Hump Day or not, humping is a common behavior in dogs—and the reasons they do it may not be what you think.

By Haylee Bergeland, CPDT-KA, RBT
October 21, 2020
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Your leg, the couch pillows, your best friend’s puppy, or even your cat. Dogs hump. Many dog parents find their dogs’ humping behavior to be embarrassing, frustrating, and down right annoying. When a dog is an avid humper, their owner usually has many detailed stories of times the behavior appeared during less-than-ideal moments, like during Thanksgiving dinner or when Grandma came over for brunch. 

So what’s the deal? Well, like many canine behaviors, humping is full of nuance. Humping, (and mounting) occur in many contexts. Although it’s awkward, it’s usually not a cause for concern. It doesn’t mean your dog is attempting to dominate you or that you must avoid letting your dog play with all other dogs. But, when a dog’s humping becomes intense and is bothersome to other dogs, you may need to intervene (in a positive way).

Credit: marcoventuriniautieri / Getty

6 Common Reasons Dogs Hump 

Dog owners are often surprised to learn that a neutered or spayed dog may still hump and mount. Males and females may hump, no matter their age. Even though humans think the act of humping is generally associated with, ahem, sexual activities, in dogs this is not always the case. A dog may exhibit humping-type behaviors for a variety of reasons. 

Puppy Play

During play sessions with other pups, or with you, you may notice your pup’s humping behavior for the first time. No, it’s not about sex. And no, it doesn’t say anything about a pup’s sexual orientation. Puppies are just beginning to learn how to play and respond to other dogs and they have not yet acquired many play moves.

Excitement

Sometimes our dogs become so excited so quickly they just don’t know how to handle it. Think of a kid on their birthday opening presents—the excitement may cause the child to scream, cry, or fidget. Dogs have similar responses when they become overly stimulated and excited. When excitement induces stress, it can quickly become over-arousal.

Over Arousal

The state of high arousal is both physiological and psychological, and when a dog experiences this strong emotional state, intense behaviors—like humping—may occur. If your dog is exhibiting additional signs of stress, it’s time to change the environment or take them some place that’s less stressful.

Stress

There are situations where stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, may rise in your dog and need relief. Humping can relieve the buildup of those hormones. Other times when a dog becomes stressed he might engage in displacement behaviors, sort of like when humans head scratch or mess with their hair when nervous. For dogs, displacement behaviors can include yawning, sniffing, obsessively itching—or humping. If a dog frequently feels stressed, the behavior may become compulsive.

Reproduction

Of course, dogs that are the prime age for breeding will engage in behaviors such as humping and mounting. Intact males and females may engage in humping and show other changes in behavior such as the need to go potty more, agitation, whining and barking, and pacing. When humping is in fact sexually motivated, it will occur alongside courtship behaviors.

Medical Issues

Certain medical problems can increase the incidences of humping in dogs, including UTIs, urinary incontinence, and skin allergies. If your dog’s humping is accompanied by licking or chewing near the genital area, it’s time to visit the vet.

 How to Address Humping

The majority of the time, a hump or two that appears random is no big deal and you can just ignore it and chalk it up to weird things dogs do. When humping does create an issue, like when your puppy relentlessly pursues and humps another pup, you may need to intervene to ensure all pups, and people, are comfortable. It’s important for you to anticipate situations where your dog is likely to engage in the behavior and ensure it doesn’t escalate into an issue.

Recognize Stressful Situations

Not all stress is bad but, when your dog begins to exhibit signs of stress you should step in to help them out. Pay close attention to situations in which your dog is more likely to hump—these may be times your dog is not a happy camper. Notice changes in body language and be proactive about removing your dog (positively!) before a situation becomes too much for them.

Distract, Redirect, Reinforce

Calling your dog’s name is usually not enough to stop humping behavior. Instead, squeak a favorite toy, open a bag of tasty treats, or toss a favorite Frisbee near your dog. If your dog stops the behavior then you can redirect them to a quick training session with yummy treats or some quality playtime.

Ask for Help 

When a dog appears to obsessively hump, or the behavior increases in intensity, you may need assistance from a certified canine behavior consultant. Keep track of when your dog engages in the behavior and make note of its frequency and intensity. This is helpful information that you and a trainer or consultant can use to decipher why your dog may be doing this behavior and how it can be helped.