Humping is a very common behavior in dogs. Despite appearances, it is not always sexually motivated and is typically harmless. There are, however, some situations in which humping can be problematic and simply awkward.
So, why do dogs hump other dogs, people, and objects? Should you curb your dog’s humping habit?
What is humping?
Most dog owners are familiar with seeing their dog or other dogs hump something or someone. The act of humping, also referred to as mounting, involves a dog putting their front legs around another dog, typically from the rear, and thrusting their pelvis repeatedly.
Because humping is most often considered in a sexual context, people tend to assume that only male dogs, particularly intact ones, partake in humping. However, neutered males and both intact and spayed female dogs can also exhibit humping behavior.
Why do dogs hump?
Mounting is a natural, instinctive behavior in all dogs. It can happen for several reasons:
Animal behaviorist Dr. Mary Burch notes that humping is often an attempt at dominance and to display social status or control. This can apply whether it’s a human or another dog on the receiving end. However, the dog doing the humping isn’t always the one trying to dominate the other. A more insecure dog may hump a more confident dog simply because they don’t have the social skills to otherwise deal with the situation. Dogs who are unsure of their place in the pack are more likely to hump to see how many dogs will accept the behavior. And a confident dog may let them!
Brief moments of humping between dogs can be a normal part of play behavior. For instance, while running and playing, dogs might take turns mounting each other in a harmless expression of excitement. Like play fighting or wrestling, it’s not unusual to see a dog try to initiate play with another by humping. This can be a normal and acceptable behavior between two dogs as long as it doesn’t upset either of them. Some poorly socialized dogs excessively mount other dogs in response to play solicitation. They don’t seem to know how to play well and get overaroused during play.
Although rarer than we tend to assume, your dog may still hump other dogs due to hormones and sexual attraction. The likelihood of humping being sexual in nature is greater in younger dogs that have not been spayed or neutered. This is why pet parents may notice puppies approaching sexual maturity (around 5–8 months old) start humping. Dogs can smell when a female dog is about to go into heat, and this can trigger the instinctual response to mount, even in neutered males. When both dogs are intact, humping can quickly turn into mating, so intact dogs of the opposite sex should be kept separate if you don’t want that to happen. Having your dog neutered or spayed may help with the problem, but be aware that dogs may develop the habit of humping before they’re altered and continue it afterward.