Humping: One Problem – Three Solutions

If you check the internet for advice about any dog behaviour problem you’ll find a selection of conflicting dog behaviour advice. It can’t all be right, can it? With humping you’ll find the most common piece of advice is redirection or ignoring. Let’s see how that might work with three different variations of this common problem.

There are many reasons a dog might hump. It’s not just limited to male dogs either, girls hump too. I have given three common examples here to demonstrate the importance of finding the root cause of the problem before guessing at a solution. The internet advises ignoring and redirection, but these strategies don’t address the issue in any of these cases. And they wouldn’t help in the case that a dog has a urinary infection, is trying to relieve stress, or is just over excited either.

Goals

Ozzy is trying to relieve frustration

For Ozzy, frustration has built up throughout the day. His expectations aren’t always met and he doesn’t get much freedom on his walks. He is walked on a short lead and never allowed to explore or make friends on a loose lead. Humping his owners leg, or a cushion, is helping him manage those feelings. He also grabs at the lead, digs, and shreds things as a way of relieving frustration.

Clyde is trying to relieve sexual frustration

He is not neutered, and is a young dog with urges. Clyde doesn’t have a girlfriend and humping helps relieve those feelings. It’s a primal and instinctive behaviour that he has very little control over. He’s not fussy who he humps, any dog, person, or pillow will do. But un-neutered females are especially attractive, for obvious reasons!

Olga is seeking attention

It’s not just boys that hump! Humping can be an attention seeking behaviour that can be learned by male and female dogs. As a young dog, she quickly figured out that humping get’s her owners attention really well. It works especially well when visitors are in the house, so she does it a lot at those times. But, she’ll try it anytime she is feeling a little bored or lonely, as it works so well.

She also does it to other dogs in the park. Her family thought she was trying to dominate them, but actually she’s just trying to annoy them enough that they will chase her – it works a lot. And when it doesn’t, her family chase her instead!

Addressing the Need

Ozzy lacks freedom, choice, and consistency

For Ozzy, this is challenging almost every layer of Maslows pyramid of needs. His creativity and learning needs aren’t being met because he’s not being allowed to explore off lead. His confidence and achievement needs aren’t being met as the training he’s getting is inconsistent and he doesn’t know what’s expected of him. Ozzy is also missing out on friendship and intimacy needs as he isn’t making good friends and socialising. He’s not getting enough exercise as he’s walking on a tight lead The lead is also controlling how he meets new people or dogs because. He feels trapped on his lead, and that’s making him feel unsafe and defensive.

There is a lot of work to do here, and a few simple tips will most likely add more frustration, not relieve it. Ozzy will need more freedom to make his own choices on the walk. A good recall will solve a lot of problems for Ozzy. It’ll mean he can get off lead to explore by himself and approach dogs without feeling trapped. He’ll be able to express himself better, and make better friendships, with dogs he meets regularly. More exercise is another obvious benefit to getting off lead. And if he gets to blow off steam by running and wrestling with friends, even better. Improving the consistency in his training will help him know what is expected of him so he can succeed more often.

Two small dogs running towards the camera together. Both dogs are off lead and the one on the right has his tongue hanging out!
Making good friends can help reduce frustration, which will help reduce Ozzy’s humping!

Clyde is sexually frustrated

Sexual frustration is a physiological need! As well as reproduction, physiological needs also include eating and breathing. So we can see that reproduction is a very powerful motivator, in fact a lack of sexual activity is as motivating as starvation. A male dog will go to extreme lengths to fulfill this need including following scent trails for many miles, escaping their lead, chewing through fence panels, jumping impossibly high walls, and bursting out of open doors.

Expecting a sexually frustrated dog to resist urges to hump your leg, by waving a chew toy at them, or teaching them a new cue, is likely to be as successful as asking a starving street dog to wait patiently for the first meal they’ve had in days!

Clyde either needs a girlfriend so he can satisfy his urges in a natural way, or he would benefit from neutering. Neutering will prevent the urges from building up in the first place and removes reproduction needs from Maslows pyramid of needs for that dog.

Check out this blog for more guidance on whether neutering might be right for your dog.

Olga needs attention

This is connected to the love and belonging need, and the esteem need. Ignoring is common advice for attention seeking, but that is not going to help when her love and belonging need already hasn’t been sufficiently met. In fact, if used alone, it will definitely make things worse. Trying to redirect her with a toy isn’t the answer either as that counts as attention, so she might just use humping as a way to ask for play time. She already does that in the park, so it’ll not be long before she connects the two.

Olga needs to build confidence, and at the same time do bond-building exercises with her family to fulfil these needs. Then, finding a new, more appropriate way for her to ask for attention will help give her a way to communicate her need to you. This could be a behaviour such as holding out a paw, or picking up a special toy. Either way, once you decided, you can never ignore it when she asks in the new way. If you do, she’ll stop using it and revert straight back to the old way.

And finally…

In all three cases, the root cause of the problem is different, and therefore, the problem needs to tackled in a different way. In none of these cases would ignore and/or redirect have worked by itself. Without addressing the need first, the redirect and ignore tactic might have got off to a promising start with Clyde, but for Olga and Ozzy it would probably have made things worse. Even if it did help temporarily, it wouldn’t take long for the behaviour to revert. The need drives the behaviour and most dogs can’t resist their needs for very long. This will give the illusion of a technique that worked, and then failed.

Once the main cause of the behaviour has been addressed though, it might work well for all three dogs as a way to break a left over habit.

For the other three reasons; managing a dogs threshold will help them stay calm, confidence building to manage anxiety, and a course of anti-biotics would be better places to start.


Are you struggling with your dog?

Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the greater Dundee area. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!

Caroline
Caroline

I have more than 15 years experience solving all kinds of canine behaviour problems, at home and in rescue. A bad experience with a old fashioned dog trainer inspired me to learn more about dog behaviour, and it is because of him, that I wall never use harsh methods when training and rehabilitating dogs.

I work privately with clients in Dundee and the surrounding area with dogs of all ages, breeds and issues including anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity.

In 2009 I was proud to publish a book about dog behaviour and training. How to be the Perfect Pack Leader (by Caroline Jenkins) remains popular today and a follow up is expected very shortly.

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