Behavior & Training
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Why do they do it?


Humping Pugs

On a beautiful, warm afternoon, I watched a group of dogs frolic in a dog park. Suddenly, I heard a woman’s high-pitched yelp, followed by the pounding of human feet. There was no need to look; it was obviously about humping, which we can also refer to as mounting.

Dogs hump the air, they mount pillows and blankets, and they can be found poised behind the neighbor’s dog or befriending Uncle Joe’s leg but not Uncle Albert’s. Mounting pops up in many contexts and is directed toward any number of objects, both animate and inanimate. Apart from giving mounters silly nicknames like “the humping bean” or “Sir-humps-a-lot,” what are we to make of all this bumping and grinding?

Talking about dog behavior is like talking about politics: everyone has an opinion. According to Cynthia Heyman of Utah, her three-year-old Danish-Swedish Farmdog, Jet, is a play-humper. “Jet is intact, and he likes to hump when he plays. He seems to like the boys better than the girls. Last weekend, he was humping a neutered Aussie who humped him right back as they were playing.”

For Margaret Duclos of Seattle, Wash., mounting is related to excitement and arousal. “One of my dogs sometimes humps the other when we get into the car — usually only when it has been a few days since we’ve gone somewhere and he is especially excited.”

On the other end of the spectrum, some attribute humping to dominance. Brigitte Reed of Salt Lake City, Utah says, “My female dog, Snickers, who is spayed, will hump our male dog, Kitna. The reason being is she is alpha and she is asserting her dominance over him. Putting him in his place, as it were.”

When a dog’s a humper, there’s inevitably an owner nearby with a story, usually one that describes who or what is mounted (the stuffed animal, the cat, other dogs) and the context in which the humping occurs (when guests come over, at the dog run, during obedience trials). Owners postulate that sex, breed, age, reproductive status and even size might provide information about humpers. Most of these stories culminate in questions — “Why in the world does she do this? Aren’t males the humpers?”— or impressions, anything from “It’s just play” or “She’s dominant” to “He’s quite popular!”

Taking Note

As you might expect, animal behavior researchers have a lot to say on the topic. When exploring any behavior, we can turn to the insights of Nobel Prize–winner and famed ethologist Niko Tinbergen for help. Tinbergen’s “four questions” provide a reliable framework within which to understand why animals behave the way they do. One of Tinbergen’s questions is particularly apt: “How does a behavior develop during an individual’s lifetime?” After all, behaviors don’t simply fall from the sky, land on a dog and voilà! Mounting! For nearly as long as ethologists have studied dogs, they have taken note of dogs’ tendency to hump outside of reproductive contexts.

In the early 1970s, University of Colorado ethologist Marc Bekoff, PhD, began investigating the development of canid social behavior. Bekoff observed the interactions of young canids, pairs of three- to seven-week-old wolves, coyotes and dogs. Particularly among the dog puppies, mounting, clasping and pelvic thrusting appeared early on in play. While males mounted more than females, females also engaged in aspects of the behavior. Dr. Sunil Kumar Pal, assistant teacher at Katwa Bharati Bhaban School in West Bengal, India, got similar results when investigating social behavior of young, free-ranging domestic dogs. By six weeks, both male and female puppies were mounting, clasping and pelvic thrusting.



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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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