I get a lot of clients, especially puppy owners, who have questions and assumptions about why their dog is humping them/other dogs/their bed/a favoured toy. The usual reasons I’m given are that the dog is exhibiting sexual overtures or is trying to be dominant. While humping can be related to sexual behaviour, it isn’t really seen as an act of status assertion in dogs. Sexual humping is usually in the minority when it comes to why the dog is doing it. Especially when looking at young puppies who are not even sexually mature yet, humping for mating makes even less sense.
So why do dogs hump?
Believe it or not, humping is a normal part of dog behaviour and is exhibited by both males and females. The majority of humping behaviour I see comes from a dog who is feeling overwhelming emotion, such as excitement, stress or anxiety. My own dog will usually hump me after she’s had her dinner and feeling good or if we’ve had a vigorous play session and she’s very amped up. Puppies can hump if they are over tired and not sure what to do with themselves. We call this ‘displacement behaviour’, a way for dogs to let out their stress and emotions or fall back on when unsure about a situation. As the post says, if in doubt, dogs will shag it out!
Dogs will also hump to get attention or to initiate play and sometimes it just feels good! Humping on occasion and as part of mutually enjoyable engagement and play between dogs can just be left alone and we need not interupt. But it can sometimes become an obsessive habit in dogs if they are doing it excessively. It’s important we understand the motivation behind humping so that we can either act or let it lie. When you see your dog humping, look at the context of why it might be happening and if necessary, take action by addressing the reason for it. Some options for this can be either redirecting the dog, taking them away from the situation or training self control.
If you’re in doubt, seek a trainer out!