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
I finally got my Thanksgiving dinner, and while I didn’t bite the hand that fed me, Ace did bite the head of the dog belonging to the man who fed us.
My brother and his partner, James, knowing my travels had precluded me from enjoying a turkey dinner, invited us to come over Sunday for one, with all the fixings.
James, a master chef, put out quite a spread — numerous appetizers, turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, yams, all followed by pumpkin cake.
During the preparation, Ace — having learned from previous experiences — was at his side every moment, followed every dish to the table, and as we ate, sat down and waited hopefully that a bite or two might be passed his way. Roscoe, too, approached the table from time to time, but didn’t seem obsessive about it, like Ace.
Though about the same age, they are two very different dogs, I’ve noticed in the time we’ve shared over the past months. Roscoe is the more goofy and dog-like of the two, more prone to barking, more likely to slather your face with kisses. Where Ace seems to have a desire to be a human, Roscoe seems perfectly content with his dog-ness. Where Ace seems to think “if I behave well, I will be rewarded,” Roscoe’s attitude is more “to heck with that stuff.”
I’d always considered Ace the smarter of the two. But now I’m not so sure. At dinner, Ace would sit and stare at whoever was chewing. He does that, almost as if watching a tennis match. He will sit and stare as long as a person is chewing, and even after that, probably until whatever is being masticated has cleared the esophagus. Then he’ll stare until every last plate is cleared, and loaded in the dishwasher, and the kitchen light goes off. Hope springs eternal.
Roscoe uses a different strategy.
He’s prone — not just during meals, but anytime — to grabbing household items with his mouth and not letting go. During my last visit, it was my underwear (not while I was wearing them). Sometimes it’s a pillow from the bed, or a pillow from the couch, or a camera bag, or a pair of socks.
He doesn’t destroy the item. Rather he just walks around with it dangling from his mouth, wagging his tail and absolutely refusing to let go until he gets a better offer — i.e. a treat.
At our belated Thanksgiving dinner, Roscoe grabbed a cloth napkin off the table, then paraded around, as if he wanted everybody to see. Not until some turkey was offered did he relinquish it.
This, while maybe not a perfect example of how humans should train their dogs, is a perfect example of how dogs train their humans. I think if we ever caught on, and tallied up how much our dogs manage to manipulate us, we’d be shocked. Fortunately, most of us are too busy to do that, and go on thinking we’re smarter than our dogs.
After dinner, we watched some TV — perhaps the only thing that manipulates us more than our dogs. If you need more proof that our dogs are smarter than us, ask yourself this question. When was the last time your dog tuned in to “Glee?”
After that, I was full, sleepy and gleeful enough to accept an offer to stay the night. Ace slept at my side until James woke up, at which point, I can only assume, he resumed his I-must-follow-this-man-everywhere-he-goes routine.
I was awakened by the sound of fighting dogs, then the sound of screaming humans, after a second or two of which all was quiet. Ace came back and took his place by my couch, and I went back to sleep.
It wasn’t until I really woke up, a couple of hours later, that I noticed Roscoe had a red mark on his head, and the side of his face. Ace, meanwhile, showed no signs of injuries.
Apparently, while James was in the bathroom, both dogs decided to join him there, and in those close quarters decided the room wasn’t big enough for the both of them. Their rare spat, seemingly, wasn’t over turkey, but attention.
Once it was over they were back to their normally peacefully coexisting selves. Roscoe, despite a slightly punctured head, seemed sad to see Ace leave.
Evidence of yet one more thing at which dogs just might be better than us — forgiveness.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 7th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, arizona, begging, behavior, brother, dinner, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, eating, family, fighting, food, forgive, forgiveness, glee, holidays, intelligence, labrador, manipulate, manipulation, meals, personality, pets, roscoe, smarft, table, television, thanksgiving, training, travels with ace, treats, turkey, yellow lab
Jane Lynch — the only thing I like about “Glee” — has made a public service announcement for PETA.
Lynch, who plays the surly Sue Sylvester, encourages pet owners to spay and neuter their animals.
“The good folks at PETA asked me to say a few words about the importance of good posture and personal hygiene — but I don’t want to talk about that,” she says in the ad. “I want to talk about the 4 million dogs and cats who are euthanized every year because there aren’t enough homes for all of them.”
Lynch also sent a letter to Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley urging him to support the passage of a bill — similar to one passed in Houston, Denver, New York and Los Angeles — that would require dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 13th, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: ad, animals, dogs, glee, jane lynch, neuter, news, ohmidog!, overpopulation, people for the ethical treatment of animals, peta, pets, psa, public service announcement, spay