The Truth About Humping

Michael Baugh CPDT-KA CDBC

Lots of dogs hump.  For people who live with those dogs, it can be embarrassing and upsetting.  We humans aren’t comfortable talking about things related to sex, especially when our beloved dogs are being indiscreet in front of guests.  For many of us, dogs are cute innocent “babies.”  I guess now is a good time to remember they’re also animals, and animals routinely practice behavior related to their own survival.  That includes sexual behavior: humping.

What baffles a lot of people is that dogs hump in situations that have nothing to do with reproduction.  I have a client whose 4 month old female puppy humped a stuffed animal.  We caught our dog Stewie humping his bed.  Dogs hump human legs.  Doggie daycare professionals deal with humping dogs all day, males and females, neutered and spayed.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.  What’s going on here?

I asked trainer educator and author Jean Donaldson (The Culture Clash, Train Your Dog like a Pro).  She zeroed in on Modal Action Patterns.  Those are the behaviors all dogs share related to fighting, fleeing, feeding and reproducing.  She said, “All of the Modal Action Pattern categories are present in play.  That’s what play is.”  Social animals, including dogs, routinely play fight and play chase. They even pretend to stalk and hunt, so we shouldn’t ignore the idea that humping might be play sex.  However, that may not be the whole story of humping.

While humping is common in play groups and day care settings, it also occurs in other contexts.  Some dogs hump people and inanimate objects.  Sugarland Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Lore Haug says most of the time humping is “merely a nonspecific sign of arousal.”  Trainers and day care counselors agree.  Dogs get wound up or nervous and they hump.  Pamela Johnson is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer in San Diego.  Her dog used to hump her leg during training sessions.  She videotaped the behavior and noted that the humping was caused by excitement over training and frustration when the lesson got difficult.  Still, identifying what sets off the behavior doesn’t fully answer the question: Why humping and why not some other behavior?

We should keep in mind that anything our dog does regularly is reinforced behavior.  The dog is getting something out of it.  For example, dogs who wrestle or chase during play are reinforced by other dogs who enjoy wrestling and chasing.  Similarly, dogs might enjoy the attention they get for humping.  Humping may also relieve a dog’s anxiety in an uncertain social situation.  It may just be pleasurable.  That pleasure, says Dr. Haug, “obviously would come under the sexual category.”  So, we’re back to that uncomfortable subject.  Regardless, all of this information leads us to some good ideas about stopping humping.

Make humping no fun and not a big deal.   This really means we need to control our own behavior and not react when we see our dog humping.  Don’t accidentally reinforce the behavior by freaking out.

Control the Dog’s environment.  In the case of the client’s dog who was humping the stuffed toy and in the case of our own dog humping his bed, we simply removed the objects of their affection.  People who work at doggie day care facilities calmly and gently remove a humping dog from its playmate.  In all cases, the dog can’t practice the unwanted behavior anymore.

Teach the dog a better behavior.  For the client’s dog and Stewie we replaced humping objects with more appropriate enrichment toys (Kong Toys and other treat puzzles).  In daycare, counselors might direct a humping dog to a less disturbing play behavior.  Trainer Pamela Johnson greatly decreased her dog’s humping by interrupting it and taking a short break from training.  She held and petted her dog until he calmed down, then she returned to training less-frustrating tasks.  In all cases, the handler is teaching the dog to do something other than hump.

That’s the bottom line really.  Stay calm.  Interrupt the humping.  Encourage the dog to do something else, anything else.  I might choose some of those other Modal Action Pattern behaviors, like a game of tug, or fetch, or even some nice quiet time with a chew toy.  The humping one – not many of us really want to see our innocent little dogs doing that.  Sure, it’s normal animal behavior.  But don’t forget, we’re only human.

Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh specializes in fearful and aggressive dog training.


Sit Happens – No Problem

Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC

Good dog trainers know we don’t teach dogs to do anything they don’t already know how to do.  That may sound like nonsense, but it’s true.  Your dog already knows how to walk beside you, and come to you.  He also knows how to stay put and lay down.  He knows how to sit too.  The trick of training your dog is to teach him to do those things a lot, in all kinds of situations, when you ask for the behavior.

StewieSo yes, it’s true, sit happens.  It happens all the time.  In fact, most of my students have already taught their dog to sit on a verbal cue by the time they meet me.  But here’s the rub.  The dog will sit when asked so long as we’re inside, and the person is facing the dog, and (by the way) nothing much else is going on at the time.  The question we really want to ask isn’t does your dog know sit? It’s how strong is your dog’s sit, and in what context? There’s the rub indeed.

Sit can be used to remedy dozens of problems, including jumping on people (he sits instead), bolting outdoors (the dog is sitting not running), stealing things off counters (can’t do it if he’s sitting), and chasing your kids (impossible if you’ve asked him to sit instead).  Achieving these goals is very doable, but we need to start with the basics.  Never give your dog the final exam before you’ve taught him the material.  That’s just not fair.

