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Pet Q&A: Our Dog Likes to Hump (We’re Stumped)

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Q: Our dog REALLY likes one of our cats. He's been neutered for about seven months, and she was spayed almost two years ago. They've always been friends (we catch them cuddling and sleeping together regularly) but over the last few weeks he's been mounting her and trying to hump her. (Disclaimer: he's dumb as a rock.) She's sweet, but is getting a little annoyed and I'd hate to have her scratch him and ruin their previously adorable friendship. Normal? Spring fever? What's the deal?

-Nestie Brie2010

A: Ah, gotta’ love cross-species love. Nothing cuter. But when there’s humping involved, and the humpee’s getting annoyed, it’s less cute.

As weird as it seems to watch your dog hump your cat, it’s normal (for the dog at least). Humping is a natural doggie behavior that has its roots in you-know-what, but it’s activated by situations other than a female dog in heat. Other types of arousal trigger humping other dogs, cats, legs, etc. -- like play, for example. Does your dog start humping the cat while or after playing with her?

I hate to suggest anything about your cat, but are you sure she minds? I only ask because if she doesn’t, and she well might not, you can let it go. And if she’s got claws, you can certainly let her tell him to knock it off, which should get the message across without ruining their relationship (at least the platonic part of their relationship). But if you’re sure she’s not consenting, and for whatever reason she isn’t making herself clear, you can certainly step in and put a stop to the love fest.

One way to do this is to redirect him when he’s about to start humping, and reward him for doing this other thing. This technique works best if you can tell when he’s about to hump. Does he hump in the middle of a play session? When he comes in from a walk? Right after eating? If you can identify the precursor, you can be ready. As soon as you think he’s considering humping, call him to you, ask him to sit or lie down for several seconds (or do a trick if he knows any), then reward handsomely with a great treat. What will happen over time is that when he feels the urge to hump, he’ll head over to you instead. He likely won’t know why (you did mention his rock-like IQ), but it won’t matter. He’ll come to you, you’ll ask him to do something for you, and you’ll give a reward.

Another way to ruin his fun is to give him a timeout when he humps. For this to work you have to be consistent -- and it requires a bit of leg work. The moment he starts to hump, you say “too bad, Romeo” and send him to his room (his crate, a bathroom, the laundry room -- anywhere small and boring) for a short, quiet time. Thirty to sixty seconds is about all he’ll need in there. Then let him out and repeat. He’ll need many repetitions to understand that it’s the humping that’s sending him to the penalty box (hockey players go to the penalty box for humping too). Make sure to say your “too bad!” at the moment he starts to hump to help him understand how to avoid this punishment. If you choose this route, make sure to also reward him for interacting with the cat in a way that isn’t humping: Whenever you notice him lying quietly next to her, playing with her, or grooming her, reward him with something he likes such as a tiny treat, a chew toy, or a game of fetch.

Best of luck!

Erica Nance, MA, CPDT, makes dog training effective, fun, and stress-free for pets and their people at her New York training facility, Dogs of Hudson. She previously owned and operated DogStar Dog Training and Behavior Consulting and worked as the Manager of Operations of the Animal Behavior Department at the ASPCA in New York City. Erica has a master's degree in experimental psychology specializing in evolutionary psychology. She shares her home with a rescued husky named Nova, her husband, and her young son. The household is managed and directed by an 11-year-old border collie named Jack.

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