the title. Does that even happen anymore?

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