By Samantha Drake
One of the biggest misconceptions about dog behavior is that female dogs don’t try to hump people, other dogs, or things. However, humping is normal for both male and female dogs. In fact, female dogs can be just as hump-happy as male dogs.
But there’s a time and a place for dog humping, and it’s usually not when visitors arrive at your home or when you’re meeting new dogs. Fortunately, dogs can learn to behave in most situations unless there’s a medical or significant behavioral problem.
Underlying Causes of Female Dog Humping
“Both male and female dogs mount other dogs, people, and objects. Most people don’t realize that this behavior isn’t limited to intact male dogs,” said Dr. Pamela Reid, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Vice President of the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' (ASPCA) Anti-Cruelty Behavior Team and the Anti-Cruelty Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. Dogs—both male and female—hump for a variety of reasons:
As you might expect, humping is often a sexual behavior. Sexually motivated humping may be accompanied by “flirtatious” body language, such as a raised tail, pawing, and play bows, notes Dr. Reid. Humping is actually part of dogs’ play behavior. She points out, however, that “some poorly socialized or undersocialized dogs excessively mount other dogs in response to play solicitation. They don’t understand how to play well and get overaroused during play.”
Stress or Excitement
For some dogs, humping is the most natural response to a tense or exciting situation. When meeting a new dog or new person for the first time stirs a dog up, his or her go-to outlet is to mount the new dog or person, or a nearby piece of furniture, says Dr. Reid.
Let’s face it, from a dog’s perspective, whether the dog is male or female, humping another dog or person is a pretty good way of trying to establish dominance. There’s also a theory that such dominant behavior occurs in some female dogs because of pre-natal masculinization, says Peter Borchelt, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist, in Brooklyn.
Pre-natal masculinization occurs in mammals that give birth to multiple offspring where the males outnumber the females in the litter and a hormonal transfer occurs during prenatal development, he explains. But there’s no way to know if pre-natal masculinization has occurred unless the dog’s breeding history is known, Dr. Borchelt adds.
Compulsive Behavior Disorders
Humping can become a compulsive behavior, particularly if it’s in response to stressful situations, says Dr. Reid. Like other compulsive behaviors, compulsive mounting can interfere with a dog’s normal functioning.
Some dogs will mount people, dogs, or objects to get attention, particularly if they don’t get adequate amounts of exercise and affection at other parts of the day. From a dog’s point of view, negative attention (like being told “no”) is better than no attention at all.
It’s important to note that medical issues also can cause dogs of both sexes to hump, so a trip to the veterinarian may be in order to rule these issues out. The ASPCA lists medical problems that include urinary tract infections, incontinence, priapism, and skin allergies. These medical issues may also cause a dog to lick the affected areas.
Behavior Modification for Dog Humping
Humping or mounting behavior is usually normal for a dog. But it can be annoying, embarrassing, and potentially dangerous when your dog tries to hump a visitor or someone else’s dog. A large dog that humps can even injure a small dog or child, Borchelt points out. So being able to stop a dog from humping in certain situations has its advantages. The following are ways that can help stop a dog—male or female—from humping:
Spay or Neuter
Spaying an intact female dog may reduce her desire to hump other dogs, particularly if she only does it when she’s in heat or around other female dogs in heat, says Dr. Reid. Neutering intact male dogs may or may not effectively stop humping behavior, but it will reduce the behavior if it’s being triggered by a female dog, the agency says.
Distract When You See Warning Signs
Get to know your dog's signals. A dog may be getting ready to mount someone or something when he or she moves in close and starts panting, whining, or pawing the person, dog, or object. The ASPCA recommends distracting the dog with a toy or by asking the dog to perform a basic obedience skill like sitting, lying down, or shaking paws.
Discourage the Behavior
Teach your dog a command to leave other dogs, people, or objects alone. As soon as your dog tries to mount someone or something, command him or her to “Leave it!” and reward your dog with a treat if he or she obeys, says Dr. Reid. If your dog doesn’t obey, remove him or her from the situation entirely.
Ignore the Behavior
If your dog is humping to get attention, the best remedy is to prevent the behavior whenever possible (e.g., keep your dog in a crate when visitors arrive) and ignore it when it does happen. Make sure you give your dog plenty of attention and exercise at other times of the day, however.
Consult an Animal Behaviorist
In cases where the dog humping is compulsive or aggressive behavior, seek help from a qualified professional. Aggressive humping may be linked to other attention-seeking or aggressive behaviors, says Borchelt.
Image: Anna Hoychuck via Shutterstock