Humping can be such a frustrating behavior to deal with. Though it is a normal, instinctive behavior for dogs, it can be awkward and gross to humans and certainly won’t help your dog win any popularity contests. Let’s take a closer look at why dogs hump and what you can do about it if your dog humps.
As a species, dogs hump because it’s an essential behavior for mating. And because young animals of many species use play as a way to practice important adult behaviors like those involved in hunting, fighting, and mating, humping is also normal part of dog play. And since dogs continue to play into adulthood, playful humping continues, too.
Why is my dog humping?
When it comes to the causes of humping in the moment, there are many reasons why your dog might engage in the behavior. Here are 6 of those reasons:
- They are trying to mate. This is pretty rare because most dogs are spayed or neutered, which won't stop all humping, but does reduce sexual, hormone-driven humping.
- They are playing. Humping is a normal part of play. What’s not normal is if your dog continues to hump dogs who have made it clear that they don’t want it or if all of their play turns into humping.
- They want attention. Humping, like other ways to initiate play like bringing you a toy or stealing a shoe, is a playful way to ask for attention
- To diffuse tension. Dogs will often act playfully and try to start a game if they think someone is angry or upset with them
- They are stressed. Humping is a displacement behavior for some dogs. A displacement behavior is a normal behavior that is done out of context because a dog is feeling internal conflict or stress. It might be that they have mixed emotions about something, like wanting to say hi to a stranger but feeling a little scared of them. Check out our displacement behavior blog post to learn more.
- Their body is in the right position - Some dogs’ urge to hump seems to be triggered when they end up in the body position.
How to deal with dog humping
If it’s normal play humping, not done obsessively or overly persistently, a good place to start is normalizing it to people or guardians of dogs who your dog humps. We’d suggest coming up with a mildly funny one-liner that feels natural and true to you, such as “Look how happy she is to see you!” or “[Dog’s name] thinks this is a fun way to play.”
If you’ve tried to normalize the behavior but it’s bothering the person or dog and your dog isn’t getting the hint to stop, give them a “yes” behavior to do instead. This is a behavior that you’d like them to do in that situation instead of humping.
Examples of “yes” behaviors:
- Call them over to you and give them a really good treat (You’ll have to practice a lot in low-energy and low-distraction situations and slowly build to this). This is typically enough to interrupt the behavior and when they go back to play, they will try something else.
- Give the person a toy. If your dog likes tug, fetch, or stuffed animals, encourage the person to start a different game instead.
If your dog’s humping seems compulsive or overly persistent, get help from a certified trainer in your area.
- Bradshaw, John. Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better Friend to Your Pet
- Bekoff, Marc. Dogs Demystified
- Bekoff, Marc. Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do