Mounting Advocate

Call me crazy, but I’m a trainer who doesn’t worry about or interrupt canine mounting in most cases. I don’t see it as a problem behavior that needs to be discouraged or modified. In fact, I find it to be a very positive social interaction that often leads to play behavior and the development of friendships between dogs.

I spend the majority of my life with groups of off-leash dogs who don’t live with each other. When I started doing this kind of work five years ago, I believed that mounting was inappropriate behavior that should be discouraged. I found very quickly that the prevention of mounting also prevented other things.

In many cases, mounting is a necessary part of the dance that leads to hanging out together, playing and feeling comfortable with another dog. What I found is that dogs who were not allowed to mount had a hard time moving toward friendly interactions.
Here are the purposes I have seen being served by mounting:

Boundary Check: When dogs are getting to know one another and deciding if they will play, I often see mounting being used as a sort of boundary check. To anthropomorphize a bit, it’s like a dog is saying, “So, what if I do this? Will that be okay? I need to know if you’re safe to play with and how sensitive you’re going to be before I commit to playing with you.” If a dog can safely mount another dog, and the other dog understands that this is just play, then the two dogs can proceed.

Enticement into Play: What happens when a friendly dog mounts another friendly dog? Well, many times the dog being mounted turns their body in a c-shape to face the other dog. This is a classic play move! So, in essence, the mounting dog has created a play move in the other dog and the fun can then begin.

Mutual Agreement on Status: Many times I see dogs taking turns mounting each other before real play begins. I see this as another form of boundary checking and an agreement between the dogs that they are not vying for position, but taking turns playing top dog. Basically letting each other know that they are willing to be mounted and that they both understand this is just play.

Re-Starting a Play Session: Once play begins, mounting usually decreases in frequency. However, I often see mounting happen again if one dog slows down or stops playing. It seems to be a way to rekindle the play session, as if to say, “C’mon…let’s play some more!”

Third Dog Humping: Those of us who do dog daycare are very familiar with this! Sometimes you’ll have two dogs playing nicely and a third dog who wants to get in on the play but doesn’t know how to join in. So, the third dog humps one of the playing dogs to redirect attention onto them. This is often successful. Once the third dog is playing with one of the other dogs, the dog who is now not being played with becomes the third dog and might try the same technique.

I’m So Excited!: With dogs, arousal is arousal is arousal. I have several dogs who will only go crazy with mounting in the presence of a certain type of dog. A little Yorkie that I’ve cared for every week for four years now only gets this aroused by larger, very fluffy dogs. He is out of control with humping happiness when he finds an American Eskimo, Keeshond or long-haired Havanese. Some dogs, like one of mine at home, only mount when the play gets really ramped up.

Settle Down Kid: I have also seen a lot of mounting going on with older, wiser female dogs when in the presence of an over-exuberant adolescent. The kind of mounting I see here is not too forceful and in no way aggressive, but more of a, “Hey, settle down kid.” The adolescent settles down a bit and tries again to engage in play. I find this to be very helpful to the adolescent dog.

When Mounting Goes Wrong: With friendly, social dogs, an inappropriate mounting attempt is met with a doggy correction. These corrections can involve growling, an air snap, a bit of a snarl, but never actual contact. This can be a great lesson for a younger dog! They learn that you can’t mount every dog and not every dog wants to play with you. I believe this leads us back to my first category of Boundary Checking. If the dog corrects you, then you know there are boundaries or that this dog doesn’t want to play.

These are just some of the things I’ve seen in daycare and my off-leash group classes, not to mention my five dogs at home. I am adamant that interrupting normal mounting between dogs is detrimental to their social experience. We have to listen to the dogs, I think. I have seen very few dogs who are offended by mounting, and those who are can be as important to another dog’s social learning as those who accept it willingly.

I should add that I do interrupt certain kinds of mounting. I don’t allow what I call opportunistic mounting. This is when one dog is mounting another dog while he’s trying to get a drink of water or playing with a toy. If the mounting is truly annoying the dog being mounted, preventing him from doing what he wants to do or seems unnecessarily controlling, then I will interrupt.

For some dogs, mounting is a nervous habit and may become their only way of interacting socially. In these cases, I gently interrupt the behavior when it becomes excessive and strongly encourage any other social behavior (butt sniffing, play bows, circular moves, etc.).

For the most part, however, I find mounting to be as normal and necessary as barking, digging, peeing and chewing. I have seen far too many mountings turn into positive social interactions to consider it a negative, unwanted or inappropriate behavior between dogs.