The PetTalk Humping Article

I wasn’t sure how Houston PetTalk would respond when I asked to write an article for them about humping for their October issue.  Some folks are a little uncomfortable talking about sex.  Friends and even some colleagues giggled when I told them I wanted to take on the subject.  A few were even a bit skeptical when I assured them I was going to stick to the science of behavior and not make fun.   PetTalk, I’m happy to report, never hesitated.  I got the green-light no questions asked.

Humping is wildly misunderstood, and not only among the general dog-loving public.  Otherwise well qualified trainers seem to be baffled by the behavior. I was a bit confused about it myself when I began researching the article.  I learned first that humping isn’t about dominance at all.  That was no surprise, since the construct we used to call dominance had been debunked for decades now.  The best trainers these days avoid vague labels and focus squarely on individual behaviors, like the humping behavior.  It was my mentor Jean Donaldson who brought me home to the simple truth.  Humping is a sexual behavior; it’s how dogs reproduce.

Of course, the questions remained: why do dogs hump out of context; hump regardless of their sex or reproductive ability; hump humans and inanimate objects.  I interviewed more than a dozen trainers and behaviorists, including certified professional trainer Pam Johnson. She was the one brave enough to take on her own dog’s humping problem and videotape his training.  I’ve included a link to the video here because it’s such a valuable resource.  My many thanks to her for sharing it with us.

The article underwent no fewer than five re-writes, which is a lot for me.  I have to thank Rover Oaks general manager Claire Ellington for her help.  She suggested I remove the “M” word, which was probably a good idea.  Since this is the internet I don’t mind mentioning it here.  While interviewing veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lore Haug, I learned there was actually such a thing as “canine masturbation.”  That’s what drives some dog’s humping of inanimate objects.  I guess that’s part of the reinforcement that keeps the behavior going in some dogs.  To be honest, I didn’t pursue the subject much beyond that.

What I really learned from writing this article is that in the world of behavior science, all things really are treated equally.  While humping seems mysterious to many of us, it’s not really.  The mystery comes from our own hang-ups about sexual behavior, reading about it, and writing about it.  When all is said and done, canine humping is just behavior.  The same rules of behavior science that apply to any other behavior also apply to humping.  That’s a good thing for us to keep in mind.  Even if a behavior makes us feel uncomfortable, frightened (in the case of aggressive behavior), or just plain annoyed, the science of behavior change still works.  As author and trainer educator Karen Pryor once said, “it’s just behavior.”

Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC is the director of training and behavior at Rover Oaks Pet Resorts.

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