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Humping Pup

“It’s what dogs do. It’s a completely normal behavior,” explains Carolyn Walsh, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, who studies the nuances of dog behavior in dog parks. “Both males and females mount, regardless of whether [they are] sexually intact or not.” Celeste Pongrácz, a Mudi breeder in Hungary, finds that mounting can change with hormonal shifts. “Right now, we live with seven bitches, and when somebody is coming into season or is in season, some dogs want to hump, and others ‘ask’ to be humped. Regardless, it always involves the bitch in season.” Studies find that neutering males can decrease mounting, but certainly does not stop it in its tracks. After all, there is more to it than hormones. (Alas, not a single study noted if Barry White songs were playing in the background at the time the behavior was exhibited.)


From tail wagging to barking, dog behavior is riddled with nuance. A wagging tail might convey “I’m quite scared” or “This is the best day ever!” Like tail wagging, mounting is far more complex than it may appear, and there is not one simple explanation. But there are some likely candidates.

In many cases, mounting is related to a surge of emotion, such as feeling anxious or being aroused (in this context, “arousal” means general stimulation). In a recent investigation of dog park behavior, Walsh and her student, Lydia Ottenheimer Carrier, found that the dogs doing the most mounting were also doing the most playing. Walsh explains, “Dog parks can be quite stimulating, and for those who are highly aroused physiologically, mounting behavior could easily come out. There can be such a buildup of social motivation and the desire to affiliate that some of that energy spills over into the sexual motivation system. You see sexual behavior coming out, but it’s mostly out of context.”

General arousal or anxiety is not restricted to the dog park. Stimulation easily translates to everyday situations: a new person comes over, a new dog is introduced or a dog is cooped up in the house all day. “One of my dogs humps the others when I grab the leashes, or otherwise am doing things that signal going somewhere,” says Duclos.

Dawn Cleary, owner of Blue Cerebus Dog Boutique in Madison, Ind., attributes mounting exhibited by one of her Golden Retrievers to excitement. “When my Frisbee champ catches the Frisbee, my littlest one likes to run out and hump her. It’s the only time she does it … sort of like she wants to share in the glory of the Frisbee being caught.” (Is this the canine equivalent of painting your face and watching the Super Bowl?)

So why mount? Peter Borchelt, PhD, and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) in New York City, reminds us, “There are only so many behaviors a dog has access to, and dogs do what is part of their species-typical behavior. It is something they know how to do.” Since their options are somewhat limited, a dog, rather than read the funny pages during downtime, might be inclined to get to know a stuffed animal a little better.

Dominance Driven?

What else could mounting be about? For some owners, mounting equates to dominance and control, words that suggest you might not want your four-legged friend engaging in this behavior.

But what is dominance, and where does mounting fit in? According to Carlos Drews, PhD, dominance is not a characteristic, but rather, relates to describing interactions between two individuals. “Dominance is an attribute of the pattern of repeated, agonistic interactions between two individuals, characterized by a consistent outcome in favour of the same dyad member and a default yielding response of its opponent rather than escalation … Dominance is a relative measure and not an absolute property of individuals.” The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior defines it as “a relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots and mates.”

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Submitted by Jolie | March 30 2014 |

I have a 5-year-old female dog. I also often foster puppies less than 8 weeks for my local animal shelter. My dog will drool when I bring the puppies home and be very interested in them; at some point she will hump them. She has never had puppies and I got her from a different shelter when she was around 8 months old. So is this excitement, dominance, or something else? I'm not worried about it as she never harms the puppies, but am curious.

Submitted by evilyngarnett | April 11 2014 |

I know it's hard to come to conclusions, but my amateur ethology attempts have yielded this observation:
any kind of non-fearful, non-violent, arousal in dogs may lead to humping. When a feeling is too intense to contain, it often MUST find physical expression. A cat may get so overstimulated by petting that it bites,(so might a person, at certain times); this is not necessarily hostile. The phrase in "human" is something like "Jump out of my skin": I've seen dogs hump in all situations. Play, dominance, directly sexual. I don't think one motivation excludes the other. One or more thing may be causing the behavior, not least of which is simple tactile pleasure. Neutered or not, "sex" based or not, to most mammals rubbing your crotch against something warm and solid feels good. Now I realize that's an ethology no-no, but I'm going on basic evolution-driven physiology here. IMHO Dogs are the very embodiment of the phrase, if it feels good, do it. Why is feels good is simple: get's you in the mood to continue that DNA chain every living creature is obsessed with continuing. I don't think even Nikko Tinbergen would have a problem with that.

Submitted by LSmith | April 21 2014 |

My spayed 4-year-old humps my leg and licks my ear (if I am sitting down) after I have fed her and she has eaten. That is the only time she humps anything, and she only does it briefly. It seems like she is thanking me for her meal. Is this the correct interpretation?

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