It shouldn't be too hard to imagine, you're at the dog park with your well trained, affectionate dog Trixie. Just as you're getting ready to leave, Trixie runs up to another dog, latches on and begins to hump. You rush over to separate the dogs, muttering to the other owners, "she's never done that before," "she's just really friendly," "I guess she doesn't know what gender she is." Meanwhile, the other owners have turned away pretending not to see this embarrassing scene play out. You grab your dog and dash for the exit. So, what happened? Why do dogs hump?
As embarrassing as this situation may be for you, this is a normal behavior for your canine friends. While male dogs are more likely to engage in this behavior, this is common for females as well. To make matter worse, other dogs aren't the only targets; dogs hump pillows, furniture, and the worst of all, someone else's leg. This normal behavior can be sexual, a dominant gesture, or a habit.
The primary reason that a dog humps is due to sexual urges. This occurs most often in males who have not been neutered, although it can occur in any dog. Female dogs in heat have often been found to hump other dogs. Sometimes when a dog's genitals are irritated or itchy it may trigger this behavior. When dogs hump, it may be positively reinforced and it can become a habit. While humping can lead to pregnancy, it can also irritate or even injure your dog.
Many dogs hump to show dominance over other dogs or people. In a pack of wolf or primitive dogs, only the alpha wolves or dogs may mate. For this reason, dogs of higher rank may hump a dog of lower rank to demonstrate their superior rank to the subordinate dog. When dogs hump your leg, they are indicating that you are a member of their pack and they are the alpha.
Often when dogs engage in humping behavior for one of the above reasons, the behavior becomes a habit. In addition, dogs that are anxious or obsessive/compulsive may hump, and this behavior may form a habit. This may be the case when a dog starts by humping just other dogs or people and eventually turn to furniture and other inanimate objects.
How to Stop It
While it may be a good laugh for some folks, this behavior can cause embarrassment, dog fights, owner/dog issues, and physical damage to the dog if not addressed. The more a dog humps, the more the behavior becomes a habit and the more difficult it is to break, so the first thing is to address it as soon as possible.
When you are ready to address this behavior, start by attempting to determine why your dog is humping. If your dog is still intact, it is time to consider spaying or neutering. Some well behaved and mild dogs may simply respond to the simple command of "no" when they begin to hump. When your dog engages in this behavior you can distract it by asking it to sit, down, fetch, or whatever else it knows how to do. Since this behavior can lead to dog fights, as embarrassing as it may be, more socialization is better than less. Giving your dog a chance to engage in positive dog behavior may encourage it not to hump.
If the humping behavior is directed at you or a member of your family you must indicate to your dog that you are the alpha in the relationship. This may mean revoking some of your pet's privileges such as sleeping on the couch or in a bed. Becoming aggressive yourself will not help solve this problem and will likely create more problems.
If this doesn't work, you may want to attend a dog behavior course, or meet with a dog trainer. As a last resort it is also possible to obtain drugs from your vet that can be used alongside some of the methods described above.