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Dear Crystal,

Skittles is approximately 5-year-old neutered male, Rottweiler/Hound mix rescue doggie from Humane Society. He is an inside pet. It has only happened twice, but he starts humping while walking or standing for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. When a child is around, too! How can I stop this embarrassing behavior?

Sincerely,

Mortified Owner

Dear Mortified,

Humping can be an embarrassing behavior in our dogs for humans. I think most people associate it as a sexually motivated behavior but in general that is not the motivation. If a dog is unneutered and the behavior is directed towards a female dog, then it may be sexual. However, there are a few different reasons why a dog might be humping. Humping is a natural behavior in a dog’s repertoire and depending on the context and frequency may be something that nothing needs to be done about. If it has only happened a couple of times, hopefully it won’t continue to be an issue. At the very least, hopefully I can give you some information to prevent it in the future.

Firstly, it is worth noting that humping can be related to a medical cause so if the behavior were to continue, it may be worth your while to have him checked out by a vet. Urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence and allergies can all cause itching that the dog may be trying to relieve.

Attention seeking can be a reason why a dog is humping people. People will often respond by yelling at the dog and trying to push it off them. If a dog is hungry for attention, even what we perceive as negative attention is reinforcing to them. It’s similar to the kid in elementary school that was always going to the vice principal’s office for bad behavior which were really just attempts to get attention. Or the other reaction people have is to laugh at the dog which is attention as well. Attention to a dog is being looked at, talked to or touched. When guests come over, if he looks like he is about to start humping someone, instruct them to get up and walk away. You may want to let him drag a light line, so he is easier to extricate from someone’s leg. Some dogs get aggressive when someone tries to push them off, if that were the case, I would tell you to keep him crated or in another room when guests come over.

Dogs tend to hump in high excitement situations or when a dog is feeling stress or anxiety. Humping is likely what ethologists refer to as a displacement behavior. A displacement behavior occurs when a dog is experiencing conflicted emotions and may be an attempt to comfort themselves. Displacement behaviors are behaviors which are out of context for the situation. They might start scratching or licking themselves seemingly out of nowhere. Or suddenly they need to sniff a spot they have been standing next to for an hour. I see it in training classes sometimes when a dog is frustrated or uncomfortable training. Anytime a dog is having a behavior issue, observation is going to be necessary to find out what the trigger for the behavior may be. What happens immediately prior to the situation may be the cause. Many times, a dog will begin air humping when their favorite person comes into the house and as they are running circuits around the room. It is a very common behavior at dog parks because of the high excitement level of dog play. If the dog is humping when people come over, you may want to have him tethered so that he cannot reach anyone or possibly keep him behind a baby gate at least until the excitement is over.

If the cause of the behavior is stress, we need to try to relive that stress for the dog. Maybe he had an interaction with someone that made him feel comfortable. I highly suggest that everyone educate themselves on dog body language so they can understand how their dog is feeling. Understanding when our dogs are uncomfortable helps us to prevent aggressive behavior and unnecessary stress. There is a great new website www.ispeakdog.org that will help you learn body language and how to decipher your dog’s behavior. Stress and anxiety can be caused by being under stimulated in which cause addition mental and physical stimulation may be helpful. Keeping the dog on a regular routine is usually helpful with anxiety. Dogs in the shelter environment often become humpy with other dogs or humans when they are starting to experience high levels of stress.

Without knowing the details of the situation that happened with your dog, I can’t say exactly what the cause was. Hopefully it won’t increase in frequency but if it does, be sure to pay attention to what is going on before it happens so that you can work on the cause of the behavior.

 

Until next time,

Crystal

 

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