Q: We have a 4 1/2 -year-old neutered English springer spaniel who humps my mother. There are two other adults in the house, but he humps only her. Any ideas as to why this would be?
A: This is one of those embarrassing and common dog behaviors that none of us enjoys. The first thing to know is that humping is normal dog behavior. Dogs hump for three main reasons: to get attention, in play and in response to stress and anxiety. Your dog may be seeking attention from your mother, he may be excited that she’s visiting (if she doesn’t live there) or she may have never let him know that it’s not acceptable behavior.
You need to let him know that his behavior is unacceptable, and teach him an alternative behavior for which he can be rewarded. Dogs who hump a leg or climb on an arm to hump are often seeking attention. When people laugh, look at them or even tell them to stop, they’ve gotten a response for their behavior. If this is how your dog behaves toward your mother, the best thing she can do is to remove her attention altogether. Look the other way, stand up and walk away. You can also remove him yourself. Don’t yell, but in a neutral manner take him away and give him a brief timeout of one to three minutes. The lesson for your dog is that humping puts an end to any attention he might receive. Teach him instead to sit, shake or perform some other activity in her presence. Then she can reward him for acceptable behavior. Even better, pay attention so you can distract him and ask him to perform a command or trick before he begins this unwanted behavior.
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Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.