Dog on the Couch

2015-09-03 06:00

Dear Susan,

MY Labrador puppy is lovely in most ways but I am concerned about her mounting other puppies or dogs during play. Perhaps even more embarrassing, she humps visitors’ legs. I don’t want to have a dominant dog. Any advice will be appreciated.

L. M

I am pleased that you evidently know that this is not necessarily or even usually a sexual behaviour in dogs. But I can assure you that your fear is unfounded - you have not been saddled with a dominant dog. Mounting is a perfectly normal and healthy part of dog behaviour. Researchers have found that mounting alone is not a predictor of dominance, and that relationships between pairs of dogs vary depending on which resource a particular dog values most.

So in one instance a dog may be dominant over another, but this may be reversed in different circumstances or couplings. Therefore, do not view it as a definitive trait.

The mounting you see during play usually starts in both sexes at around six weeks. Research has also shown that dogs learn that this activity is a sure way of getting attention. It’s a way of saying, “take notice of me. Let’s be friends”. If it is really getting out of hand, some advice follows.

Although embarrassing for you when your dog humps your visitors, it may help you to understand that dogs also do this when stressed, anxious or excited such as when visitors arrive, in your case, or for instance when they sense that an outing in the car is imminent. It can be a way of saying “yay” (or, if a younger dog, “awesome!”).

An anxious dog mounting a new visitor to the house may also indicate a displacement activity. A human parallel of this would be something like twirling hair or an item of clothing, or biting nails. Just as an anxious child may find comfort in sucking their thumb, dogs, not having thumbs, may also hump some inanimate object such as a pillow.

If this activity becomes obsessive, for instance every time visitors arrive or whenever you’re about to go for a walk, try to distract the dog by offering some attractive diversion and in this way inculcate an acceptable alternative behaviour. It is a fact that behaviours that are rewarded are repeated, this is the basis for positive reinforcing training programmes. Behaviours that are not rewarded but ignored will fade.

Laughter can be rewarding for some dogs, so if they hump and are rewarded by the victim laughing they will repeat the action in future. Mounting during play should only be interrupted if it is prolonged or if the play partner finds the behaviour upsetting and is unable to stop it.

Perhaps this will be less embarrassing for us if we recognise it, if in moderation, as normal dog behaviour.

Send questions to Susan Henderson (accredited animal behaviourist), info@dogbox

Researchers have found that mounting alone is not a predictor of dominance, and that relationships between pairs of dogs vary depending on which resource a particular dog values most

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