Why Do Dogs Hump and How to Stop Dog Humping

By: Wendy Rose GouldUpdated:

why do dogs hump - two dogs humping
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Why Do Dogs Hump and How to Stop Dog Humping

You’re happily walking your pooch around the block, spending time at the dog park or hanging out with a friend at home when suddenly they mount a nearby animal, human or object., and hump to their little heart’s content. It’s a groan-worthy moment, for sure, and one that can elicit embarrassment and frustration as you quickly scramble and plead with your pooch to behave.

Why do dogs hump, and is there any way you can mitigate this seemingly ingrained canine behavior? We spoke to a veterinarian and a certified dog trainer to get the answers, including common reasons why both male and female dogs hump; whether dog owners should curb this humping habit; and when you might want to consider working with a professional dog trainer.

Why Do Dogs Hump?

Dog humping is a completely normal behavior that both male and female dogs exhibit. According to our experts, reasons why dogs hump include:

  • Sexual behavior: Sometimes this dog behavior is triggered by a surge of hormones. This type of sexually-related humping is typically seen in unsterilized dogs (aka dogs who aren’t spayed or neutered).
  • Self-soothing: Humping can be a self-soothing behavior for dogs who are frustrated, tired, anxious or afraid.
  • Overstimulation: It can also be a response to feeling overstimulated, which occurs in situations when dogs get really excited, like when they’re playing at a dog park or if company arrives at the house.
  • Attention-seeking: This response is more often seen in bored or high-energy pets who want to get your attention.
  • Medical conditions: Excessive humping may be caused by a medical issue, especially urinary tract infections; prolonged or painful erections (priapism); and incontinence.

“When dogs are humping, you have to consider the context, the individual dog and their environment,” says Dee Hoult, CDBS, CPDT, a certified dog trainer at Applause Your Paws in Miami, Florida.

Why Do Dogs Hump People, Objects and the Air?

You’d think dogs would only hump other canines, but that’s not always the case when it comes to a humping habit. Dogs also hump people, random objects—and even the air—for all the reasons mentioned above.

“Humping the air can be due to excitement or frustration, while humping objects is more related to frustration or displacement behavior,” Hoult says. “When a dog can’t have access to play with a favorite playmate or person, sometimes they’ll redirect that frustration onto an object through humping. We call this displacement behavior.”

Why Do Female Dogs Hump?

We tend to associate humping with male dogs, but female dogs may hump for the same reasons mentioned above. For example, female dog humping can be hormonally driven, and sometimes it signals they’d like to play with you or another pet.

It might also be a learned behavior from watching their male littermates. Male dogs naturally exhibit humping behavior when they reach sexual maturity (at around 5-8 months old). “Around this time their hormones are peaking—it’s not uncommon to see [male] dogs start to exhibit humping behavior,” says Dr. Andrea Cermele, DVM, a veterinarian for Best Friends Animal Society in Asheville, North Carolina.

Detecting that a female dog is about to go into heat (thanks to their acute sense of smell) also can trigger in males the instinctual response to mount, even among neutered males, Dr. Cermele says.

Is Dog Mounting a Sign of Dominance?

While dog mounting was once considered a sign of dominance, experts no longer view the behavior that way.

“Mounting can occur in various situations and isn't necessarily related to dominance,” Hoult says. “Behaviors like putting the head over another dog's head or shoulders could be indicative of dominance, which exclusively describes the relationship that similar aged, same-sex animals have with each other, but mounting is more complex and infrequently related to true dominance.”

Should You Stop Your Dog From Humping?

While this behavior feels strange to us, and can even make us feel embarrassed or frustrated, it’s important to remember that dog humping in both young and older dogs is completely normal behavior. Pet owners and other pets may not be fond of being mounted and humped, though, and therein lies the problem.

Ask yourself the following:

  • How excessive is the behavior?
  • Is it putting your dog in harm’s way?
  • Is it making guests or other pets uncomfortable?

“If the behavior doesn’t happen often and doesn’t bother you or other pets, it may not need addressing,” Dr. Cermele says. “However, other dogs may not be willing participants, which could put your dog at risk for a quarrel or worse. If it’s happening regularly, or becoming a problem, you might need to take action.”

Fortunately, pups tend to naturally stop humping over time—because they learn it isn’t exactly appreciated.

“In most cases, dogs will naturally correct each other with a quick growl or snap if they feel annoyed [by the humping],” says Hoult, adding she rarely interrupts mounting behavior unless the recipient of the humping is obviously in distress or has tried several times to correct the other dog without success.

In fact, pet owners can potentially cause more harm than good if they interrupt what the dogs consider appropriate play. But if you have a relentless humper who prevents other dogs from enjoying play, it should be interrupted.

How to Stop a Dog from Humping

If your dog has a problematic humping habit, follow these tips to mitigate the issue.

1. Spay or Neuter

Spaying or neutering a dog can significantly reduce the frequency of humping, if the humping behavior is sexually motivated, says Hoult.

2. Give Them Mental and Physical Stimulation

Excess energy is a common reason dogs hump, so make sure your pup is getting their daily exercise—both physical and mental. “Run them in the yard, play fetch, and have them participate in other fun and stimulating activities, like nose work or agility,” says Dr. Cermele. “By enriching their environment, you will be enriching their life.”

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3. Put Them in a Good Collar

Make sure your dog is wearing a properly fitted collar and/or harness so you can gently pull them back if they attempt to hump another dog, object or human. “Having a leash already attached allows you to quickly gain control of your dog without being threatening to him,” Hoult says.

Check out our guide on how to find the best collar for your dog.

4. Redirect the Behavior

If you catch your dog humping, calmly pull them away from their target, and redirect their attention by offering a treat or puzzle.

“Sometimes they need to be redirected to a desirable behavior, allowing for positive reinforcement if they successfully perform another command,” Dr. Cermele says. “You can work on name recall, and train ‘off,’ ‘leave it,’ or ‘sit.’ Make it fun!”

In some cases, your sweet pup may just need a good, old fashioned time out to relax and regroup.

5. See Your Vet

If humping persists or seems excessive, bring this up with your veterinarian. Sometimes humping is caused by a medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection, skin allergy or painful erection.

When to Hire a Dog Behaviorist or Trainer

If you’ve exhausted all the above steps to stopping a dog from humping—and your pet has a clean bill of health—it may be time to call in a professional.

“A certified dog behavior consultant can teach you appropriate strategies on how to manage your dog's behavior off leash in play settings,” Hoult says. “Through a combination of strengthening obedience cues and behavior modification, an overly excited humper can often learn how to be a bit more polite with other dogs.”

The next time your dog starts humping, remember this is a common, typically harmless dog behavior that can be corrected with gentle redirection and lifestyle changes. Read through our guide on dog obedience training to garner tips and tricks to use with your pup in this scenario and others.

Expert input provided by Dee Hoult, CDBC, CPDT, a certified dog trainer at Applause Your Paws in Miami; and Dr. Andrea Cermele, DVM, a veterinarian for Best Friends Animal Society in Asheville, North Carolina. 

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By: Wendy Rose GouldUpdated:

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