Why do dogs hump? It’s likely just normal behavior

Happy Hump Day signPicture the scene. There’s a knock at the front door. Auntie Millie has arrived! You haven’t seen this prim and proper 91 year old for ages and you’re ready to welcome her with open arms. As you’re about to embrace, your sweet little Dachshund enters the room. “What an adorable dog” exclaims Millie. But before the word “dog” has left the old girl’s mouth, this little canine has affixed himself to her leg and joyfully begins to hump it! Boy, your old auntie wasn’t ready for that kind of greeting! You can tell by her perplexed look. So, with a beet-red face, you explain that you just don’t know why your dog does that. Your Dachshund, of course, isn’t the least bit embarrassed. So, why do dogs hump?

Sexual motivation

Cartoon of dog humping human leg

Love in in the air!

Yep, this is one reason according to most experts. But, it certainly isn’t the only reason. David S. Spiegel, VMD, says that humping in unneutered males and unspayed females under one year old is usually sexual in nature. However, even spayed and neutered dogs hump. Altered dogs have learned that mounting and masturbating feel good so they continue to do it.

Mounting, masturbation and humping are normal behaviors that most dogs exhibit. They will mount and thrust against other dogs, animals, objects, pieces of material and people (much to the chagrin of the aforementioned Auntie Millie!)

Puppies often mount their litter mates. Some experts believe that this behavior functions as practice for the real thing. I’m not surprised at this at all because I have observed human youngsters doing the same thing! As puppies reach maturity, they begin to mount other dogs in a sexual context.

People on picnic with dogs humping in backgroundUnneutered males will often masturbate if prevented from approaching a female in heat. Sometimes, during “doggie dating” females in heat hump their male suitors. Females will commonly hump and mount other females when one or both are in heat. So yeah, there’s a whole lotta sexually charged humping going on in the dog world!

Dominance

Not all experts agree that dominance is a motivating factor in dog humping. However, Gary Landsberg, DVM, a Veterinary Behaviorist, says it is although it doesn’t necessarily mean that the dog doing the humping is dominant. In fact, dogs who are unsure of their place in the pack will hump to see how many dogs will accept this behavior. But, dogs don’t always want to be humped (would you?) and it can lead to fights.

Peter Borchelt, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) noted that mounting (humping) could be one of several behaviors associated with aggression such as high posture, resource guarding, direct stares and threats. “But mounting, in and of itself, doesn’t indicate a status issue. By itself. it may not mean a lot” says Dr. Borchelt.

Playtime

Well, as a matter of fact, sometimes dogs hump because it’s fun. While this might seem likeBeagle humping a Black Lab kinky behavior to a human, to a dog it’s just part of a normal day of leisure. So, in the case of play, it’s probably best not to attribute any deep meaning to the behavior. After all, humans like to have fun because it’s fun and so do other animals!

Medical problems

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), there are various medical problems that can influence a dog’s mounting behavior. These include urinary tract infections, incontinence, priapism (persistent and often painful erections) and skin allergies. Dogs suffering from one of these issues often excessively lick and chew themselves in the genital area.

What to do (and not do)

Don’t do anything unless the behavior becomes an obsession for your dog. So, if she is humping everything and every person in sight, you may have to intervene. But, if you’re at the dog park and she’s playing with her dog pals and things get a little “humpy,” just let it be even though you’re embarrassed. In other words, your social discomfort should’nt stop your dog from exhibiting a normal behavior.

Cartoon of dog thinking about humping legs and sniffing buttsIf the humping gets extreme and obsessive, there are measures to take.

  • Neutering males. In 60% of cases, neutering will reduce humping behavior. However, some may continue to hump for several months as they “unlearn” the behavior. Keep in mind, however, that you should have your dog neutered anyway.
  • Likewise, spaying females may reduce their humping motivation. This is especially true if she only humps when in heat or around other females in heat.
  • If your dog’s humping and masturbating is excessive and is bothering you, other people, dogs and animals, you can get his attention before he acts. Some dogs display amorous-looking behavior before mounting (Aw yes, that love light in their eyes). So, if he sidles up to something or someone and begins to pant, lick, whine, paw or rub, he may start to hump. If you see him displaying any of these behaviors, toss a toy, play a game, give him a chewy or see if you can get him to perform a previously learned trick or skill that he likes.
  • As stated above, many dogs don’t want to be humped and there can be trouble when they are. When around other dogs, say at the dog park, you can use the “leave it” command. Watch carefully when he’s interacting with his friends and as soon as you see any sign that he’s about to hump, use the command. And, remember to reward him with praise and a treat when he obeys. If he doesn’t obey, just end they play session but continue to work with him on the “leave it” command.
  • You can also push your dog off his humping victim (but don’t do it in a mean or angry way).
  • You can turn away, sit down or adopt a position that gets in the way of his mounting. If he doesn’t stop, immediately take him somewhere for a “time out.” Leave him alone without toys or distractions for one to three minutes. When the time is over, let your dog out and act like nothing ever happened.
  • If your dog starts to rehump, repeat the above.
  • You can teach your dog a behavior he can perform instead of humping – something he can’t do while he’s humping. For example, train him to sit on cue. When he does, give him a treat and praise. Now, you can use that in a potential humping situation. If you see him start to mount say “Sit.” If he does, reward him. You can then ask him to sit a few more times or perform other tricks. You can also give him his favorite toy to play with. By now, he may have calmed and his motivation for humping could be diminished.
  • If your dog humps in response to exciting interactions between people (like hugging or fighting), ask him to stay. Remember to always reward.
  • If your dog only humps in stressful situations like the above, you can work to avoid those when he’s around.
  • If you think your dog might become aggressive when you try to stop his humping behavior, don’t do it. Instead, contact a qualified professional such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist.
  • Some veterinarians prescribe drugs like Fluoxetine or Prozac to reduce libido. However, I would never go this route. As a matter of fact, prescribing such medications is controversial because little is understood about their effects on dogs.

Interesting survey

I just read an interesting survey on the website pethelpful.com. In a poll of 3,489 participants, 47% said they had been humped by a dog and they considered it very rude behavior and 16% said that their dog humped people all the time and they thought it was hilarious. I guess some people are just grumps about the humps!

Conclusion

Why do dogs hump? Now you know! People would likely do the same if they thought they could get away with it. But, that’s another topic in itself.

In most cases, humping isn’t a problem. Only when it becomes an obsession should you intervene.

Pug mounting santa's leg

One of Santa’s little humpers!

We love comments so be sure to leave yours below. Be sure to tell us about you and your dogs experiences with humping.

2 comments on “Why do dogs hump? It’s likely just normal behavior

  1. Michael

    Haha I was laughing through this article, because growing up I also had a dachshund and he loved to hump people all the time.

    I figured it was mainly due to them being sexually active — but I didn’t realize it could of been due to the other reasons which you listed.

    Do you know if certain dogs hump more than others — or are they all about the same?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Mitchell

      Hi Michael:

      I’m glad you got a chuckle from the article! 

      If you’re asking if certain breeds are more likely to hump, I don’t know. I’ve never found any information regarding this. The most likely humpers are puppies and dogs who have not been spayed or neutered.

      Thank you.

      Reply

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