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
In a poor shanty town in Lima, Peru, a deaf and mute boy is helping dogs, and proving actions speak louder than words ever will.
According to this report, posted on Care2 by Rosemary Underhay, who works with Vida Digna, a Peruvian animal welfare association, they first noticed the boy in a line of people waiting to get medical care for their animals.
“In the line there was a small boy, deaf and unable to speak, who used sign language to tell us we needed to see something urgently,” she writes.
“He disappeared for a while and then returned with a small, cold, miserable puppy covered in an angry, itchy mange and with a nasty, festering wound caused by scalding water, probably thrown at him to scare him away from market stands.”
Every week, the neighbor and the deaf boy were back in the line with the dog, named Milo, so his progress could be checked.
Two months later, as the program came to an end, Milo had completely recovered. By then, many were interested in adopting him. He now lives in a happy home, not far from the boy who helped him.
The boy, meanwhile, continued to bring in other strays in need of help, Vida Digna says.
“We always see him on our programs because he brings us strays. He wants us to give him an injection along with the dogs (the anti-mange injection), and the vet pretends to get ready an enormous syringe.”
Underhay said they don’t know if the boy is in school. Half of all school-age children there are not, because their parents cannot afford it.
“… We always try to make it clear to him that he is changing his world, by turning suffering into happiness,” Underhay wrote.
“We feel that the message is very strong, that people who are living permanently with those terrible constraints still want their animals to be well-cared for. People love their animals. The animals of the poor are often ill-cared for simply for lack of information and money. We teach above all, but provide services at prices most can pay for, even if only bit by bit. That is our work.”
Click this link to make a donation to help provide care for the animals in Peru’s shanty towns.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 20th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, boy, burned, burns, care, care2, clinic, deaf, dogs, happiness, helps, lima, medical, milo, mute, peru, pets, poverty, rescue, rosemary underhay, scalded, shanty town, shelter, strays, suffering, veterinary, vida digna
While I feel pretty attuned to my dog – though nowhere near as attuned as he is to me – there have been times, lots of times, during our seven months of traveling that I’ve wondered what he really thinks of it all.
We’ve been on the go since the end of May, not staying anywhere, until our most recent stop, for longer than two or three days. More often, it has been a new Motel 6, or similarly priced lodgings, every night, followed by four, five or six hours of drive time, then landing in a new place, with new smells, which must be sniffed out and, of course, peed on.
By the time we’re done, in another week, we will have traveled over 22,000 miles, he will have peed on 31 states (and Canada) and we will have crossed the country twice in our red Jeep Liberty.
And he will have, hundreds of times, looked up at me with those big brown eyes, which are so highly expressive.
If only I knew what they were expressing.
The back of my Jeep, which once meant he was heading on an outing, has become — other than me, and dinner — one of the few constants in his life of late. It, more than any place, is home, and he still jumps in it excitedly.
During our four weeks of sitting still in Arizona, he still waits to jump in the car. Is it conditioning, or is he truly eager to go; and, if the latter, is it because he has come to love the road, or that he wants to finally get the hell home?
Is he enjoying the adventure, or, irony of ironies, does he find the Liberty confining?
While Ace seems to have adapted wonderfully to the new routine – or lack of one – and shows no visible signs of being unhappy, I still wonder if not being rooted, not having one place to call home, is bothering him.
Does he find being a vagabond liberating, as I – most of the time – do, or is he longing for a place of his own, an end to the travels, a return to the daily routine? Dogs do seem to love their routines.
His tail has remained curled most of the time, and that has always been the most obvious barometer of his mood.
But there are times I look at him, when he’s lying with his head on his paws that I wonder: Is he sad, is he depressed, or is he just lying with his head on his paws?
It’s important for me to know, because this trip, in more ways than one, is about him.
In addition to having nothing better to do, thinking it might be fun to travel across America, documenting our daily exploits and seeking out dog stories — to put together a “Travels With Charley” for modern times, only a more dog-centric version — this journey was also sparked by a feeling I was left with after writing my first book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
After researching the often incredible lengths bereaved pet owners go to when their dogs get sick and die, including that most high tech length of all – cloning – it struck me, in what is likely neither a deep nor original thought, that we humans could, and should, do a better job of savoring our loved ones (of all species) while they’re still around. Maybe then, rather than prolonged and paralyzing grief, we could, knowing we had fully celebrated their lives, better accept their deaths.
I don’t really know if that would lessen the pain of a loved one’s departure. It could, for all I know, only make it worse. But that’s not the point. The point is we humans, as the song goes, “don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” that we take things for granted – not just unpaved paradises, but our parents, our planet, our friends and our dogs.
