It happens at the dog park. It happens when guests come over. Heck, it even happens when you walk by. We’re talking about your dog and their humping “problem.” It may be a completely natural behavior for your pup, but it can be annoying and embarrassing for you and others (and even get your dog into trouble with other pups).
Before we get into why your dog does this and how to manage the behavior, first understand that humping has nothing to do with dominance. Despite what some “experts” put out there, humping is usually related to stress, and it has absolutely nothing to do with how your dog perceives their social status. Think about it: If your pup humps to show dominance, why would they want to dominate a pillow? A stuffed animal? It doesn’t even make sense. Also, the whole dominance theory has been thoroughly debunked, so you can toss that possible cause right out the window.
If you have an intact male (or sometimes even a neutered male), he will try to hump a female dog who might be in heat; we all know this. Most of the time, it is a male pup doing the humping, but you will occasionally see it in females because it is a sign of overarousal or stress.
Humping is most commonly seen in puppies and in adult dogs in stressful or exciting situations. At the park, for example, when all of the pups are running around. Or when someone comes to the house and the dog is really happy to see them. The dog gets so excited, they literally don’t know what to do, and this behavior occurs. Puppies mount each other as part of regular play, but if it becomes excessive, then the humping likely signals anxiety or stress.
If your dog humps a stuffed animal or toy at home when nothing else is going on, they could still have generalized anxiety, or it could be a learned behavior. It’s worth getting an evaluation from a positive reinforcement trainer to help you figure it out.
A pup may also hump for attention. Let’s say my dog Buster humps my leg, and I immediately pick him up to get him to stop. If Buster likes being picked up, he will learn quickly that humping = being picked up.
If your dog is intact, first get him neutered. He still may hump occasionally (because it can become a learned behavior), but it will likely decrease because he won’t have the same “drive.”
Next teach your dog to “leave it.” This will help with other animals, toys, people, etc. The key to teaching this cue (at least at first) is to replace the behavior with something more rewarding. Do not keep repeating “leave it” as your dog goes about their business with your friend’s leg. Stay calm, tell him to “leave it,” and then use a favorite toy or treat as a distraction. Most of the time, this will snap them out of it. Practicing “leave it” also will come in handy for this next situation.
If your dog humps other pups, it can become a real issue. Unsurprisingly, some dogs don’t like to be humped. If “leave it” isn’t working, set up a play date with a tolerant dog and distract the humper (call their name, whistle, etc.), or simply walk in between the dogs when you see the behavior starting. If that doesn’t work, leave your pup on a leash (but let it drag on the ground). If they get overaroused and start to hump, tell them to “leave it” and step on the leash so the other dog can get away. You don’t need to pull or yank on the leash, just step on it.
Use these same cues if your dog prefers humping people. If it becomes a real issue, it might be better for everyone to give them some quiet time in another room. You can also teach your dog to go to their bed or to a mat when company come over.
Lastly, if your dog humps a particular stuffed animal, you can let them do it (it’s relieving stress) or just take away the toy when it happens. If guarding the toy is also an issue, get the help of a qualified positive reinforcement trainer right away.
Above all, remember to keep your interactions and distractions positive. As embarrassing at it may be, your dog isn’t doing anything wrong and should never be punished. And if it’s a symptom of something else, such as anxiety or stress, get help from a trainer.