Three weeks ago, I met Charlie* the French Bulldog* for the first time. His owners called me, telling me they had a dominance problem and that their dog was humping things. Mostly pillows and stuffed animals; but the family’s concern came when Charlie humped their daughter’s friend when she was over the week before. So, what is the root of Charlie’s humping? Is he really a super dominant dog who needs to be taught a lesson? Let’s dig into this a little bit. . .
Dogs hump for many reasons, and most times, dominance doesn’t even factor in! Here are some common reasons that dogs hump:
Overabundance of energy or boredom- Too much energy and not enough mental (for lack of better term) stimulation can create so many behavior problems! From chewing to barking to digging to . . . you guessed it. . . humping! For some dogs, humping is an attention-seeking behavior. For others, they just have nothing better to do! Go throw a ball or get your dog out for a vigorous walk. Remember, a tired dog won’t have the energy to get into trouble or do undesirable things!
Anxiety or stress relief-If you can pinpoint the humping to something acute, like your dog compulsively humping in a busy dog park but nowhere else, perhaps the reason for this is that he is uncomfortable in a busy dog park setting. Therefore he needs a way to release his anxious energy in what he feels is a ‘constructive’ way. . . AKA humping. Humping can be what we dog trainers refer to as a ‘displacement behavior’. In laymen’s terms, normal behaviors that are displayed out of context when presented with fear or anxiety. Some common displacement behaviors include lip licking, yawning, sniffing, gulping water, and (you guessed it) humping. If your dog never displays humping behaviors unless he is put in a certain situation, this may be the root of the behavior.As a word of caution: if you have a dog that consistently humps everything and seems generally stressed out, you may be dealing with a compulsive behavior issue or some generalized anxiety. It’s time to contact a certified, positive reinforcement trainer or animal behaviorist to develop a behavior modification plan.
Sexual Behavior-Even if your precious pooch is spayed or neutered, they may still display some sexual behavior. And it’s totally normal! Sometimes it is accompanied by ‘flirtatious’ behavior like bouncing around, spinning in circles, or play bows. And many dogs have ‘special’ relationships with certain pillows, blankets, and soft toys. If it does not become an obsession and all parties seem consensual (and everyone is spayed and neutered of course!), then it’s really not too big of a worry. It’s nothing any 13 year old boy wouldn’t try to do too!
Dominance-Ok, here it is. . . the big D-word! Will dogs hump because they are trying to control situations and/or people? Sure, sometimes. And I’ve definitely met a few dogs who would love nothing more to be in control of a situation. But far more often, people use a blanket term like dominance to describe behaviors that they don’t know how to deal with. So think about it. . . is your dog a dominant dog? Or is he an adolescent who is stressed out in a particular situation, or who hasn’t had a lot of training, boundaries. or rules set?
So what was the deal with my good friend, Charlie? Charlie was a 10-month old, unneutered male, who despite having a large fenced in yard to run in, didn’t get much in the way of playtime with family in the yard, nor did he get any training or structure in the house.
My recommendation for Charlie: A vigorous exercise plan that involved leash walks and games of fetch since he was a tennis ball maniac; neutering; and a basic obedience regimen consisting of automatic sits any time he wanted a treat, to go outside, or attention from his family. Three weeks later, Charlie’s humping has all about subsided thanks to his very diligent owners! And they’ve got the family companion that they had wanted all along.
If your dog is having a behavior problem, don’t hesitate to consult a certified professional dog trainer for advice! They can really help!