Our dogs are capable of doing many things to embarrass us but the top of everyone’s list seems to be when your dog latches onto your guest’s leg and uses it as love toy. It’s mortifying and often mystifying because your dog has been spayed or neutered (I hope!).  Then why is he or she doing that??  Humping is a very complex behavior, and without knowing your individual dog, I cannot give blanket tips for stopping it here in this post. But let’s discuss some causes and suggestions which may be of help to you.

When people see a dog humping someone or another dog, they naturally assume that the behavior is sexual. If the dog has not been spayed or neutered, then that could very well be the case. But if the dog is altered, the hormones are gone and the humping is not sexual – although it could be a memory of past pleasures!

Dogs hump people, other animals and even objects for several reasons, but the root cause is usually anxiety. The dog who humps your guest’s leg is so excited to have a visitor, or is picking up on the increased energy level of his family.  This excitement needs an outlet, so the dog humps in order to relieve the “nerves” he is feeling. And this behavior can become learned, because you are probably giving the dog lots of attention when he does it!  And as we know, giving attention to a dog’s behavior usually reinforces that behavior, making it more likely that the dog will repeat it.

Some altered dogs will hump other dogs in order to try to increase their status over them. Many people inaccurately say that the dog is showing dominance to the other dog. Not so. A high ranking dog does not need to assert his status by humping the others – the others already know that this dog is high ranking! It’s usually the mid-ranking dogs who lack confidence but think that they should be higher in status who do the humping. And this behavior also is rooted in anxiety. A less confident dog is more anxious.

So then, how do you deal with a problem humper?  Knowing that the behavior is rooted in anxiety, yelling and scolding the dog will only fuel the anxiety. I know, we’re only human and we’re mortified when our dogs hump our guests, and it’s a natural reaction to want to scold the dog. But it really is important to remain calm. Dogs do pick up on our energy and our anxiety will make them more anxious.

Instead, the goal is to keep the dog calm. Prevent over-excitement. If you expect visitors to your home, keep your dog in another room and wait until the guests have settled in and then bring your dog out. Feed him a few treats and keep him on a leash until you see that he can stay calm. If you see that he’s getting excited, calmly give him a time out in another room.

And as for dog-to-dog humping, this behavior also usually occurs when the dog gets over-excited. My old dog, Donner (now deceased), loved to hump me when I got down on all fours and played with him. I could see his energy level building (despite his age and frailty!), and he attempted to mount me.  Hysterical!  But knowing that he couldn’t handle that much excitement showed me exactly when to cut off our play time. Same thing goes when dogs are playing together. Know the signs of overexcitement and give the dogs a time out before the humping behavior begins.

Of course, if your dog is not spayed or neutered, please do so. Dogs are happier and healthier when altered – a topic for another post. And it goes without saying, the animal shelters and rescue groups are bursting at the seams with unwanted animals.  Please don’t breed your dogs, or set them up for an accidental breeding.

Any questions about humping? If your dog is a chronic humper and the above discussion isn’t helpful, please see a qualified trainer for assistance.