Watching dogs hump each other and hump items around the house is a pretty funny thing to us humans. But have you ever actually thought about why they are doing this? Are they trying to “dominate” the other dog? Are they horny? Are they playing and just having fun? Are they attention seeking?… Believe it or not, I get asked this question all the time. So as much as I have my own ideas as to why dogs hump, I thought I would ask Dr Kate Mornement to help us out on this. Dr Kate is a PhD qualified Applied Animal Behaviourist. She consults to pet owners and people working professionally with animals. She is a media spokesperson, educator and a human mum too!
I gave Dr Kate some common scenarios that I have been asked about recently and experienced with my dog and dogs I have cared for and she has very kindly given us her thoughts and advice…
Q: My dog keeps humping other dogs. Why does he do this? Should I be stopping this behaviour?
Answer by KATE: Dogs hump other dogs for a variety of reasons. Most people assume it’s sexual or dominance related, which it can be, but not always. Dogs can also hump if they’re feeling stressed, anxious or excited. Humping can also be a displacement behaviour dogs do when they feel emotionally conflicted.
You should try to stop the behaviour if it goes on too long or if the dog being humped is visibly bothered by the behaviour. Put your dog on a lead and walk them away or distract them with a favourite treat or toy and call them to you, rewarding them for complying.
Q: How can you tell which is the reason your dog is humping? Doing it for fun, compared to doing it because you are anxious, could end up in two very different outcomes. What are the signs to know which one it is?
Answer by KATE: It’s not always possible to know the exact reason a dog humps in any given situation because they can’t tell us. The best we can do is make an assumption based on their body language, behaviour and the context in which the behaviour occurs. For example, if you’re at home and everyone is relaxed watching TV when the dog starts humping his favourite toy he’s probably doing it for attention or because it’s something he enjoys. Whereas if you’re at the dog park and there are 10 other dogs all playing and roughhousing and then he starts humping other dogs, it’s more likely that he’s anxious or stressed.
Q: My dog is always being humped by other dogs. Why is he always the target?
Answer by KATE: Humping is a complex behaviour seen in many different contexts so your dog could be a target for many reasons. Perhaps he’s the youngest or is yet to establish social relationship with the other dogs. Maybe he’s a target because other dogs are over-excited or stressed and anxious. Whatever the reason, it’s important to remove your dog from the situation if he’s feeling uncomfortable. This can help reduce aggression towards other dogs down the track.
Q: My dog always humps his soft toy. Why is he doing this? And should I stop him?
Answer by KATE: Probably for fun! Any behaviour that maintains or increases in frequency must be rewarding or it wouldn’t continue. Some dogs hump toys as an outlet for stress or anxiety, because it feels good or because they get attention from people when they do it (laughing, pointing etc).
Q: My dog tries to hump my leg! Why is this happening and what can we do to stop it?
KATE: Dogs can hump human legs (and other objects) for the same reasons they hump other dogs; due to stress, anxiety, over-excitement or because they’re feeling conflicted. Avoid accidentally rewarding the behaviour with attention (e.g. laughing). Instead, distract your dog with a favourite toy (throw a ball or squeak a toy) or ask them to do a behaviour that’s incompatible with humping, such as “sit” and reward that behaviour instead. Done consistently your dog will learn that other behaviours are more rewarding than humping your leg!
Thank you so much to Dr Kate for answering our questions. I might have to make a strictly no humping rule in my house moving forward (Jase don’t freak out, the rule is for the dogs only 🙂 ). I hope you’ve all enjoyed our guest post today. If you want more from Dr Kate or have any specific questions regarding humping or other behavioural issues you are struggling with, please feel free to get in touch.