My dog does an annoying and embarrassing behavior–from time to time he humps the legs of someone in our family and our guests. If someone sits on the floor, he will hump their arm or back too. He’ll also hump his dog bed. Why does he do this? He was neutered a few years ago. Is he being dominate over us? How can I get him to stop–help?!
Most people share your feelings about this behavior, so let’s look at what is going on and what you can do. First of all humping is a genetically hardwired sexual behavior necessary for survival. It is called a fixed action pattern, it does not need to be learned by a puppy. Because we have selectively bred and genetically manipulated our dogs to bring out the qualities we want, some but not all dogs are more likely to hump, just like some are better retrievers that others due to our genetic cutting and pasting. It doesn’t really matter much if the dog has been neutered, or is a male or female for this behavior to appear. Since your family dog is not sexually active but is still humping people and objects there are a few other situations that may trigger this behavior:
Play and Excitement–in a stimulating atmosphere such as rough housing with the dog, or big greetings for guest arrivals, or children running and playing, or getting out the leash for a walk, this behavior may get triggered.
Stress–if your dog is anxious in a social situation, fearful or highly aroused by people and activity, or conflicted or frustrated because he has been prevented from doing something, humping behavior may appear.
Attention–although humping itself is not a learned behavior, your dog may have learned that whenever he humps he gets a lot of attention, just like he would if he jumped on everyone. Attention, even negative attention will sustain behavior.
Dominance–among dogs humping may be a dominance display but between dogs and people it is unlikely that the dog is trying to take over or control you or your household.
What should you do when the dog humps a person? Teach your dog an OFF or LEAVE IT command and as soon as he begins to hump someone instruct him to stop and move away from him, no more attention. If he keeps coming back for more, remove him to a 3 minute TIME OUT place like his crate or a small room to be alone for that time period. If he is humping his bed and it annoys you, redirect his attention to a new activity like playing with a toy. The play can be with you or self directed with a good food puzzle toy or Snufflemutt. Never punish with violence–hitting, yelling or a shock collar. It may stop the immediate behavior but may lead to worse problems with your relationship with the dog and his overall behavior.
Leea Foran, CPDT-KA, CDBC, CTTP-2
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
Certified Tellington TTouch Practitioner Level 2