Reading dogs 11: Mounting

 

Mounting, also known as humping, also known as masturbation, is perfectly normal canine behaviour. All mammals engage in sexual behaviour and, as is the case with humans’, dogs’ motivations vary.

That Rex humps toys or the family cat, and that Molly tries to mount other dogs at the park and human visitors to your home does not mean that there is something wrong with your own morality or values. Surprising as it may seem, our dogs’ impulses actually have nothing to do with us! So let’s get over that way of thinking and look at the behaviour rationally.

What’s going on?

Dog trainers, animal behaviourists and veterinarians have often said that mounting behaviour is not actually sexual, largely because puppies of both genders begin mounting one another at the age of five to six weeks which is long before sexual maturity. This is true if sexual behaviour is solely defined as procreative activity. But from early puppyhood on, dogs hump other dogs regardless of their respective genders. Neutered dogs engage in it, too.

Like human beings’, dogs’ sexual activities, including masturbation, appear to be for comfort, for pleasure, to relieve anxiety, or to discharge stress. A dog may also use humping to invite another dog to play or to communicate something about their particular status.

Leave your dog at home and go to an off-leash dog park by yourself sometime to watch the interactions between the dogs. You might see one dog approach another who may turn away or sniff the ground. Instead of accepting the other dog’s lack of interest in meeting, the first dog may come closer and stand over the second dog (leaning his head over the second dog’s neck or back) or may begin humping him. This is often enough to encourage the second dog to agree to play. The dogs move apart, one or the other may give a play bow, and the two may begin a chasing game or a play fight. The initial humping may have been a way for the first dog to test the other’s limits or may simply be an invitation to romp around.

In a different vein, my dog Penny generally tears apart toys except for ones that look like real puppies. She also has a toy golden retriever that’s almost as big as she is and about which she seems to have some very strong opinions. Penny will not tolerate it if I put the toy dog on a chair, couch or coffee table. She immediately comes to remove it from the furniture and move it to an unpopular  place such as underneath the piano. Although she never does it with any other toys, cushions, pillows or furniture, given the opportunity, Penny spends a lot of time humping the stuffed toy dog. If I put the toy away, she doesn’t hump anything else instead. While it’s possible that I may be wrongly projecting an interpretation onto Penny, I think that her behaviour with this large toy dog is a deliberate expression of how she feels about the prospect of having another adult dog in our home.

In the video below, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell’s border collies play in the garden outside her house. Watch to see how their play features multiple instances of standing over and humping, including between the puppy and the older adult dog.

Welcome or unwelcome behaviour

When a dog uses humping inappropriately, the offended dog will offer a correction in the form of growling, snarling or air-snapping. Actual physical contact is not necessary. The aggressive display is normal, ritualized conflict resolution. As long as the humping dog responds appropriately by moving away from the other, all will be well. The two dogs may even go on to offer play-bow invitations to each other. In most cases, mounting turns into positive social interaction.

Trainer Cindy Bruckart points out that mounting is an important aspect of canine play. When dogs are prevented from mounting they have a hard time moving toward friendly interactions.

Bruckart says she interrupts “opportunistic mounting,” such as one dog mounting another when he’s trying to get a drink of water. She also interrupts humping if it becomes a nervous habit or a dog’s only way of interacting socially.1)Bruckart, Cindy. “Mounting Advocate.” Dog Star Daily, 9 Nov. 2008. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.

Neutering

To prevent mounting and masturbation, inexperienced owners, and those with an incomplete understanding of the procedure’s results, often spay or neuter their dog. However, although a neutered dog cannot procreate, dogs continue to hump after being neutered and may do it more often than before. Veterinarian and behaviourist Ian Dunbar says that

Unlike most other mammals, neutered male and to a lesser extent, neutered female dogs will continue to mount other dogs. Quite common and quite normal. In fact, neutered male dogs tend to mount more than intact males, presumably due to a lack of discriminatory experience.2)Dunbar, Ian. “Humping Is Normal, Yet Rude and Lewd.” Dog Star Daily, 4 May 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. See also Hart, Benjamin L. “Role of Prior Experience in the Effects of Castration on Sexual Behavior of Male Dogs.” Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 66.3 (1968): 719-25. Print.

Dogs reach sexual maturity sometime between six and 18 months of age, but behaviours which  some people consider to be signs of sexual maturity generally develop later. By the time male dogs are 24 months of age, 90% urine mark, 95% leg-lift and 98% mount other dogs. These behaviours, which many people consider signs of sexual maturity, are actually performed more frequently as dogs become socially mature.3)Goodloe, Linda P., and Peter L. Borchelt. “Companion Dog Temperament Traits.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 1.4 (1998): 303-38. Print. Mounting and related behaviours may be signs of social maturity more than of sexual (that is, procreative) maturity.

How to discourage mounting

While dogs are very good at communicating their acceptance or rejection of other dogs’ humping, humans are not always as clear about what they consider to be appropriate. It is always okay to redirect your dog’s attention to prevent him or her from performing a behaviour that you don’t like. Scolding or punishing the dog for what is simply normal, healthy behaviour won’t stop the dog from mounting or masturbating.

Notice the times and circumstances in which your dog is most likely hump. For example, she may become excited when a visitor comes over; she may use humping to deal with her emotions. She might attempt to mount the visitor’s leg or foot or she may redirect her attention to another person, family member or object. Licking her lips, nose or genitals before mounting is another common behaviour. You may find it helpful to keep a Kong stuffed with yummy treats in the freezer, ready to offer the dog when your visitor arrives.

A dog who enjoys fetch games may be diverted from mounting if you toss a toy for him to chase and bring back. However, for most dogs, it’s better to choose an activity that promotes calmness rather than something exciting.

One simple way to prevent mounting and humping is to teach your dog to perform an incompatible behaviour, that is, something the dog can’t do while also humping someone or something. A quick and solid sit is an effective example. In the video below, trainer Pamela Johnson demonstrates some additional options.

Additional resources

Bekhoff, Marc. “Why Dogs Hump.” Psychology Today. 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 3 Mar. 2015.

Hecht, J. “H*mping: Why do they do it?” The Bark, June-August 2012: 70, 56-60.

 

Next: Reading dogs 12: Will he bite?

References   [ + ]

1. Bruckart, Cindy. “Mounting Advocate.” Dog Star Daily, 9 Nov. 2008. Web. 2 Mar. 2015.
2. Dunbar, Ian. “Humping Is Normal, Yet Rude and Lewd.” Dog Star Daily, 4 May 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. See also Hart, Benjamin L. “Role of Prior Experience in the Effects of Castration on Sexual Behavior of Male Dogs.” Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 66.3 (1968): 719-25. Print.
3. Goodloe, Linda P., and Peter L. Borchelt. “Companion Dog Temperament Traits.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 1.4 (1998): 303-38. Print.