Published on July 20, 2011 by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C. in Canine Corner Mounting behavior (colloquially referred to as "humping"), where a dog clasps the hips of another dog and stands on two legs while thrusting his hips, is part of sexual behavior in dogs, however, in most common interactions among canines it has nothing to do with sex, but a lot to do with social dominance.
You can see that mounting behavior can be relatively independent of sexual intentions by watching the behavior of very young puppies. Well before they have reached puberty (which comes at about 6 to 8 months of age) they are already showing this kind of activity. Mounting in puppies appears shortly after they begin walking and appears when they start playing with each other. It is a socially significant behavior, not a sexual one. For young puppies, mounting is one of the earliest opportunities for learning about their physical abilities and their social potential. It basically represents an expression of dominance. The stronger, more authoritative puppy will mount its more submissive brothers and sisters simply to display leadership and dominance. These behaviors will then carry on into adulthood, with the significance being power and control, not sex.
Because mounting behavior is used as a signal for dominance and can be unrelated to reproduction, its social significance applies to both males and females. As a display which serves to challenge or to assert social dominance by one dog over another, this behavior can occur between individuals of the same or the opposite sex. A male mounting another male is thus not displaying homosexual tendencies, but is simply saying "I'm boss around here." Females may use mounting as a statement of social position as well. Females can be dominant over other females and even over male dogs, and can display this by assuming a mounting position. This is not an issue of sexual confusion since the dynamic structure of dog society is not a question of gender alone. Status in the canine world depends more upon size and physical ability, combined with certain characteristics associated with temperament, motivation and drive. In the social structure of dogs there are three different hierarchies. There is the overall rank in the pack, which starts with the leader at the top and moves down to the ultimate underdog. There is a lead or alpha male and an alpha female, and one of these will be overall pack leader. There is also a ranking among the rest of the males, and another among females. Mounting behavior may occur to assert any one of these rank orders, which means you may see males on males, females on females, males on females or visa versa. None of these behaviors represent any form of sexual advance or invitation. Instead they should be viewed as a very clear signal of serious social ambitions by the mounting dog. The dominant or "top dog" is literally the dog that is on top.
Because mounting behavior is most commonly an attempt to claim a higher social status in relationship to another animal, it should not be surprising to find that the belief that you can stop your dog from mounting by neutering him is just a myth. Neutering will eliminate certain sex related hormones in the dog, such as testosterone, and the reduction in these male hormones will tone down the dog's aggressive tendencies and also reduce some of the dog's other dominance behaviors. In this way it may reduce the appearance of mounting behaviors. However, neutering will not change the dog's basic character and personality which means that in a dominant, leadership oriented dog, mounting behavior may still occur. What the removal of the sex hormones will do is to reduce the intensity with which the dog will pursue his social ambitions. However, the older a dog is when neutered, the less his dominance traits will be curtailed since exposure to testosterone has already shaped the development of his brain.
With Though mounting behavior is not something that many people find acceptable in their dog, in comparison to dogs actually fighting, with a full display of gnashing teeth and slashing attacks, it is really quite controlled and harmless.
There are many cases where dogs attempt to mount humans. Given that mounting behavior is most typically a statement of dominance, it should now be clear that a dog which has grabbed your knee and is merrily thrusting away, is not saying "I love you," nor is it simply trying to be "amorous." When dogs mount human beings it is virtually always an attempt to express their feelings that they are dominant. In effect, they want to be leader of the pack. This kind of "talk" from a dog is not permissible. It should be stopped to maintain the pack hierarchy which should always put humans above canines in dominance.
Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark, The Modern Dog, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History, How Dogs Think, How To Speak Dog, Why We Love the Dogs We Do, What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs, Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies, Sleep Thieves, The Left-hander Syndrome
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