Mounting Evidence: Dog Humping Isn't Just About Dominance

Dogs hump each other, people, and things for a variety of reasons, and most aren't related to dominance. So what's actually leading to these canine jollies?

Updated December 15, 2023
Female dog humps male dog at the dog park

There are few canine behaviors that elicit a stronger reaction from owners than when a dog begins humping other dogs and people. It's embarrassing, especially when you're around people you really don't know well. On top of that, we begin to wonder if there's something wrong with our dog. 

What Causes Dogs to Hump?

Despite popular ideas on dog behavior, Gail Fisher, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant and author of The Thinking Dog, says mounting "is rarely related to dominance." But what are the more common reasons we might overlook?

1. Humping From Excitement

Fisher states, "One of the main reasons dogs mount each other is excitement, but it's a specific kind of excitement. It's anticipatory and related to active play, but not sexual." This can happen when they're playing with other dogs, get a new toy, or have visitors come over. It's their way of showing they're happy or excited, not just about other dogs but about any fun or exciting situation. Understanding that this is just how some dogs react to exciting things can help you see it as a normal part of their behavior.

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Excitement is also often a reason a dog may mount a person's leg or an inanimate object like a pillow or toy.

2. Humping As a Greeting

Small dog humping larger dog

"When you see mounting among puppies, it may be bonding behavior," says Fisher. "It's often the same for adults. In the dog daycare I run, a dog that is new to daycare may be mounted by the other dogs. I think it's kind of a 'getting to know you' behavior." In other words, you might think of it as a dog's version of a human handshake and a greeting hug (I know, it's kind of odd, but that's how they do it sometimes). 

3. Humping While at Play

Dogs that mount each other during greetings and then continue to do so throughout their play session are generally mounting because they've learned that neither dog dislikes it, and it becomes a fun part of their routine. It just becomes another physical movement they do in a collection of play behaviors that can include chasing each other, spinning, bowing, and what appears to be "play fighting." If you're not sure, keep an eye on the body language of all the dogs involved.

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If they seem relaxed and happy and continue to seek each other out for more play, then mounting here is related to fun.

4. Humping to Relieve Stress and Anxiety

Much like dogs that are excited and mount, some dogs will engage in this behavior when they feel stressed and anxious. It's a form of "displacement behavior" where the act of mounting helps to alleviate the pressure they're feeling. Think of a human chewing their fingernails or tapping their fingers relentlessly when nervous. In both species, the anxiety is being replaced by an unrelated physical behavior. Just like with mounting due to excitement, dogs like this may also mount inanimate objects, like their toys or pillows or a person's leg.

5. Humping Due to Medical Issues

In some dogs, mounting behavior can be related to medical problems such as:

  • Urinary problems, including infections of the urinary tract and urinary incontinence, could cause mounting behavior. Fisher says that she has noticed in her doggie daycare that "when a dog is being mounted by several dogs that show an inordinate amount of attention to her, a veterinary examination often finds that the dog has a UTI."
  • Priapism, or a prolonged erection
  • Skin allergies or irritations due to fungal or bacterial infections

It can also be related to a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder if the dog was originally mounting for other reasons and the behavior was inadvertently reinforced or because it was due to stress and anxiety that became worse over time.

6. Humping as Sexual Behavior

Mounting will happen during the act of mating, but otherwise, if you see dogs mounting, Fisher says, "it's rarely sexual. Sexual mounting is clear because it's for the purpose of procreation, and you can really tell the difference." Female dogs will sometimes mount when they are in heat, but only when they are in heat, and this can be due to sexual arousal.

Mounting may also be considered a form of masturbation and dogs will do it because it's pleasurable for them. It has also been observed among puppies, which could be related to practicing sexual behaviors they will engage in as adults as well as bonding behaviors.

7. Isn't Dog Mounting a Sign of Dominance?

In cases where mounting is related to dominance, which is far more rare than commonly thought, Fisher says it's very clear when it's happening and when it isn't, as the mounting dog will display bullying behavior, and the mounted dog will look pretty uncomfortable and possibly even fearful. 

If this is the case, this behavior should not be allowed to continue for the sake of the dog that is being mounted. If the behavior continues, it's likely that the dominant dog is "inappropriate in his interactions with other dogs." She notes that mounting is rarely used by dogs to express a dominant status. Instead, you will more often see other behaviors used to show status, like an intense, hard stare and stiff body language.

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Fisher says, "If the mountee is intimidated by it, rather than annoyed or ok, and it's clear that they are very uncomfortable and afraid, this is likely mounting related to a dog expressing his status."

Do Female Dogs Mount Other Dogs?

While the physical act of mounting looks like the posture a male will take during mating, it's quite normal for female dogs to mount other dogs for all the stated reasons. Some female dogs may only do it related to their heat cycle, although in others there may be no correlation, and spayed females will do it just as well as other dogs.

What to Do About Your Humping Dog

For the most part, mounting isn't really a problematic behavior for dogs, but there are some ways you can help reduce it.


Watch how your dog interacts with other dogs and the body language of all involved. If everyone seems to be having fun, you can just allow the dogs to continue engaging in natural behaviors.

Step In, If Necessary

If you can see that a dog being mounted is annoyed, stressed, or even fearful, then you absolutely should step in and stop the behavior.

Consult the Veterinarian

Likewise, a dog that seems to mount obsessively, even to objects, may either be feeling very anxious, overstimulated, or have a medical condition. In this case, consult with your veterinarian to determine the cause.


Spaying and neutering might help with the behavior, although they're also just as likely to have no effect at all, depending on the individual dog.

Obedience Training

If the mounting is not related to a medical issue and you simply want to stop your dog from mounting, work on training in an alternate, incompatible behavior, such as a sit or down.

Understanding Why Dogs Mount

Despite the fact that many people have a negative reaction to mounting among dogs, this may have more to do with our own human ideas of acceptable behavior. Among dogs, mounting is a perfectly normal behavior that can be based on positive feelings such as play, bonding, and getting to know new dogs. While it's often considered a sign of "dominance," it rarely is related to status between dogs, and if mounting has a negative basis, the more likely reasons are medical issues, anxiety, stress, or excitement that the dog has trouble regulating.

Mounting Evidence: Dog Humping Isn't Just About Dominance