A client once described his problem as “My dog is acting dirty.” It took me a while to figure that one out. But then I realised that we have all seen this so-called “acting dirty”. Some call it ‘humping’. Some call it ‘mounting’. But however people describe it, it’s a problem causing anything from mild embarrassment to real physical damage. So it’s time to talk about it.
Some people believe that this is a sexual act and that it will go away when the dog is neutered or spayed. But we know that is not the whole explanation. We have all seen dogs mounting other dogs of the same gender, trying to mount people, inanimate objects etc. Even if we were to assume that dogs’ sexual lives are indeed so colourful, it does not explain neutered dogs mounting and female dogs mounting. There has to be something else at play here.
Some training beliefs suggest that it’s a sign that the dog is exhibiting dominance. But the entire notion that dogs spend their lives trying to gain dominance over humans has long since been debunked. Wolves or dogs, in their natural environment, do not even form such strict hierarchies. Instead, they are caring, loving, family units, in which the breeding pair pampers the little ones. In addition to the theory being debunked there is absolutely no evidence to show that dogs use mounting as a symbolic gesture to gain social status. That is just a bad extrapolation of a debunked theory, done by unqualified trainers, in their attempt to explain a behaviour they don’t understand.
So if it’s more than just a sexual behaviour and it’s not dominance, then what is it? The jury seems to be out on it. There are a few theories floating about, but none that are conclusive yet. You see, dog behaviour is a wide area for research and has been picking up popularity only in the last decade.
However, there is one thing that is easy to observe. This behaviour seems to coincide with increased stress hormones in the body. Stress hormones increase when the dog is excited, anxious or angry. When stress hormones increase, dogs start showing a host of behaviours. Some might opt to run madly in wild circles, some jump excessively, some dig furiously, some mouth people around and some dogs mount. The cause of such excitement, anxiety or anger could be a host of things, ranging from actual sexual arousal to something as simple as you returning home after a long day.
One of my clients was rather perturbed by this problem and just could not nail the cause. She insisted that her dog mounted unprovoked. And he grabbed her leg when he did it, giving her massive bruises. My heart went out to her. I asked her to maintain a diary for a week, making an entry of everything that happens just before her dog exhibits this behaviour. The diary quickly revealed that there was always something exciting that preceded this behaviour and that little things excited him. We then realised that he was an easily excitable dog and if we fixed that problem, the mounting would just go away. In the meanwhile, to avoid those nasty bruises, my client figured out ways to avoid the exciting triggers as much as possible.
So you see, if your dog is mounting a lot there is a message there for you: the problem in itself. It’s a symptom of a problem. It says that your dog’s base stress levels are high and need to be addressed. While we may not have an exact explanation of this behaviour, we know enough to recognise it as a symptom of high stress or excitement, so we can look for the root cause.