And while I’m as guilty as anybody on the parents and friends part, I resolved – after writing about how people go so far as to “stuff,” mummify and freeze dry their deceased pets, or pay $100,000 to produce a genetic replica through cloning – that Ace would be appreciated. In life.
That doesn’t mean spoiled and pampered — that’s entirely different. But I made a promise to myself to fully enjoy my dog — to, if it’s not too precious a word, treasure him (not that I didn’t already) — in our relatively brief time together. (Ace, who came into my life when he was 6 months old, is going on 7 years now, and being a big dog, will be lucky to reach the teens.)
I saw the trip, rightly or wrongly, as a way to do that – to take the time we shared beyond the routine of coming home from work, walking to the park, eating dinner and snuggling in front of the TV — though, again, for all I know, perhaps that was the life that Ace really preferred.
If, as I suspect, our dogs reflect our moods, then doing what makes me happiest, I reasoned, would make him happiest – especially given the fact that we’d be doing it together — and probably nothing makes me happier, other than Ace laying his head on my belly, than traveling, writing, seeing new things, and meeting new people.
So, even though finances didn’t really permit it, with an assist from my 401K and unemployment benefits, we set off on this journey, not being sure where it would lead, how long it might last, or what, other than some stories to share, it might result in.
At first, I planned for three months on the road. When that was done, we kept going, heading to the former home of John Steinbeck on Long Island and, on the same day he left 50 years earlier, starting again, roughly following the same route the author took in “Travels With Charley.” That took another three months.
Now, we’re preparing to head back east – we’re still not sure where home is, but Baltimore will do for now. We’ll be sticking to interstate highways to make better time. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this trip, it’s that schedules and itineraries – and particularly interstate highways — make traveling, at once, more stressful and boring. They snuff out any opportunities for spontaneity. You miss out on the character, and characters, America has to offer.
But as we “make good time,” I’ll be a little less stressed about whether Ace is enjoying the ride.
Despite all the time I pondered the questions; despite my long looks into his soulful brown eyes attempting to gauge his emotions; despite some one-sided conversations where I’ve attempted to explain things, with his only response being giving me his paw; despite priding myself on having some dog empathy, I’d been unable to figure out the answer to that question: Is Ace having fun?
So, last week, before I left Cave Creek, I sought a second opinion.
It was Ace’s second visit with an animal communicator – the first having come when I was researching a series I wrote for the Baltimore Sun about trying to uncover the past of my mysterious new dog, adopted from what used to be the city pound.
What was he, and where did he come from? For the answers then I turned to DNA testing (which showed him to be a Rottweiler-Chow-Akita), to legwork (walking the streets of the neighborhood where records showed he’d been picked up as a stray) and, finally, to an animal communicator. Perhaps the answers, I figured, could come straight from the source: Ace.
I’m neither a big believer, or for that matter a big disbeliever, in those that claim animals talk to them, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to listen – to them, or, if possible, to Ace.
Not long after parking myself in Cave Creek, Arizona, I visited For Goodness Sake, a thrift store that donates part of its profits to animal rescue organizations. At a weekend fund-raising event there, I entered a raffle for a session with a local animal communicator, and I won.
Last week, Ace and I sat down with Debbie Johnstone of Listen 2 Animals.
And according to her, Ace had lots to say.
(Tomorrow: Ace talks)
Posted by jwoestendiek December 28th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animal communicators, animals, arizona, behavior, cave creek, communicate, country, debbie johnstone, dog, dogs, dogs on the road, empathy, happiness, john steinbeck, liberating, liberty, listen 2 animals, miles, moods, pets, reading, road trip, routine, steinbeck, travel, traveling, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, trip, vagabond
The trailer in Arizona where Ace and I are spending December is just a mile from Carefree Highway. Maybe two miles. Possibly three. It doesn’t matter.
“Carefree Highway” is also a Gordon Lightfoot song — one, it seems to me, that’s more about the dangers of being carefree than the joy of being carefree, about how, if we’re too carefree, some important things might slip away. It happens to be one of my four, maybe five, possibly ten or 15 — let’s not sweat the details too much — favorite songs.
I’m a fan of the song, the highway, and Carefree itself, though the town — as with being truly carefree — is a place you can dwell only if you have a lot of money.
Being truly carefree, I realize — though the word is commonly used to market retirement communities, vacation packages and cemetery plots — requires great gobs of money and tuning out all that’s going on in the world, as in “I spend winters in Carefree and the rest of the year in the state of Blissful Ignorance.”
