Puppy humping, the very shame of it. You have a guest over and before you know it your adorable little ball of fluff is attached to your guests leg and humping away like crazy…mortifying! As our dogs grow we may start to feel less ‘surprised’ by it, reaching sexual maturity can forgive all manner of sins! However, in a young puppy, why is this behaviour being performed? And what can we do about it?
Firstly, it is important to say, that humping (or mounting), is not uncommon. If you do have a ‘humper’, please don’t think you are alone as it is a very common behaviour shown. Male and female pups may hump, so again don’t feel if you have a female pup that it is ‘strange’ that they hump, it’s not.
Humping is a topic which is actually still being researched to this day, and if you do your own research you will find a LOT of varying opinions as to why dogs (and puppies) do it. Lots of these opinions are scientifically shown to be untrue, and some are in the process of being researched. Many people will throw ideas around as to why it occurs, but largely many people are still fairly unaware as to why this behaviour occurs in the first place. A lot of assumptions are made with regards to mounting behaviour, but how much do we really know?
Humping is a behaviour which can be seen in relation to ANY object or being. A dog may mount another dog, another animal ie. family cat, an object like a cushion or bedding, a persons leg or arm, or indeed objects like toys. Mounting, whilst not the most pleasant behaviour to witness for an owner, is in fact a perfectly normal part of a dogs behavioural repertoire. Whilst we don’t necessarily want our dogs or puppies to do it, it is, in fact, normal canine behaviour.
Largely we see mounting or humping as a sexual behaviour, a reproductive behaviour which we may believe should only be displayed in that context. However, there are many other contexts in which mounting and humping can occur, such as play.
For example, some common instances of mounting or humping may be seen during:
- An anxious emotional state
- A high arousal/excitement level
- During stress
- As a displacement behaviour
For puppies, the key reasons we should be looking at are play and high arousal/excitement levels. This is not ALWAYS the case with puppies, anxiety may well play a part, but certainly in my experience it is most common. Puppy play is not always pretty and may include barging, jumping and indeed mounting, so all of these can be motivated by play and social interactions in those early days, exploring via various displays of different behaviours.
I have talked about arousal levels before and the behaviours high arousal levels can elicit, well mounting is one such behaviour. If a puppy is super excited, because for example you have a guest over, this excitement is going to be released and directed into a behaviour be it biting, running, jumping, or indeed mounting. It must also be remembered that mounting can also, in itself, quite simply be enjoyable! A puppy can, believe it or not, find it fun and it’s as simple as that! However, I would hazard a guess that largely a puppy mounting is either play, or arousal.
Additionally it is important to remember that your reaction to a puppy mounting, can increase the likelihood it will be repeated. As with all behaviours your pup displays, if you reinforce it, it becomes a great behaviour to perform and will be seen again at any opportunity!
If you look up puppy mounting and humping you may well find many an article suggesting puppy mounting is a display of dominance over another dog, person or animal. An attempt to gain a higher status level. This is not true, research has vastly shown this to be inaccurate, for example Peter Borchelt PhD found “mounting could be part of a suite of behaviours associated with aggression, such as high posture, resource guarding, direct stares, and standing over. But mounting, in and of itself, doesn’t indicate a status issue”. Furthermore Marc Bekoff Phd found in his research of social behaviour in young dogs, coyotes and wolves, that mounting, clasping and humping were not directly related to dominance.
Really, more research is needed as to why dogs (and puppies) display mounting or humping behaviour, not enough has been done to reliably determine a common cause. Some have other ideas as to the reason a dog may mount or hump, for example as a calming gesture, to calm another over-exuberant dog down for example.
However, what can we do about it? What if we have a puppy who is a humper?
- Determine the cause – why is your dog/pup doing it? Is it play? Over excitement? Or a mix of the two? Anxiety? Look at why the behaviour occurs in the first place.
- Is it a problem? – if the humping is occurring very briefly, very infrequently, do we really need to do anything about it?
- Antecedents – what is happening just prior to the humping or mounting? If we can determine the cause or activity which elicits the behaviour, we can alter/modify to elicit a different response.
- Teach a ‘settle’ – more practically speaking, keep excitement levels as low as possible and encourage a ‘settle’ behaviour. There are other training based techniques you can use, get in touch for more information on these.
To be honest, whilst WE may find mounting and humping hugely unpleasant, it’s NOT an abnormal canine behaviour, so do not fret. Dog are, at the end of the day, dogs, and they will perform behaviours which sometimes don’t necessarily cause any harm, but we just do not like. Pick your battles, is it hugely disrupting your life or anybody else’s? Is it becoming excessive? Is it something that is causing a problem to you, or others around you? If so, work through the above. If not, let them be dogs.
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