Obi-Wan, the 6-year old Samoyed, was causing lots of confusion and embarrassment at home. Although neutered as a young adult, he was now trying to mount the family's new 12 week old lab puppy. What's more, he was occasionally caught making sexual overtures toward the family cat.
Chang, the 2 year old neutered male Shih-tzu, had recently taken a liking to one of his toys, a large plush teddy bear. He would sniff, bite, and eventually start rhythmically humping it, much to the horror and disgust of his family.
Flora, the 3 year-old spayed German Shepherd mix would often hump other dogs, male or female, while playing at the dog park. Despite severe corrections and reprimands from her owner, things were only getting worse.
Mounting, humping, and other overtly sexual behaviors are a normal part of canine reproduction. But it can be a bit shocking and off-putting when a neutered male or spayed female dog carries on this way.
In fact, it is a fairly normal part of canine social behavior. Young puppies often mount each other as a rough-and-tumble way of soliciting play. For adult dogs, male or female, it may be a way of communicating control or dominance. Thus, a pushy dog like Flora or an alpha dog like Obi-Wan might mount a subordinate to literally say "I'm top dog." There is often a hidden attention-seeking component to the behavior as well: dog mounts, owner freaks out. The dog just discovered a sure-fire new way to get the owner's attention!
Dogs like Chang that self-pleasure do so not through dominance but more likely as an outlet for stress, conflict, or boredom. It is not unheard-of for neutered males to get erections, ejaculate, and even mate with a female dog in heat. From the dog's standpoint these behaviors are a completely natural form of self-expression. It would be a non–issue, except for the embarrassment and consternation it causes us humans.
So What's All the Fuss About?
Let's face it. It's embarrassing when your hump-happy pup becomes the talk of the dog park. Or when your pooch welcomes Great-aunt Sadie to tea by amorously humping her leg. Pseudo-sexual behavior in neutered dogs can indeed be problematic if it becomes compulsive, excessive, or leads to injury. It may also be the first sign of a medical problem.
Here's What to Do When Rover Gets Randy
Start by consulting with your veterinarian. He or she can rule out possible medical causes such as a retained testicle or an ovarian remnant in your neutered pet. Your vet can also run tests to rule out other physical problems (such as a urinary tract infection) or hormonal dysfunction (thyroid problems or an adrenal tumor) that can be causing this behavior. The next step is a thorough behavioral analysis to determine the contributing factors. In difficult cases, your vet may refer you and your pet to a veterinary behaviorist.
Once physical problems are ruled out, here are some common strategies that may help:
1. Ignore it
Remember that mounting, humping, "air-humping," and other pseudo-sexual behaviors are normal for many dogs. Your embarrassment and horror-stricken corrections can be just the type of attention he craves, only making matters worse. This turned out to be true in Chang's case. If the mounting behavior is directed toward a person, it may be best for that person to simply ignore the behavior and quietly move away. For Obi-Wan, the unwanted amorous advances gradually subsided as the excitement over the new puppy waned and social order in the family was re-established.
2. Avoid It
If the target of your dog's overtures is a certain dog at the dog park or a specific stuffed toy (as in Chang's case), removing that toy or avoiding that particular dog may suffice.
3. Use Counter-Conditioning
It's helpful to figure out what triggers the behavior or signals that it's about to occur. Does it start once the family settles down to watch TV? As you arrive home from work? Does your dog display classic dominant behaviors as Flora did (shouldering up to other dogs with an erect stance, head held high, tail slowly wagging) right before the unwanted behavior starts?
Learn to intercede as soon as you see these signs. Help your dog switch gears by putting him in sit/stay, then throwing a ball, playing a game, offering a treat, etc. Fitting your dog with a head halter such as a Gentle Leader and leash gives you the more immediate control over your dog's behavior.
4. Provide Environmental Enrichment
Many dogs act out if they are bored, idle, or anxious. Plenty of aerobic exercise is the cornerstone of treatment for any canine behavior problem. A physically exhausted dog is a happy one. Give your dog at least 15-20 minutes of walking/running, ball-chasing, or active play every day. Leave interesting chew toys or feeding toys for your dog when he is home alone.
5. Use Obedience Training
Reinforcing basic one-word commands (Sit, Stay, Down, Come) can be very helpful in many cases of canine misbehavior. Dogs crave structure and a secure knowledge of where they stand in the pack. "Nothing In Life Is Free" (NILIF) is a well-known training program that follows this basic tenet. NILIF works especially well when dominance or anxiety issues are in play. It was quite helpful in Flora's case.
6. Consider Drug Therapy Last
For serious cases, drug therapy can be an effective adjunct to behavioral therapy. Drugs such as Clomipramine (Clomicalm®) and Fluoxetine (Reconcile®) have been used successfully for such conditions. Only give your dog medications that have been specifically prescribed by your veterinarian.
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