It’s a beautiful evening at your house. You’re having a lovely barbecue in the cool spring air, your dog is happily visiting with your guests, but there is one guest in particular who has become the recipient of your adolescent pup’s love — as is evidenced by the fact that he keeps wrapping his front paws around her leg and mounting it.
You pull him off of her and apologize repeatedly. Does he just like her? Is he trying to dominate her? Is he trying to show that he owns her? None of the above. In this case, he is anxious about his interaction with her and resorts to what is familiar and easy to displace that anxiety.
Generally, mounting doesn’t cause any harm to the dog or the recipient. But it is embarrassing, and owners want it to stop — and rightly so. Both females and males mount, even when spayed or neutered. Dogs may mount people, other animals, and inanimate objects. Dogs can also mount or stimulate mounting by other dogs due to medical diseases that affect estrogen and testosterone levels (e.g., sertoli cell tumors, granulosa cell tumors) or that affect the scent profile (e.g., anal sac, urinary tract, uterine or vaginal infections). Administration of certain medications can alter behavior as well.
People often incorrectly assume that mounting is due to a need to dominate a person or animal. What about the dog who mounts his stuffed toy or pillow? Is he trying to dominate that too? It doesn’t make sense does it? That is because mounting as we commonly see it in pet dogs doesn’t have anything to do with dominance.
Mounting can point to many different emotional states. Under most circumstances mounting is normal. It is a normal part of mating behavior and play. It is also used to establish rank between group members. At you may have already guessed, it can simply be an enjoyable way for an understimulated dog to entertain himself. Finally, dogs can also mount as a displacement behavior.
A displacement behavior is exhibited when a dog is anxious, uneasy, or overly neurochemically stimulated by a person, animal or situation. Ever twist your hair or bite your nails? If so, you are exhibiting displacement behaviors too!
Like any other behavior, mounting can persist if it is rewarded by the owner's attention (negative or positive). It can also be innately rewarding. The science of learning applies to all behaviors — if you reward a behavior, it will increase in frequency.
What should you do if your dog mounts? If she isn't causing any harm, don't do anything. If she is annoying other dogs with her behavior and the dogs are not correcting her appropriately by growling or snapping, you should intervene. Teach her to come to you when you call and sit. When you see that she is sidling up to a dog and getting ready to mount, call her over and ask her to sit for a yummy treat. Then distract her with play or obedience exercises.
If she frequently mounts in certain situations or mounts certain people, she is telling you that those situations make her uneasy or are just too much for her to handle (i.e., too stimulating). Introduce her to those situations with lots of come-sit interactions and lots of other kinetic things to do so that she doesn't engage in that behavior. Make sure that she knows how to get any attention from people so that she doesn’t engage in this behavior in the first place. Give her something else she can mount, like a large stuffed animal, pillow or blanket. Alternatively, you can engage her in another activity, like play.
If your dog has suddenly started mounting other dogs, people, or objects, or is suddenly being mounted by others, take your dog to your veterinarian for an examination and possibly labwork. She may have an underlying medical condition.
You can find more information about mounting at this link: Body Language Spotlight: Mounting
Dr. Lisa Radosta