I’m not sure carefree — the state of mind — is a destination I want to reach, but it’s something to strive for.
I’d imagine being truly carefree is pretty close to boring. Yet, in seeking carefree, by losing some of the unnecessary baggage that’s making us go bald and get ulcers, we can perhaps find ourselves in a place where we’re not so burdened as to be unable to enjoy all the wonder and beauty life has to offer.
Did that last paragraph sound like a self-help book, or what?
Anyway, Carefree Highway is where I go for groceries (Shopping list? Who needs a list?), and where I got my hair trimmed (“However you want to cut it is just fine”), and where, when I walked into the Home Depot and was asked by an official greeter if I needed help finding anything, I went blank. (“To tell you the truth, I don’t remember what I came in for. I’ll just walk around until it comes back to me.”)
Perhaps it’s the power of suggestion, or the fact that the desert soothes me, but when, or after, driving down Carefree Highway, I tend to feel that way — at peace, worry-free and prone to not letting anything bother me.
Even with all my inner peace (and no, I’m not on the Prozac Expressway), one thing did get to nagging me: Was the Gordon Lightfoot song written about the actual 30-mile-long road that stretches east from U.S. Route 60, south of Wickenburg, to the town of Carefree? Or was it just a name the Canadian artist dreamed up?
I decided we all needed to know the answer to this question: Which came first the road or the song, and was there any connection between the two? Not knowing the answer was prohibiting me from being carefree. So I turned to where we all turn nowadays for answers: No, not God. The Internet.
Lightfoot’s song was released in 1974 — 10 years before the town of Carefree officially incorporated — but the area was already being called Carefree, and had been since not long after local entrepreneurs K.T. Palmer and Tom Darlington formed a partnership and acquired the land for the town they foresaw in the 1950s.
Carefree Highway, also known as State Route 74, was already being called that, as well — pre-Lightfoot.
According to Wikipedia, the song “Carefree Highway” is about the highway in Arizona, and Lightfoot wrote it after passing the exit sign for it on Interstate 17. Some other accounts say he wrote the song in a rental car, while others suggest he just wrote down the name of the road, thinking it would make a good song title. Some say he put his note in a glove compartment and almost forgot about it, but Lightfoot told Crawdaddy magazine that he put it in his suitcase and found it eight months later.
The Internet can be pretty carefree when it comes to facts.
The closest thing we could find to first-hand information was a Carefree Times blog item written by Nancy Westmoreland, who says she asked Lightfoot the question after a performance.
“The story goes that he was on the band’s bus, traveling for an engagement at the Gammage Auditorium, when he saw the large marquee freeway sign along Interstate 17. He actually had the bus driver pull over so he could get out and snap a close-up photo of the huge off-ramp sign. When he arrived home, he had the picture blown up and placed on his living room wall. He wrote the song while on the bus, and it became one of his biggest hits, exposing millions around the world to the Carefree Highway.”
That’s a lot of exposure for a town, according to the town’s website, of about 4,000 people.
Carefree, which adjoins Cave Creek, the town I’m staying in, is a highly upscale community. As if to live up to its name, it does not assess a property tax. It seems to not get too uppity, either, when it comes to people slapping mansions onto the side of mountains. Its street names bespeak mellow as well. There’s Easy Street, Tranquil Trail, Nonchalant Avenue and Nevermind Trail. One can even find the intersection of Ho and Hum, which then branches into Ho-Hum Road.
There is no Don’t Get Your Knickers in a Knot Boulevard, no Don’t Worry Be Happy Drive, but give Carefree time. It has lots of growth ahead, and — once our worries about the economy are over – there’ll likely be lots of new streets to name. I’d suggest Lightfoot, for then — in addition to the name having a nice, tread softly, tree-hugging feel to it – things would have come in a full and harmonious circle.
For, as it turns out, Carefree Highway, the road, was the inspiration for “Carefree Highway,” the song.
I know this not because I could read his mind, but because, after navigating the misinformation superhighway, I finally stumbled upon this — a video of Lightfoot performing two years ago in Hanford, California. “Here’s one that got written while I was driving from Flagstaff to Phoenix and I saw a sign that said Carefree,” he says in introducing the song.
At 71, Lightfoot’s voice is not quite as rich and mellifluous as it once was, but — given both he and the song are classics — that doesn’t matter. In other words:
I don’t care.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 15th, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: arizona, baggage, burdens, carefree, carefree highway, cave creek, connection, dog's country, dogscountry, facts, gordon lightfoot, happiness, highway, inspiration, internet, lightfoot, music, name, road, road songs, sign, song, tourism, town, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, worries