Help! My Dog Humps!

Dear WOOF:

We are hoping you can offer us some advice on a somewhat embarrassing problem we are having with our dog. She is a six year old, female, spayed, greyhound/coonhound mix and the problem is that she humps other dogs, even other females! She is the only dog in our home and the dogs that she does this to are those that come over to play and visit. The behavior occurs only during play when she is pretty excited and wound up.

It doesn't appear that she is being mean but almost like she is trying to get the other dog's attention. She has never done this to us or other humans but she did do it to an oversized stuffed bunny we bought for her as a present. Besides this being embarrassing, we had a friend tell us that this is a sign of dominance between dogs. Is this something we should be concerned about? We have always thought of her as quite submissive, especially with our two cats that live in the home. For example, if we go to give her a treat and the cat runs over to get it, she will completely back away and let the cat have it. She will also frequently roll right over onto her back for tummy rubs. Anyway, we are hoping you can offer us some insight into this
behaviour and maybe some ideas on how to handle it.

Thanks so much for your help.


Hello:

You are not alone! This is a common behavior in dogs (both male and female), and although embarrassing it's usually nothing to worry about. Most commonly, it's a much bigger problem for us than it is for our dogs!

We have to start by understanding that dogs will always repeat behavior/s that are rewarding to them. You've already made a keen observation when she exhibits this behavior with other dogs..."It doesn't appear that she is being mean but almost like she is trying to get the other dog's attention".

Indeed, the pay off for mounting other dogs for her, is more than likely the interaction and play! After all, it's working just fine for her since the other dog responds. So, if the other dogs engage with her, why wouldn't she continue to repeat the behavior? If however, the other dog were to let her know that her behavior is not acceptable (in canine communication this may come in the form of a growl, snarl or snap), she'd be more likely not to continue with it.

Aside from a clear communication to stop from the dog she's humping (very effective between dogs!), the other solution is for you to intervene. Keep a close eye on her during the interaction, and give her a break from the play well before the mounting starts, by calling her to you for a reward -- and a break. This will help to keep her excitement level down, which is important because you mention "The behavior occurs only during play when she is pretty excited and wound up". So, allow brief and frequent interaction, but be sure to stop it before she's started to mount.

As for the stuffed bunny. Sometimes, we as humans inadvertently provide payoffs for inappropriate behavior by paying so much attention to them.

You don't mention when she engages in the behavior with the bunny, but the simplest solution is to remove the toy from the environment and prevent access to it during times when she's most likely to engage in the offending behavior - out of sight is out of mind!

 

More exercise can be very helpful as well.  Long leash walks, fetch and the like can do wonders, especially when we're talking about behaviors that are motivated by interaction, play and attention. 

On a final note. Don't spend any more time worrying about labeling your dog as "dominant" or "submissive". Neither adjective tells us anything about her behavior - she's just a dog behaving (and repeating behaviors that work!) like dogs do - woofs!   Click here for more about the myth of the alpha dog and the dangers of using dominance based methods for training, and Dog to Dog Communication and Dog Parks for more on how dogs communicate with one another.  

 


Best of luck and thanks for writing!

Sincerely,
Lisa Patrona, Dip. CBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC, AABP-CDT