Canine Mounting Behavior
Movies and TV shows often use the image of a dog mounting any number of different objects (from other dogs to beach balls or even a person) as a comedic element. However, dog owners know this behavior can be frustrating and incredibly embarrassing. The fact that it's a natural behavior often leads to some of the frustration.
Why Do Dogs Mount?
A male dog mounting a female dog is a normal reproductive behavior. This position is necessary for breeding purposes; if both the male and female are intact and the female dog is biologically ready for successful breeding to take place this behavior can lead to puppies in just a few months.
However, confusion is understandable if the behavior doesn't occur for a reproductive purpose. For example, if it's the female dog mounting males or other females, a male mounting another dog's head, or a dog of either sex mounting non-dog species or inanimate objects such as the family cat, stuffed toys, or a person.
In pre-pubescent puppies, mounting behavior is considered part of play. Puppies of either sex may jump on another puppy at which point instinct takes over as the front legs grasp and the hips begin moving. These puppies are easily distracted, however, and play continues. In puppies of this age, reproduction is not an issue nor is dominance; the behavior is simply play.
While many dog owners associate mounting behavior with dominance and assume the dominant dog mounts a submissive (or less dominant) dog, this hasn't been shown as true in most situations and with most dogs. In fact, the opposite is more often the case. An anxious or socially inept dog is more apt to try to mount another dog; as those emotions kick in and the dog has to do something to express them, he (or she) often mounts the closest (or favorite) dog.
Dogs who get over-stimulated or too excited during play will often also mount other dogs. If another dog isn't around or if that dog won't cooperate, the overly excited dog may mount anything else available. Many times during play sessions with several dogs, a dog who feels left out will mount another dog in an attempt to be a part of the play or to get attention.
Both intact and sterilized dogs of both sexes will participate in this behavior if it serves as an attention-getting device. For example, if the dog begins to mount the family cat (or a person or a toy) and everyone laughs, the dog will try it again later to see if the same reaction occurs.
Mounting is not inherently a ‘bad' behavior. As a general rule, no harm is done when a dog mounts another dog. Many times the mounting dog is simply ignored. However, if the mounting dog gets too enthusiastic, the dog being mounted may communicate via barking, growls, raised hackles, and other body language to let the mounting dog know that this behavior is not wanted.
Natural or not, mounting can certainly be an embarrassing behavior for dog owners, especially when it occurs in public! As dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them, mounting behavior can become a bad habit. It can actually become addicting to some dogs. As a result, it's usually a good idea to curb this behavior as much as possible and give the dog something else to do instead.
Dealing with Mounting Behavior in Dogs
Interrupt and Redirect Dog's Behavior - Unwanted mounting behavior should be interrupted and the dog redirected to another activity. For example, if your dog is mounting a sofa cushion, interrupt him with an unexpected sound (clap, drop a book to the floor, whistle, or cough). When he stops the action, redirect him by walking away so he follows you, tossing a ball, or encouraging him to play with a toy.
Punishing the dog by yelling, shaking him, or using other rough punishments doesn't work. In fact, if your dog is mounting out of anxiety the punishments will only increase his anxiety. Instead, interrupt the behavior and then get him interested in something else.
Exercise can also help as exercise tires the body, relieves stress, and helps eliminate boredom. Brain games are great for relieving boredom, too, and are good for you and your dog to do together. Finally, a training tune-up can get you and your dog working and communicating better keeping your dog's brain busy at the same time. Exercise, brain games, or training won't stop mounting behaviors by themselves, but when used with interruptions and redirections they can significantly reduce the behaviors.