Humping is a frequent (and embarrassing) behavior you may observe in your dog. Sometimes dogs hump other dogs. Sometimes they hump a stuffed animal or a sofa. Perhaps worst, sometimes they hump a person's leg.
It can be awkward when your dog is humping something in front of other people. It's particularly cringe-worthy if your dog likes to hump people, especially if the "victims" don't have or don't like dogs. Although humping is usually a harmless behavior, there are ways to discourage your dog from humping everything in sight.
Why Do Dogs Hump?
Humping, or mounting, is an action that seems inherently sexual in nature. However, this is not always the case. Humping is part instinct and part learned behavior and, most importantly, it is completely normal for dogs. It only becomes a behavior problem when your dog humps people, upsets other dogs by mounting them, or when the humping is excessive.
There are a few different reasons why dogs hump.
An intact dog (not spayed or neutered) may hump other dogs due to hormones and sexual attraction. When both dogs are intact, they usually end up mating, so you need to keep intact dogs of the opposite sex separate if you don't want that to happen.
Sometimes, an intact dog will hump a spayed or neutered dog. Females hump too, and it may or may not be sexual in nature. When a dog humps objects or people, it might be a form of masturbation. Having your dog neutered or spayed may help with the problem, but be aware that dogs may develop the habit of humping before they're altered and continue it afterward.
Usually, dogs aren't emulating mating behavior when they hump. Nonsexual arousal is more likely to provoke a dog to hump. It's just a way for the dog to burn off energy or relieve stress. Some dogs bark, some run or jump, and others hump. This is normal for many dogs. If the behavior is frequent, training may help by redirecting your dog to another outlet for its excess energy.
Along the same lines, some dogs hump as an attention-seeking behavior or because they are bored. If this is the case, providing them with ample exercise, mental stimulation, and attention when they are not humping should help.
Like play fighting, play humping can be a completely normal and acceptable behavior between two dogs as long as it doesn't upset one of the dogs. Some dogs play hump each other back and forth, and everyone is fine with it. Some dogs simply enjoy humping. Make sure to break it up if one of the dogs seems annoyed by the humping. Training (for instance, to run to your side when called) may be useful in decreasing the frequency and intensity of play humping.
Before you try to train your dog not to hump, you should rule out any medical causes. While humping is not usually related to a medical condition, there are a few possibilities.
Urinary tract infections, skin allergies, and priapism (persistent erection) may elicit humping. This is similar to other behaviors, such as licking the genital area or rubbing against furniture or other objects. Your vet should be able to rule out health conditions as possible reasons for humping.
How to Stop Humping
Since there are a few different reasons for dog humping, it may take a bit of trial and error to get your dog to knock it off.
Obviously, you don't want your dog humping your guests. You also don't want humping to lead to a fight with another dog. Even humping an object can potentially cause damage (depending on the object). Fortunately, humping can usually be managed through training.
Catch Your Dog in the Act
First of all, if you want to stop your dog's humping, you need to address the behavior while it's happening. Call your dog's name and say a word like "off" or "stop." The word "no" is not ideal since it's used so often in conversation. Likewise, the word "down" may be confusing if your dog knows how to lie down on command (or if you ever want to teach it).
Offer a Reward
If your dog stops humping when you say "stop" or "off," reward with a treat, a toy, or affection, depending on what your dog likes most. Remove the humping target if possible. If it's a person, you might just need to remove your dog from the room.
If you can't get your dog's attention with a verbal cue, you might need to lure it away with a valuable reward. Find something very appealing, like a treat or a favorite squeaky toy. Consistently repeat the "off" or "stop" cue each time the dog humps; then coax it away. Praise your dog when he moves his attention to the reward and away from the humping.
Seek Professional Help
Eventually, you might be able to break your dog's humping habit. However, some dogs won't quit that easily. If yours is one of them, you may wish to seek the help of a professional dog trainer or behaviorist to work on the issue.
Otherwise, you might need to accept that your dog is going to hump and avoid situations where humping will be a problem. If this is how things turn out, you'll need to know how to predict the humping behavior and prevent it whenever possible. This is especially true when humping may cause a dogfight or an injury to someone.