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It is a familiar trope in many comedy films: a dog that just won’t stop humping a certain someone’s leg.
While this might be funny in the movies (though it definitely isn’t always used to good comic effect), if your dog has the habit of humping the air, people, their favorite toy, or anything else, you might be understandably concerned.
It’s not just about what your mother-in-law might think if she comes over and witnesses the behavior, but rather that this might be a sign that there is something up with your pup. You might be concerned that this is a sign or some kind of anxiety, frustration, or deviancy.
However, you can rest assured that as long as your dog isn’t taking things to excess, occasional humping, or mounting as it is more properly known, is actually quite a normal behavior, even in female and neutered dogs.
That said, if it is an uncharacteristic behavior that they seem to develop suddenly, if they seem to do it compulsively, or if it is very difficult to get them to stop, these can all be signs that there is something up with your dog that needs some attention.
So let’s take a closer look at dog humping habits, what’s normal and what isn’t, what may cause abnormal humping, and what you can do to curb this kind of behavior.
Let’s get specific: Humping, also known as mounting, refers to when dogs perform pelvic thrusting motions in a variety of different circumstances. It is called this because it also looks a lot like what male dogs do with female dogs when they are in heat.
But simulated mounting can be done in a huge variety of circumstances and with pretty much anything. Dogs may appear like they are humping the air, another animal or a person, or an inanimate object.
While the behavior is most common in male dogs, and especially non-neutered male dogs and male puppies before they have been neutered, female dogs will also sometimes display this behavior.
Why Do Dogs Hump?
There are a variety of reasons why your dog might start humping the air or something else. Some are simple instinctive behaviors, while others are concerning. It is important to observe the situation that your dog is in, and what kind of stimulus they are exposed to, to determine the motivation for their mounting behavior.
Here are the primary reasons that your dog might be humping the air and how to identify them.
Considering that humping does simulate the male sex act, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that dogs might start humping the air when they are sexually aroused.
This is especially common among non-neutered male dogs when they are close to a female dog in heat but don’t have access to her. This can send their hormones into overdrive and cause a high level of frustration. Humping the air can be a way to release that tension.
This behavior is also quite common in male puppies before they are neutered. While they are not yet ready to mate, the hormones are developing within them and they need an outlet, which humping can offer. This is not that different from human teenage boys.
Male dogs that have been neutered may also hump for this reason, and not just in the roughly one month after the operation that it takes for their hormones to settle down. Male neutered dogs can still produce sex hormones. While they can’t mate with a female dog, they do still need to release that tension, and humping offers an outlet. These are the dogs that are most likely to want to hump some of their favorite toys.
This type of humping isn’t generally a problem, but if a non-neutered male dog does it to excess, neutering them can certainly be an effective way to deal with it.
In this case, it is more or less best to let them get on with it, and make sure to keep a bit of distance between them and any female dogs that might be in heat.
Our female Golden Retriever who we never noticed hump anything in her first 6 years decided to hump our female Lab when she went into heat.
Sexual arousal isn’t the only kind of excitement that your dog might express with humping. If your dog reaches any levels or uncontrollable excitement, they might use humping as a way to release that tension.
You will often see this if a dog has been at home alone all day and you finally walk through the door. They are so excited to see you that they might start humping the air,—or you. Again, while you might not necessarily like this, it isn’t a huge problem.
This suggests that you have a high-maintenance dog when it comes to sociability and attention, and that you should avoid leaving them at home alone for long periods at a time. If this is challenging because of work, it might be worth having a dog walker take them out during the day.
Another scenario might be a dog that spends most of the day inside. When you let them out to do their business and get a bit of exercise, they can get so excited that they start humping the air.
Again, this isn’t a huge problem, but it does suggest that they may not be getting the physical and mental stimulation they need. Up their daily exercise, and be sure to leave them with appropriate puzzle toys so that they have something to stimulate their minds while they are stuck inside.
You can find our recommendations for the best puzzle toys here.
Dogs that have not been properly socialized as a puppy do not always know what to do in certain situations.
For example, if they meet a new person that they really like the smell of, or if they find themselves with the opportunity to play with another puppy, they don’t always know how to initiate those social interactions.
They may resort to humping as a way to initiate engagement.
Similarly, if your dog wants to dominate a person/animal or a space, again they might decide to hump them.
This is a worrying behavior that can develop if your dog is not taught how to interact with new humans and other animals.
The key to prevention is good training as a puppy. Training is also the answer to curbing this behavior in adult dogs. However, if the humping behavior has already become ingrained and habitual, you will very likely need the services of a professional trainer.
If your dog suddenly develops humping behavior, and especially if they seem to hump the air spontaneously and not in response to anything, this can be a sign that your pup is dealing with stress and anxiety.
Mounting is a way for them to release the tension that has built up in their body.
When this is the case, you need to look at the underlying cause of their stress. It is most likely a traumatic event (which hopefully you will know about) or something that has changed in their lives recently.
Dogs are very sensitive to change. If new people or animals join or leave the household, this can cause them stress. Even changes in the way the house smells can cause them anxiety. Have you changed your laundry detergent? Has something in their routine changed? Are they spending more time alone?
Some of these are issues that you can address, but in other cases you might just have to wait for your dog to adjust. In the meantime, a little bit of air humping is an innocent and harmless way for them to let off a little bit of steam.
