What your dog sees as humpworthy may include other dogs (male and female), your child, your ottoman, your favorite pillow, your house guest, a stuffed animal, your leg, or anything else he — or even she — can latch on to.
It’s one of those canine behaviors we humans find less than endearing, downright embarassing and highly confusing; and, as a result, our reaction is usually to bow our heads in shame, holler at the offending dog, or pretend it’s not happening.
So it’s good to see somebody boldy jumping on the subject — and getting across the point, among others, that the behavior is totally normal.
Julie Hecht, who manages Alexandra Horowitz’s Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College in New York City, explores the ambiguous and often avoided topic of non-reproductive humping in the latest issue of The Bark magazine.
“From tail wagging to barking, dog behavior is riddled with nuance. A wagging tail might convey ‘I’m quite scared’ or ‘This is the best day ever!’ Like tail wagging, mounting is far more complex than it may appear, and there is not one simple explanation. But there are some likely candidates.”
Hecht holds a master’s degree in applied animal behavior and welfare from the University of Edinburgh, and she’s an adjunct professor at Canisius College. More important than any of that, she’s not afraid to tackle a subject that offends the more prim and proper among us.
So is humping sexual, or part of an instinctual urge — “must … reproduce … now” — to create offspring? Is it a display of aggression, an assertion of dominance, or just a way to relieve some pent up energy? Clearly, it’s not always and entirely motivated by sexual arousal, Hecht notes, for pillows aren’t usually that arousing.
For nearly as long as ethologists have studied dogs, they have taken note of dogs’ tendency to hump outside of reproductive contexts, she writes.
University of Colorado ethologist Marc Bekoff observed way back in the 1970s that young canids — pairs of three- to seven-week-old wolves, coyotes and dogs — were prone to pelvic thrusting, and that females also engaged in some of that behavior.
“It’s what dogs do. It’s a completely normal behavior,” explains Carolyn Walsh, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, who studies the nuances of dog behavior in dog parks. “Both males and females mount, regardless of whether [they are] sexually intact or not.”
It can come from a surge of emotion, anxiety or arousal, Walsh explains.
“Dog parks can be quite stimulating, and for those who are highly aroused physiologically, mounting behavior could easily come out. There can be such a buildup of social motivation and the desire to affiliate that some of that energy spills over into the sexual motivation system. You see sexual behavior coming out, but it’s mostly out of context.”
Hecht also interviewed Peter Borchelt, a certified applied animal behaviorist in New York City, who pointed out, “There are only so many behaviors a dog has access to, and dogs do what is part of their species-typical behavior. It is something they know how to do.”
Many dog owners equate humping to dominance and control, but it can also be a friendly and less than lecherous attempt to get another dog to play. It may be a cry for attention, a way for dogs to gauge the bond they have with other dogs, or to test just how much a play partner is willing to tolerate.
“This is the idea that dogs perform potentially annoying behaviors like mounting to test the strength of the recipient’s investment in the relationship,” said Becky Trisko, a behaviorist and owner of Unleashed in Evanston, Ill., who has studied dog-dog interactions in the dog daycare setting.
“It’s like saying, ‘How much will you put up with?’ ‘How much do you really like me?’”
Despite all the dirty connotations we humans attach to pelvic thrusting, with dogs the behavior seems — while stemming from various emotions — to be more of a celebration of life than anything else. Cooped up in houses all day, a trip to the dog park, or even just seeing the leash come out, can get dogs excited to the point that something else comes out. Humping, or even an erection, it seems to me, isn’t all about sex when it comes to dogs — that’s just how we’re prone to interpreting it.
We humans equate it with sexual lust, but, with dogs, humping might just be a natural way to celebrate, like the high-fiving or chest-bumping of frat boys, or that “woo-hoo” noise girls make when they get together.
Looking at it through a less tainted lens, one could even make the argument that the behavior — humping, not woo-hooing — is more charming than it is revolting.
For the dog, joy is joy; and embarassing as it might be for us to see any overlap between sexual pleasure and just plain happiness, dogs don’t seem to get all bogged down in what might be the appropriate expression of their various happy and excited emotions.
