Reasons for Mounting Behavior in Dogs

Mounting (or "humping") in dogs is frequently described as a "dominant" behavior. Like most behaviors which are commonly ascribed to dominance, such a label grossly...


Mounting (or “humping”) in dogs is frequently described as a “dominant” behavior. Like most behaviors which are commonly ascribed to dominance, such a label grossly oversimplifies the behavior. What about dogs who “air hump?” Are they trying to dominate the air? Does that even make sense?

While it is true that mounting in dogs can be a status-seeking behavior, this is only one possible reason a dog may exhibit mounting behavior.

These reasons include, but are not limited to:

  • stress or insecurity – you see this often in undersocialized dogs or dogs who are unsure of their environment. I had a client with such a dog. He tried to punish his dog for mounting another male dog because he “didn’t want his dog to be gay.” (Yes, seriously.) This despite the fact that his dog also mounted female dogs and female humans and showed myriad other signs of stress! The problem with punishing this dog is that doing so exacerbated the dog’s stress and therefore increased the mounting behavior.
  • it feels good – I’m just going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that some dogs simply do this because they like the way that it feels.
  • for attention – some dogs likely hump other dogs, people, or household items because it gets them attention from their owner, even if that attention is in negative form like scolding or other reprimands.
  • reproductive rehearsal – play is often a way for animals to rehearse behaviors and skills which are important to the survival of both the individual and the species. Chasing and biting in play are ways that dogs rehearse hunting behaviors. Biting in play helps dogs learn to control the strength with which they use their teeth when interacting socially with non-prey animals. Mounting in play helps dogs rehearse, well, procreation. NOTE: when a female dog is in heat and is mounted by a male dog, it’s likely not play, but breeding.
  • hormones – this behavior often appears initially during adolescence. It can be seen in both male and female dogs. Sometimes neutering or spaying can decrease the frequency with which this behavior is displayed, but not always. If the dog has established a history of engaging in this behavior, neutering or spaying will not solve the problem as it has since become a learned behavior.
  • medical problem – check with your veterinarian to make sure there is no irritation, infection or inflammation in the genital area. This may be indicated especially for dogs who chew or lick at these areas excessively or compulsively.
  • overarousal – I don’t mean sexual arousal, I mean overstimulation. The dog is beyond the threshold at which he can make appropriate social decisions and is experiencing heightened excitement levels.

Determining why your dog is mounting is the first step in developing an effective treatment plan. You will likely need the support of both a veterinarian (to rule out and address any potential medical contributing factors) and a behavior professional to learn to deal effectively with your dog’s mounting behavior.

3 thoughts on “Reasons for Mounting Behavior in Dogs”

  1. This was a great read.

    So, I totally agree with your opening statement that simply saying that “humping” other dogs is a dominance behavior grossly oversimplifies the behavior…and you gave an interesting and worthwhile of other possible reasons that dogs may mount other dogs.

    I think, however, that it is also oversimplifying, or maybe in a somewhat different way mischaracterizing dogs, to make a list of 7 reasons dogs may mount each other (with at least one of them, maybe more, being speculative) and not have anywhere on that list that it may just be a dominant behavior some times in some dogs.

    I am far far from one who ascribes dominance as causation of every dog behavior. In fact, not only do I rarely ascribe that as the primary driving force behind undesired dog behavior, I never see dominance as the best answer for how to change or eliminate that behavior.

    This list, however, goes out of it’s way to say it is always anything but dominance. Dogs, just like humans and all other social animals DO have some dominance based emotional responses and behaviors.

    I would be very happy to bet that however low of the list of reasons for mounting may actually be that it IS on the list and that it’s higher than a few other things on this list.

    Again, I’m not suggesting the cure if humans responding with dominant behavior to overwhelm that of the dog, just stating an actual fact of group hierarchies and that this is one of many behaviors that sometimes falls within that spectrum.

    IF in fact your closing point is correct (which I don’t totally agree that it is although I understand that this is a commonly supported belief in the behavioral community), “Determining why your dog is mounting is the first step in developing an effective treatment plan.” then leaving out one potential cause for the behavior could leave some number of animals undertreated, mistreated or overtreated.

    In reality, for most of the reasons stated in your article, this is a common and largely natural behavior in dogs and can easily be modified by an number of training approaches (and can be made worse by some or cause other problems) and if simple and humane training approaches don’t change the behavior seeking out the input of and evaluation by a standard or behavioral vet would be a wise choice.

    Thanks for sharing a nice article.

  2. Pingback: Why Do Female Dogs Hump? Reasons for Female Dog Humping – Today’s Pet Products

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