Most dog owners have become – often much to their chagrin – familiar with the strange and often jarring behavior of humping. Whether it’s humping objects, people, other dogs, or all three, when dogs hump things owners can be left embarrassed and scratching their heads about what triggered such a strange behavior. Both male and female dogs are capable of humping things, but it’s most typically male dogs who do the majority of humping. While some well-meaning people will claim that humping “always” means the dog is dominant, the truth is that humping occurs for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to look at context in order to know why your dog is humping things. Here are the most common reasons dogs hump things:
If your dog is not neutered, odds are good that he’s humping things as a result of sexual urges. These dogs most frequently hump other dogs, but may hump pillows out of desperation or frustration. In many cases, neutering the dog will either completely eliminate or dramatically reduce humping.
Humping is occasionally a sign of low-level aggression toward another dog. My border collie, for example, frequently attempts to hump my much larger German Shepherd. Oftentimes dogs will hump other dogs when they’ve just been “disciplined” by them as an attempt to establish dominance or ventilate frustration. Among dogs who know each other, this is just a way of communicating but when a dog humps an unfamiliar dog in this circumstance, it can lead to a fight, so keep a careful eye on your dog if he’s humping an unfamiliar dog at the park.
Though well-meaning people often claim that dogs hump things out of feelings of dominance, the most common cause of humping among neutered dogs is actually anxiety. Dogs who have poor self control or who are not good at expressing themselves with more typical canine body language may resort to humping when they’re frustrated or afraid. This is especially true among dogs who hump objects or hump people. If your dog starts humping after getting in trouble or after playing with another dog, it’s a good clue that your dog is feeling fearful and unsure.
Dogs who haven’t previously humped things may begin humping if they’re in pain. Usually this is a result of pain in the genital area, perhaps from a urinary tract infection or genital itching, but occasionally a dog in pain will hump from anxiety. If your dog starts humping suddenly, it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian to rule out possible health issues.