It’s not about the word.  Start teaching sit by temporarily taking the word out of your vocabulary.  Instead, every time you see your dog sit say “yes” and give him a delicious bit of healthy food.  Once he sits, take a few steps backwards and see if he follows you and sits again.  Say “yes” and treat him again.  This is called capturing, like catching a bit of action on film (behaviors are actions).  Do this over and over, so that your dog gets hooked on sitting.  Every time he sits, after all, something great happens.

Name it. When your dog is thoroughly addicted to sitting for you, name the action.  That’s right, when you are 95% sure he’s going to do it anyway you are going to cue your dog to “sit.”  This seems backwards but it’s not.  Verbal cues (they used to call them commands) are not directions to do something; they are permission to do something.  Your dog is already begging to sit for you.  Now the word is going to give him the green light.  Say it once.  Your dog can hear you, so repeating the word sit is not useful.

Take the show on the road. Now you can start using sit as an antidote to more troubling behavior, but take it slow.  Ask for sits in gradually more difficult situations, but not so difficult that your dog fails.  Remember the rule about not giving the final exam too early.  The best way to teach your dog is to set him up to succeed, raising the bar of difficulty a little at a time.  Since your dog is working at a game he can win, he will be excited and energetic about sitting.  “Yes” and treat enthusiastically.  This is going to give you the opportunity to teach quick sits in more distracting settings.  Forcing sits by yanking a chain or pushing on hips is less exciting and slows the process (it can also hurt your dog).

Let your imagination guide you to further challenges.  What else can you teach your dog to do that is the opposite of bad behavior?  Look back and notice the things your dog is already doing well.  Capture that behavior and use it to crowd out the stuff you want him to stop doing.  Dogs who walk calmly on leash (good behavior) don’t lunge and pull (bad behavior).  Dogs who eliminate outside (good) don’t do it inside (bad).  Dogs who lay quietly on their beds with their Kong Toy (good) don’t beg at the table (bad).  You get the picture.  It’s all a matter of replacing the bad with the good.  Add to that, it’s a great way to build a relationship with your dog.  And isn’t that why you got a dog in the first place?


Children and Dogs

Guest Blogger, Curtiss Lanham CPDT-KA

Children and dogs: what a beautiful image that our minds immediately race to. The ‘Timmy and Lassie’ portrait is quickly conjured up…and they lived happily ever after. Not so fast…

The interesting thing is that kids don’t come pre-progrmmed to know how to interact properly with dogs, any more than dogs come pre-programmed to interact properly with kids. Read: adults now have to step-in and do something positive to ensure they do live happily ever after. So what can we adults do to ensure that our kids and our dogs will get along safely and happily? Here are three areas that we can concentrate on in this effort: Training-Socialization-Supervision

Training our Children

  • To respect the dog’s space, food and toys
  • To not treat the dog as a toy: don’t pull ears/tail/paws/nose, don’t ride the dog, don’t pull the dog around by it’s collar
  • To refrain from hugging dogs around the neck or put their face into the dog’s face
  • To refrain from screeching, screaming and squealing at the dog
  • To play ball, fetch, etc., but ONLY under adult supervision.

Training our Dogs

  • To know that children bring happy, fun things and are pleasant to engage with.
  • To trust that only good things happen with children
  • To respond to requests (sit, down, come, etc.) when asked by children so that they can communicate effectively together and strengthen their relationships
  • To understand the expectations of the household they live in

Socialize our Children

  • To dogs at an early age and expose them to a variety of breeds often and safely, but ONLY under adult supervision.

Socialize our dogs

  • To children at an early age (3 weeks to 3 months of age, if possible). Expose them to a variety of children often and safely, but ONLY under adult supervision. These meetings must always have a ‘happy ending’ for the puppy and the child.


  • All interactions between children and dogs
  • Be watchful to ensure the children do not mishandle/mistreat the dog
  • Be watchful to ensure the dog is not stressed during the encounter: Stress signals may include some/ all of the following: yawning, lip licking, turning head/eyes away, lowering head/ears/tail, slinking away, crouching/hiding. Distance increasing signals by the dog may include some/all of the following: lip lifting, low growl, snarling, showing teeth, air snapping, etc. If any of these are observed, end the session immediately, quietly and calmly exit the child from the dog. Refrain from punishing the dog.
  • Ensure proper meet/greet by child
  • If you cannot supervise then exit the child from the dog so there is no possibility of improper encounter by either the dog or child

By putting this plan into action with your children and dogs your family will be on the road to loving, safe relationships. Relationships that transcend even the ‘Lassie and Timmy’ connection!

Houston/Katy Dog Trainer Curtiss Lanham, CPDT-KA is the co-owner of dogsmart, a Fulshear based canine behavior counseling and training group.