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 But at the end of the day, mounting is still a tricky behavior to figure out. “Mounting is one of those behaviors you would not want to have a single answer for,” explains Borchelt, and Bekoff agrees. “It is complex, and we don’t want to say mounting is always this or always that. What we are learning about animal behavior is that we need to be very careful about generalities. Dogs don’t always greet each other by sniffing the anogenital region, and they don’t always circle before they lie down.”

It is not uncommon for owners to say, “I am deeply embarrassed that she humps.” Some sense disapproval from other owners: “I feel a social imperative to stop his humping.” These feelings are understandable, because for many, dogs don’t simply contribute hair to our favorite black pants; they are our family members and best friends. Which means that some of our best friends are humpers.

“I think the sense of embarrassment is not well placed,” remarks Walsh. Given that mounting is a normal part of a dog’s behavioral repertoire, owners can eliminate some of the stress and anxiety by getting to know mounting as it pertains to their individual dog.

When trying to get behind any behavior (pun intended), Bekoff recommends becoming an at-home ethologist. “Get a paper and pencil, and watch and record what happens before and after the behavior of interest. This can tell you more about the behavior itself.” This technique can help you determine when a behavior needs to be managed and when it’s just fine.

If dogs could talk — and they actually are with their behavior — they’d ask us not to clump mounting into one universal meaning. So what’s your dog’s mounting behavior telling you?

All in all, when we’re trying to figure out a behavior, we’re better served by observation and understanding of its roots than by the stories we tend to tell ourselves and others.

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Julie Hecht, MSc, is a PhD student in Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and a science writer. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Facebook and Twitter @DogSpies.

Illustrations by Keely Reyes

Sources Cited
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. 2008. Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals.
Bekoff, M. 1974. Social play and play-soliciting by infant canids. Am. Zoo. 14(1): 323–340.
Drews, C. 1993. The concept and definition of dominance in animal behaviour. Behaviour 125 (3/4): 283–313.
Neilson, J.C., et al. 1997. Effects of castration on problem behaviors in male dogs with reference to age and duration of behavior. JAVMA 211 (2): 180–182.
Pal, S.K. 2008. Maturation and development of social behaviour during early ontogeny in free-ranging dog puppies in West Bengal, India. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 111 (1): 95–107.

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