In some relatively rare cases, humping can be a sign of medical issues, and moving in this way can be an attempt to alleviate some discomfort they are feeling in that area of their body.
Some of the most common medical issues that might be at fault are urinary tract infections and skin allergies.
You are likely to notice other symptoms when this is the case. For example, if they have a UTI, you might notice that the color or their urine is different, and that they look uncomfortable when peeing and may even cry out. They could also suffer a bit of incontinence.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from a UTI or skin allergies then you should contact your vet to find the best solution for your dog. That being said there are a number of good quality over-the-counter medicines that you can use to treat your dog’s UTI. These include:
If it is a skin allergy, in addition to redness of the skin you will probably also notice frequent scratching and licking of the area.
As well as identifying the cause of the allergy and limiting your dog’s contact with it, there are several supplements that can help clear up the problem quickly. These include:
- PetHonest Pet Allergy and Skin Health Supplement
- LICKS Pill-Free Skin and Allergy Supplement
- Wondercide Skin Tonic
If humping does appear alongside other symptoms and you haven’t identified the problem, make sure you mention it to your vet. It can make a significant difference in getting a faster and more accurate diagnosis.
How To Stop It?
If your dog is engaging in innocent humping behavior that is not linked with a bigger problem, but you still want to take control of the behavior, the answer is training.
The key to breaking your dog of this behavior is to catch them in the act, or preferably when you can see that they are thinking about it and are about to start.
At this moment, you need to call your dog’s attention away from what they are about to do with a command that they already understand, such as “sit,” “down,” or “stop.”
If they respond quickly and appropriately, you can then reward them with some affection or a tasty treat.
If you continue with this for a few weeks, they should soon learn that they are better off refraining from humping.
If their humping seems to be a particular response to excitement, and therefore it is difficult to lower their energy levels once they have started, it is a good idea to engage in other forms of play.
When you are entering a high-excitement situation in which you know that they have a tendency to hump, engage them in another fun, high-energy activity before they get started. This might be a game of catch or tug.
This can help them to understand that there are other, positive ways to release energy when they are feeling over excited.
Some pet owners also swear by calming supplements as a way to curb their dog’s compulsion to hump. There are several options on the market including:
- PetHonesty Hemp Calming Anxiety & Hyeractivity Chews
- Zesty Paws Hemp Elements Calming Orastix Supplements
- Zesty Paws All Ages Calming Peanut Butter Flavored Bites
But if you struggle to get your dog’s attention once they start humping, and they seem to do it impulsively, then the habit has probably already become ingrained and can be very difficult to break.
In these circumstances, you might require the help of a professional trainer to break down the compulsion and build up new behaviors in its place.
Should You Let Your Dog Hump The Air?
Humping is a harmless canine behavior that dogs do to release tension, which can be sexual tension, excitement, or anxiety. It is perfectly fine to let your dog hump in these circumstances.
However, if their behavior seems out of character, or doesn’t seem to have a clear cause, it can be a sign that there is something wrong with your dog. But in this case, the humping is a symptom, so rather than worrying about stopping the humping, try to identify the underlying cause of the behavior to deal with the problem at its source.
Can Dogs Get Sexually Attracted To Humans?
Yes, dogs can pick up on human sexual hormones in the same way that they can pick up on the sexual hormones of other dogs. This might make them curious, and they might want to have a sniff around a human’s groin area.
But if your dog is humping your leg, this is probably not their motivation. It can be a way of showing dominance and ownership of you or even just excitement to see you. It is very rarely sexually motivated.
Nevertheless, they will usually focus on one person, rather than switching their attention between different people in the room. They will identify who they think the alpha is and focus their attention there.
Why Do Female Dogs Hump?
While humping is more common in male dogs, female dogs may also hump the air or inanimate objects as a form of play or to release tension when they are feeling sexually aroused or overly excited.
It is not a sign that there is anything wrong with them. Even spayed dogs continue to produce some sexual hormones and may find humping a quick and efficient way to release tension.
As mentioned earlier, our female golden humped our black lab when the black lab went into heat.
At What Age Do Puppies Start Humping?
Puppies reach puberty at around six to eight months. While they might not be ready to mate at this age, their bodies will start to produce sexual hormones. For this reason, they may also start humping at this age as a way to release sexual tension that builds up in their bodies.
If they are not properly trained and socialized during this stage of their development, the behavior can continue into adulthood, when it can be a lot harder to break.
Humping is one of those behaviors that we often consider to be a bit strange because of our human sensibilities, but is in fact quite normal for dogs in a lot of circumstances.
For male dogs it can be a way to let off sexual frustrations, and for all dogs it can be a way to release tension when they are feeling excited or anxious.
It can be a worrying behavior if they inexplicably start doing it for no apparent reason, or do it with a frequency or focus that suggests compulsion. In these cases, it can be a sign of displacement behavior, poor socialization, or even medical issues. In these cases, you can stop the behavior by identifying the underlying cause and treating it.
If your dog’s humping is pretty innocent, but you would like to be able to control it in certain circumstances, the answer is training. Teach them to desist with certain commands, and reward them for not humping in certain circumstances so that they learn more appropriate behavior.
Have you dealt with a dog that loves to hump?
Share your experience with the community in the comments section below.
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