There are several reasons why a dog may hump. This can occur from early puppyhood, through to adolescence and adulthood. A playful pup, either male or female, may become over excited when playing and cannot decide between two choices – for example to run away or chase – so in the heat of the moment will decide to mount in sheer frustration. This may be any object; cushions are a good example, but usually another dog or the leg of a convenient human! The answer here would be to offer the dog a distraction – anything other than food as this may be interpreted as a reward – and calm him/her down before this escalates into nipping and biting. Alternatively, a firm ‘leave’ may be appropriate, depending on the level of training acquired and the dog’s understanding of this cue, but this must not be allowed to escalate to outright confrontation and the ‘fight-or-flight’ response kicking in. However, the dog has self taught a pleasurable experience which may soon become a pleasurable habit if not resolved at an early stage.
In the case of an adolescent dog or a bitch in heat this behaviour may be more to do with hormones and/or the onset of puberty. Veterinary advice should be sought and neutering may resolve this. If the habitual cycle has onset then further training, as described above, is necessary. Exceptionally this may the onset of Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) sometimes known as Canine-compulsive disorder (CCD).
Is dominance at play here? Dr Becky Trisko, recently of the University of Michigan (Datta, 2017), states that dog on dog and dog on human relationships are far more complex and nuanced than simple dominance, though this appears to play a part when playing or fighting. Recent studies have shown that dogs are capable of complex social emotions such as love, loneliness and jealousy and benefit from forming close friendships and the subsequent release of Oxytocin – “…..they worry about things not essential to their survival” (Campbell, 1999). She studied three forms of agonistic behaviour – dominance, submission and aggression. These communicate status and are unidirectional. A dominant dog will have an upright, stiff posture and may hump the head or lick the muzzle of a submissive dog. If humping has been left to escalate and the dog is dominating, or become overly attached to the owner, then expert help may be needed!
As dogs are clearly not pack animals (as discussed in a previous blog) it is unlikely that the behaviour is dominance related per se. (A study of wolves would suggest otherwise). Furthermore, the fact that a dog may attempt to hump the head of another dog is, put in its simplest terms, a perverse act that he simply enjoys – dominance lead, sexual or otherwise!