Behavior & Training
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Is mounting associated with dominance? Not necessarily. Becky Trisko, PhD, behaviorist and owner of Unleashed in Evanston, Ill., studied dog-dog interactions in the dog daycare setting. Mounting was not associated with status-related (“agonistic”) behaviors like aggression and submission, but instead was correlated with play and other affiliative behaviors. For example, a dog who muzzle-licks another dog — a behavior often associated with “Let’s be friends. Like me! Like me!” — might also mount the same dog. If mounting indicated status or a dominance relationship, we would expect mounters to receive submission from other dogs, but that’s not what we’re finding. Likewise, a dog is probably not trying to dominate the dog bed he just mounted.

Multiple Motivations

Mounting occurs in a variety of contexts and can be surrounded by many different behaviors. Humping could be an assertive behavior related to social bonds rather than competition for resources or status. In friendly contexts, mounting could be an attention-getting behavior to instigate an interaction. As Trisko explains, “Among preferred play partners (scientific jargon for friends), it almost seems to be a way to get the other to play. A dog might do a play bow, bark and paw at a dog. If the second dog isn’t really responding, mounting will often get a rise out of the dog, and then they’ll play.”

Trisko also suggests that mounting among friends is associated with bond-testing. “This is the idea that dogs perform potentially annoying behaviors like mounting to test the strength of the recipient’s investment in the relationship. It’s like saying, ‘How much will you put up with?’ ‘How much do you really like me?’” Since mounting seems to appear in affiliative, not aggressive or status-related contexts, this is a provocative possibility.

At the same time, mounting is not always related to friendship. Aimee Moore, CPDT, of Dog’s Best Friend Training in Madison, Wisc., says, “I don’t think there is one simple explanation, but with unfamiliar dogs, or often even with owners, it can be pretty rude and related to status.”

As Borchelt, who has treated behavior problems for more than 30 years, observes, “Mounting could be part of a suite of behaviors associated with aggression, such as high posture, resource guarding, direct stares, and threats and standing over. But mounting, by itself, doesn’t indicate a status issue. By itself, mounting might not mean a lot.”

He also feels that it could even be problematic to ascribe the label of “dominance” to a dog who is a mounter. “If you perceive a dog as dominant because he mounts, you might think you have to take steps so that the dog isn’t dominant to you — maybe always make the dog heel, which could cut back on sniffing, exercise and dog-dog interactions, or use intimidation to make the dog follow explicit rules. This could have negative consequences for the relationship.”

But there is more to the story than the mounter. Not all dogs welcome being mounting. Jessie Nelson of New York City notes that her dog Gracie, a mutt who more closely resembles Falkor the Luckdragon from The Never Ending Story than a member of Canis familiaris, changed her relationship with mounting as she aged. As Nelson recalls, “Gracie used to let other dogs hump her, and then they would continue playing. Now she will freak out at dogs who mount her.”

What to Do?

Training and dog-owner communication can help a humper maintain friendly interactions with dogs and humans alike. Moore suggests various training techniques. “I would work on obedience so I could get my dog’s attention when she starts to focus on another dog. I would also work on call-aways — dog greets and sniffs appropriately, then call her back and reinforce for that behavior. This way, you are catching her before she mounts.” Since mounting is often associated with arousal levels, when working on mounting, Moore recommends relaxation protocols, down-stays or teaching an alternative behavior. Angela Limburg of Chicago, Ill., tries redirecting her dog. “My boy humps his bedding … It seems to happen when he is overexcited. We try to redirect him — usually, offering cheese or cookies works.”

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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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