Canine Body Language: Mounting

Canine Body Language: Mounting

When trying to analyze an animal’s body language, each signal must be taken in context. Other body language signals should be analyzed as well to form as complete as possible view of the animal’s intent or emotional state. You can generally characterize signs in 3 categories: go, stop and yield. 

This embarrassing behavior has made many an owner shudder as they pull their dog off of another dog apologizing all the way. It is also one of the most misunderstood behaviors–most often linked incorrectly to dominance behavior. People often incorrectly assume that mounting is due to a need to dominate a person or animal. What about the dog who mounts his stuffed toy or pillow? Is he trying to dominate that too? Nope. To find out why dogs really mount, read on.  

Mounting can be considered the same way you would consider a yield sign because it can point to so many different emotional states. Under many circumstances mounting is normal. Mounting is a normal part of mating behavior and play. It is also used to establish rank
between group members. As you may have already guessed, it can simply be an enjoyable way for an understimulated dog to entertain herself. Finally, dogs can also mount as a displacement behavior.

A displacement behavior is exhibited when a dog is anxious, uneasy or overly neurochemically stimulated about a person, animal or situation. Ever twist your hair or bite your nails? If so, you are exhibiting displacement behaviors too!!

Dogs may mount people, other animals and inanimate objects. Females and males mount, even when spayed or neutered. Dogs can also mount or stimulate mounting by other dogs due to medical diseases which affect estrogen and testosterone (e.g., sertoli cell tumors, granulosa cell tumors) or scent profile (e.g., anal sac, urinary tract, uterine or vaginal infections). Administration of certain medications can alter behavior as well.

Like any other behavior, mounting can persist if it is rewarded by the owner’s attention (negative or positive). It can also be innately rewarding. The science of learning applies to all behaviors–if you reward it, it will increase in frequency.

What should you do if your dog mounts? If she isn’t causing any harm, don’t do anything. If she is annoying other dogs with her behavior and the dogs are not correcting her appropriately by growling or snapping, you should intervene. Teach her to come to you when you call and sit.

When you see that she is sidling up to a dog ready to mount, call her over and ask her to sit for a yummy treat. Then, distract her with play or obedience exercises.

If she frequently mounts in certain situations or mounts certain people, she is telling you that those situations make her uneasy or are just too much for her to handle (i.e., too stimulating). Introduce her to those situations with lots of come-sit interactions and lots of other kinetic things to do so that she doesn’t engage in that behavior.

If your dog has suddenly started mounting other dogs, people or objects or is suddenly being mounted by others, take your dog to your veterinarian for an examination and possibly lab work. She may have an underlying medical condition.