Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A dog's mounting behavior when directed toward humans can be a complex issue

It used to happen without fail: whenever I arrived to see one rather large Labrador retriever at his home for a pet sitting visit, within the first few minutes he'd run, leap up, grab ahold of me and well, for lack of a better word, hump me.

Typically this sort of thing doesn't faze me too much, as I encounter all sorts of things on a given day. In this case, it's been a problem because it happens with regularity but more importantly he's a big dog -- weighing in at around 90 pounds -- and it's not fun to be pummeled by that much force. In fact, the first time that it happened, I wasn't expecting it and I face-planted into the snow. That's not something that anyone wants or needs to happen!

For this particular dog, (I'll call him Sam) it's not only the notion of my being injured upon the initial contact that's a possibility, but once when he's engaged in this behavior, it can be a challenge to get him to stop (especially if I'm not expecting it).

That said, although Sam's a sweet boy otherwise, that behavior is something that I need to be vigilant of at all times.

I have yet to meet another canine that engages in mounting a human with that level of enthusiasm, so this is a unique situation to say the least. Typically, mounting is simply a bit of an embarrassment say, if you have guests (or if you are the guest!)

Interestingly enough, this behavior might appear in different contexts and for various reasons, so understanding that is helpful.

It seems important to note that mounting has nothing to do with "dominance" toward a human. Mounting a human is a dog's displaced way of communicating how they are feeling, nothing more.

There are a handful of things that a canine may be feeling when this behavior emerges, and in paying attention, you'll notice that an environmental or social stimulus is behind it.

Anxiety or stress about the presence of another person or a situation that has presented itself can be a stimulus, as can too much excitement (the latter seems to be Sam's trigger). Some dogs just want to play or are indicating the need for attention when they mount a person.

Of course, if there is a female in heat, that can be a trigger, as well.

In any case, some dogs in an attempt to convey how they are feeling, may "shift" -- or displace -- what is really going on (anxiety, excitement, stress, an unsure feeling) and start humping.

Hindering the behavior largely depends on the context and who the recipient is.

Calmly walking away is a simple tactic to address it, as is having them sit. It's impossible for them so continue if their rump is on the floor!

In Sam's case, his excitement level goes to a fever pitch, so by my calmly entering the house -- a gentle scratch on the head, no words, no excitable behavior on my part, and immediately leading him outside to do his business and then starting a game of fetch with a prized toy in the backyard does the trick.

Redirecting any excess excitement into the game and letting him expend some energy certainly seems to help, though I still need to keep an eye on him.

That same strategy -- redirecting the dog's attention in some way -- can be used to avoid the behavior cropping up, especially if your pet is getting a little too friendly with guests.

A quick walk or a playing a game that they enjoy can certainly redirect them, as can a stuffed Kong or a puzzle toy.

As with any behavioral issue, in identifying the stimulus, you can help mitigate the behavior. By managing any anxiety or excitement that is at the root, you can set your dog up for success in having self-control in whatever environment or social situation they are in, and with more ease.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer, a regular contributor for The Ann Arbor News and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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