Q: We were mortified when we took our Lab puppy, Margot, to her first group training class and she started humping another dog. We had never seen her do that before and thought only boy dogs did that. The trainer said it was normal, and I’ve read on the Internet that many dogs will do this but they don’t really explain why.
A: Is there anything more embarrassing than being the one pet owner at the park whose dog humps all the others until no one wants to play with her anymore?
Probably, but it’s hard to think of one when everyone’s giving you the look that says your dog is a “perv” and that you should keep her away from places where parents will have to explain her behavior to their children.
As you’ve doubtless read by now, dogs who hump other dogs, humans and/or inanimate objects (toys are a favorite) are usually just playing. Contrary to popular opinion, they’re not engaging in any sort of sexual behavior. In their minds they’re simply exercising their play drive. Which probably explains why female dogs are often the most motivated to hump.
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In a multi-dog social context (like a dog park or training facility), however, dogs who hump others may be doing more than just playing. In some cases they may be displaying dominance over those they hump. They’re trying to prove they’re socially superior.
While most of the dogs Margot humps will accept this behavior at face value (they’re still pups, after all), plenty of dogs will consider humping an inappropriate affront to their status, thereby eliciting avoidance or worse –– aggressive behavior. That’s why it’s important to ask your trainer how to deal with a potentially unsafe future scenario.
Luckily, most well socialized dogs can take a hint. They’ll usually hump only those who could care less.
Dogs who engage in this behavior may be male or female, sterilized or intact. Many often tend toward humping behavior only when socially excited.
Though humping is largely considered a benign behavior, it’s one behaviorists tend to discourage as inappropriate –– especially when it causes safety issues between dogs. It also could elicit status confusion in a human-dog relationship or social discomfort among humans (as when If your trainer doesn’t feel comfortable helping you with this, ask your veterinarian for assistance.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.