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Humping: Why Do Dogs Do It?

Dog experts weigh in on why dogs hump and how to get them to stop.
By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

At a local dog park in Atlanta, the other dog owners have a nickname for Lois Gross’ dog, a Dutch shepherd. “They say ‘Here comes Humping Taz,’” the Atlanta resident says of her 5-year-old, spayed female, Taz. “She doesn’t want to play or run, she just wants to hump all the other dogs in the park. We kind of joke about it, but some people get really upset when she gets on their dog so I have to watch her constantly.”

Although the image of a dog humping a person’s leg, a pillow, or another dog can draw a laugh in a movie or on television, in real life it can be annoying, embarrassing, and even cause fights between dogs.

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Why Do Dogs Hump?

Humping, or mounting, is a sexual position for dogs, but veterinarians who specialize in canine behavior say it often is done for other reasons as well.

David S. Spiegel, VMD, who has a behavioral veterinary practice near Swarthmore, Pa., says in unneutered and unspayed dogs under a year old, humping is usually sexual in nature. But in older dogs it can be a sign of dominance, a reaction to something that has excited the dog, like visitors arriving, or a sign that a dog hasn’t been socialized correctly and doesn’t know appropriate canine behavior.

“The topic draws giggles and laughs, but it’s a very real topic for some people,” Spiegel says. “Some dogs can become very compulsive about the behavior.”

Gary Landsberg, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist in Ontario, Canada, says mounting is common play behavior in puppies, and is even normal in the play of older dogs if it’s not taken to extremes. “You’ll often see one dog mount another, then a few minutes later they’ll switch off and the other dog will mount the first dog,” Landsberg says. “It’s a common play gesture.”

It’s done by males and females, even by dogs that have been neutered or spayed, he says. “It’s a play behavior that dogs do because no one has told them it’s not acceptable,” Landsberg said. “It can become enjoyable or a normal part of the dog’s day, so it keeps doing it. It’s the same as jumping up or barking at the door.”

The Embarrassment of Humping

Debbie Sampson of Canton, Ga., says her Rottweiler, Moose, has a tendency to hump dogs at the dog park, although he doesn’t do it at home with her other two dogs. Most dogs, she says, will get away from him, but when a dog submits to the behavior, it can get pretty embarrassing. “He can really get a little out of hand,” Sampson says. “Sometimes we just want to yell at him, ‘Get a room.’”

Then there’s little Lulu, 5, a spayed Chihuahua mix that Sampson adopted. Lulu came into the house addicted to humping. “I work at home and she humps my leg all day while I sit at my desk,” Sampson says. “That’s bad enough, but she’ll do it when people are over, too. I try to pick her up and distract her, but that only works for a few minutes. The problem is you just don’t know when she’s going to do it.”

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