One of the most awkward aspects of dog ownership is -- you may have guessed it -- the leg humping. Mounting actions are especially embarrassing when you have visitors in your home -- eek. The good news is that mounting behavior in dogs is 100 percent normal and common.
A dog humping your leg is often a display of sexuality -- essentially an outlet for dealing with strong sexual urges. Nothing much more complicated than that. Don't assume that your dog is specifically "attracted" to you or your leg, however. Remember that dogs often hump on everything from toys to table legs -- anything that is easy to grab and hold. Not a lot of discretion going on there. Although humping might be especially prevalent in unneutered male dogs, it's also relatively common in fixed canines as well as female dogs in heat.
The Dominance Question*
For many years, it was generally thought that non-sexual mounting was a sign of one dog attempting to dominate another. However, according to research by dog behaviorist Dr. Becky Trisko, humping was not associated with aggression and submission. Instead it correlated with play and other "affiliative" actions. For example, dogs seen licking another dog's muzzle (a sign of equality and friendship) were also observed mounting the same dog. Therefore, a dog is probably not trying to dominate your leg or any other part of you.
Playfulness & Anxiety
In some situations, a dog may hump a leg as a simple display of playfulness and attention-seeking, kind of like an invitation to a "play" party. A particularly anxious dog may even mount your leg as a means of easing his stress. Dogs often do this to other canines, as well.
An excess of energy and excitement may also compel a dog to hump on a person's leg -- or anything else, for that matter. Whether your dog is feeling nervous and stressed out by the loud sounds of movers carrying large furniture items out of your home or is excited by your return after a long work trip across the country, he may just respond to that feeling by mounting.
Excessive leg humping may also be a sign of compulsion in dogs. If your dog's mounting seems obsessive and almost like second nature to him, it may be a result of a compulsive issue, similar to constant barking or licking problems. Compulsive problems may arise for a variety of different reasons, including stress, isolation, insufficient socialization and even abuse.
By Naomi Millburn
Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue: Mounting
ASPCA: Mounting and Masturbation
ASPCA: How Will Neutering Change My Dog?
ASPCA: Compulsive Behavior in Dogs
Tri-County Humane Society: Getting Over the Hump
The Bark: Humping
About the Author
Naomi Millburn has been a freelance writer since 2011. Her areas of writing expertise include arts and crafts, literature, linguistics, traveling, fashion and European and East Asian cultures. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in American literature from Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo.
* Dominance Theory is a widely debated topic among dog behaviorists, but we at Cuteness like to give voice to writers on both sides of the debate. For an opposing view, please see our article How Dogs Establish Hierarchy.