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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.



This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 70: Jun/Jul/Aug 2012

Julie Hecht, MSc, is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She writes a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Dog Spies at Facebook and Twitter @DogSpies | DogSpies.com

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.

CommentsPost a Comment
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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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