Is that dirty? Or is there a certain purity there? Do dogs have their emotions confused? Or do they have it right?
None of this is to say you should try it at home, at the corner bar, or anywhere else. Civilized society dictates we don’t engage in that behavior. It’s only to say we shouldn’t get too bent out of shape when our dogs hump.
Rather than punishing a dog for exhibiting glee, it makes more sense to gently redirect the behavior. Watch closely at the dog park and you’ll see that many dogs — the humpees, as opposed to the humpers – do that themselves, with a growl or snarl.
My dog Ace does not tolerate it — whether it’s him being humped, or another dog. He feels the need to break it up, and, should he see one dog mounting another, he will generally rush over and do so.
I’m not sure where that behavior comes from.
Maybe he has become too human.
(Painting by Lachlan Blair, from his father Stuart Blair’s blog)
Posted by jwoestendiek July 6th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggression, animals, arousal, barnard college, behavior, behaviorist, boys, canines, carolyn walsh, causes, chest bump, children, civilized, control, cushions, dog, dog cognition lab, dog park, dogs, dominance, embarassing, embarassment, ethologist, excitement, female, girls, glee, happiness, high five, humans, hump, humped, humping, humps, humpworthy, instinct, interpretations, julie hecht, legs, male, marc bekoff, mounting, people, peter borchelt, pets, pillows, play, reasons, reproductive, sexual, socializing, society, the bark, urge, woo hoo
The debate raging here on ohmidog! – and in the rest of the world, too — just had a little more fuel thrown on it: A new British study says dominance-based dog training techniques such as those espoused by Cesar Millan are a waste of time and may make dogs more aggressive.
Researchers from the University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences, after studying dogs for six months, conclude that, contrary to popular belief, dogs are not trying to assert their dominance over their canine or human “pack” and aren’t motivated by maintaining their place in the pecking order.
One of the scientists behind the study, Dr. Rachel Casey, in an interview with ABC News, said the blanket assumption that every dog is motivated by some innate desire to control people or other dogs is “frankly ridiculous.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 22nd, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggression, aggressive, behavior, behaviorists, british, cesar millan, critical, criticizes, debate, disagreement, dog, dog training, dog whisperer, dogs, dominance, leader, mentality, methods, noise, owners, pack, pinning, rewards, ridiculous, study, techniques, trainers, training
That question is posed in an interesting piece by Sophia Yin in the Huffington Post, and it brings a long-simmering debate between two schools of animal trainers into the spotlight — right in the middle of National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
Yin, a veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist, cites experts as saying that “Dog Whisperer” watchers trying to mimic the dominance-based techniques Millan uses may be — as the phrase goes — asking for it.
The article includes an anecdote from Dr. Kathy Meyer, president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), which is on record as opposing such techniques.
“Last year I consulted with an owner who was having trouble with his Shar-Pei becoming aggressive toward the dog-walker when on walks. The owner had no trouble with his dog on-lead outdoors, but the walker complained of escalating aggression. Upon further discussion, it was discovered that the walker claimed he was utilizing some methods demonstrated by Cesar Millan on the Dog Whisperer. Instead of walking the dog on a loose lead, he would place a choke collar high up on the dog’s neck, where it is the most painful and can shut off the airway…
“When the dog didn’t respond to a command, he would punish the dog by tightening the collar, even lifting the dog’s front feet off of the ground. As the punishment escalated, the dog began to growl, snarl, and snap at the walker. The walker even began to take a tennis racket on walks to try to subdue the dog when he became aggressive, a technique he saw on Millan’s televised show. My advice was simple. Find another dog-walker who knew how to calmly walk the dog on a loose lead and did not try to intimidate him. A new walker was introduced and the dog continues to do well, with no aggression on walks.”
The article also cites a recent study published in The Journal of Applied Animal Behavior (2009) that suggests those who take an aggressive approach with their dogs might find their dogs being aggressive too.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 20th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggression, alpha rolls, animal, animals, approach, avsab, behavior, bites, cesar millan, confontational, dog, dog whisperer, dogs, dominance, huffington post, methods, national dog bite prevention week, national geographic channel, rewarding, rewards, sophia yin, techniques, training, undesirable, veterinary