All Grown Up, From The Blog, Puppy Power

Humping in female dogs


So who knew female dogs enjoyed humping in the same way as male dogs? I first discovered this with Freya when she was a puppy when she occasionally became a little over attracted to my arms and legs. I took advice and was told it was perfectly normal and just to distract her with play so not to encourage the behaviour to continue. This worked!

Frankie attempting to hump Freya, with Freya not discouraging her!

When Frankie began humping arms as well as her big sister – albeit badly – I dismissed it again as juvenile behaviour. Then Freya began to hump Frankie in a similar manner to a male dog. As this had rapidly become part of the garden play each time they went out together, it led me to research what this behaviour was really all about. Turns out there’s no single reason; in fact it’s highly complex!

Humping in a sexual context

Well the fact of the matter is, humping, rubbing or licking themselves – in both male and female dogs – is a form of masturbation and as such, totally normal behaviour. Whether people, other dogs, their toys or blankets, it’s something that gives them pleasurable feelings and so they continue. 

Frankie arm humping
Frankie sharing the love through arm humping

Does neutering stop sexual humping?

Humping is more prevalent in males and they will often masturbate if prevented from attempting to approach a female in heat. Contrary to what many dog owners believe, castrated males can still have erections and ejaculate in the same way as intact males. In fact it’s no different to a male human having the ‘snip’ (maybe too much information). However, neutering can reduce sexual motivation along with their chances of testicular cancer (and mammary cancer in females). It can also help roaming in search of a mate.

That being said, females in heat (or even neutered females like Freya) will often flirt with either sex, teasing, pawing and play biting ears. And yes, as I discovered with Freya, you can add mounting to the mix!

However, mounting and masturbation can become a habit and it’s not always as a result of sexual feelings.

Play humping and excitement 

Freya chewing Amber's ear in play
Freya play biting Amber’s ears

For Freya her humping, ear biting, pawing and mouthing behaviour was purely about attention seeking play. The chasing and pulling ears had begun with Freya’s half sister Amber. Four months older than Freya, Amber had chased her as a puppy, biting and chewing her ears in play. Freya loved it, and returned the ‘compliment’. However, sadly I didn’t pick up on this – why would you? – and so this behaviour continued each time she met up with Amber for walks. Sadly, Amber no longer felt the need to play tug ears; two years later she saw Freya as a real nuisance. But it had become a habit and it was so difficult to break.

Freya inviting Frankie to play

This learnt behaviour continued with Frankie who constantly had to battle Freya away. Frankie’s side ‘hop, skip avoid’ is amazing!  Freya will also wander over to Frankie and start pawing her, wagging her tail, mouthing and making noises to attract her attention in an effort to force her to play. Frankie usually just ignores this, although she sometimes joins in. The mounting didn’t begin until Frankie was 13 months old, and I assumed this was dominance.

Dominance humping

Many dog owners believe that if humping is not about sex, it must be about asserting a dog’s status through dominance. Apparently, this is very rarely the case; it’s more likely to be for other reasons.

“In my own studies of the development of social behaviour in young dogs, coyotes, and wolves, mounting, clasping, and humping were not directly related to dominance. Mounting is a common dominance gesture with dogs, although it doesn’t mean the dog that is doing the humping is dominant. In fact, dogs that are unsure of their place in the pack are more likely to hump to see how many dogs will accept the behaviour. In adult and older dogs, especially in multi-dog households, or in the wild, humping may serve social purposes or reinforce hierarchies.” 

Dr Marc Bekoff, Psychology Today

Stress or boredom humping

When Freya is bored – she will sulk, squeeze herself into a corner, or hide in another room until you seek her out. This can be after a long walk and nothing to do with lack of exercise or stimulation through play. Some dogs will rub themselves on toys or cushions when they’re left alone for long periods of time, or when visitors come to the house to relieve stress or boredom. Luckily this is not something we’ve had to deal with. Both Freya and Frankie do have a tendency to go cockapoo crazy whenever someone visits; they’re just so overjoyed to see them! And Freya doodle dashes to relieve excitement or frustration, something I’m also glad about.

Attention seeking humping

Giving a puppy attention by laughing or shouting at them to stop when they begin humping can reinforce this behaviour. Also, if a puppy was poorly socialised for whatever reason, they may become aroused and mount other dogs in response to play. However, some dogs mount each other during play for a short period of time. As long as they remain on good terms, this can just be part of a healthy relationship.

Medical reasons for humping

Constant abdominal rubbing or licking can be the result of a urinary tract infection or skin allergies. It’s important to get any obsessive type behaviour checked out by a vet in case it’s a medical condition. Male dogs (and cats) can suffer from priapism through continued masturbation giving them a persistent erection; this needs urgent help.

Tips from a Novice

Discourage behaviour: We nipped humping in the bud and distracted Freya as soon as we spotted the onset of any other annoying behaviour so that it didn’t become a habit. Initially it didn’t seem to bother Frankie, but we were concerned Freya might try this on another dog with dire consequences.

Humping only ever happened during play in the garden

Minimise opportunity: We felt it was important not to get annoyed or show amusement (although it was funny at first). Discouraging both dogs from this behaviour meant that we began to let them out in the garden separately. We understood it was part of their play, but as negative play continued, Frankie began to fight Freya off; she preferred to happily trot along and sniff on walks.

The act of boxing together seemed to charge Freya so we dissuaded her from all unwanted acts: chasing Frankie, bowing to challenge, tugging her ears and growling. Freya also chases her ‘friends’ so we deter her from doing this as well.

Freya challenging Frankie to play with her
Freya challenging Frankie to play with her

Distracting Techniques: Freya loves a ball or a stick to run after, so throwing these on a walk can take her mind off ‘side-ramming’ Frankie and chewing her ears in the hope she would chase her for a doodle dash.

Treats worked too. Both dogs are treated as a break up distraction and asked to do something to earn the treat – sit, high five, sit to one side of a path and wait. This also serves as perfect training for when bikes, horses and nervous dogs pass by. I use the command ‘Stop’, as this halts them in their tracks while they wait to see why. Both Freya and Frankie have learnt to love obedience and trick training – especially with food rewards – it’s all part of fun play, so this works perfectly for them both.

Mounting is normal: After having read up on the subject, if it happens occasionally and briefly while they’re playing in the garden and neither of them are upset by it, I leave them to it. However, I keep an eye on them to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand. I also never let either of them do this with other dogs just in case they object and retaliate!

That said, if masturbation had become a compulsive habit, all the research states that this is something only a professional dog behaviourist/trainer can help with, and the sooner the better.

Sources

Clinicians Brief – Canine Mounting Overview January 2012

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Dog Behaviour Issues, Mounting and Masturbation

Psychology Today: Animal Emotions, Why dogs hump Marc Bekoff PhD

MSD Vet Manual: Reproductive Diseases of the Male Small Animal, Priapism

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