Some Dogs Hump.

Feb 13 / Jennifer Thornburg
Some dogs hump.
Some dogs hump. Young and old dogs, intact and altered dogs, male and female dogs. Most dogs do it at some point in their lives. It's an entirely normal behavior that every dog has in their repertoire. It's hardwired behavior that shows up now and then. 

Think of your dog as a computer with several programs installed: digging, chewing, barking, chasing things that run, etc. Sexual behavior (such as mounting) is in there too. When a ball is thrown, the chase program is engaged: DOG:/>engage But, during certain times, the humping program runs too. 

Some dogs hump more than others. 
This post is for dogs who mount excessively, such as those who mount other dogs at the dog park until being told off, and those who mount or clasp humans during excitement.
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Both humans and dogs engage in displacement behaviors when they experience big feelings such as joy, stress, excitement, annoyance, boredom, or sensory overload. Humans may tap their fingers, bite their nails, play a mobile game, stammer, fidget, or laugh nervously (and hopefully NOT hump.) Dogs may pace, scratch, bark, and zoom around. And they may hump, a physical behavior that gives the dog a sensory outlet for these big emotions. (And, yes, I know. Some dogs hump the air. It still works for them.)
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Some dogs hump other dogs during play.
Remember that mounting behavior is typically seen when dogs are in an excited/stressed state. We know that mounting is a behavior that often comes up when a dog feels anxious and doesn't have the skills to navigate social situations. Social interactions can be stressful!
If your dog is playing with other dogs and becomes overwhelmed, they might stop, move away, sniff the ground, or exhibit other signs of stress. But if your dog is the humpy type, they may start humping another dog. It can be a problem when the humper is relentless, and the humpee has had enough. If your dog is relentlessly mounting another dog, it should be stopped as quickly as possible so it doesn't become a real dog fight. You may call your dog away, gently remove or leash them and leave the dog park if necessary.
But there is more to conspecific mounting behavior! Play is practice for the real world! Just as dogs play fight, they may practice other functional behaviors during play. Many behavior professionals compare mounting to other goofy play moves, such as play bows. It may even become an awkward invitation to play. Imagine if humans did this!

Humping isn't really about dominance.
In fact, it's probably the opposite.
Dominance is defined as "a relationship between individual animals that is established by force/aggression and submission, to determine who has priority access to multiple resources such as food, preferred resting spots, and mates." (Bernstein 1981; Drews 1993). You can read more about what dominance is and isn't here: AVSAB: Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals.
In actuality, dogs don't use mounting behavior to access food, toys, or space. 
"Dominance" has been a convenient catch-all for dog behavior for years and must stop. Dogs are emotionally rich creatures who use behavior to produce a variety of consequences. We owe them more than attributing all their unpleasant behaviors to a desire to establish a higher social status.
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Humping can actually be about sex.

Puppies around six months of age are approaching sexual maturity. Humping shows up as an instinctual response influenced by raging adolescent hormones.
Remember your teenage years? (Ugh. I'd rather not, thanks.)
Consult with your vet about the potential benefits of neutering or spaying. This may not eliminate the behavior, but it can help reduce hormonal influences contributing to the excitement and, therefore, mounting behavior.
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Some dogs mount or clasp humans
Just as with conspecific mounting, those big feelings are behind the behavior. Humping in this scenario is most likely to be stress-induced or overstimulation. Unknown visitors and children are common targets of humping because they may be stressful for a dog with limited exposure to them. Plus, kids are unpredictable, fast, and loud. Dogs know this straight away!
Human legs are the most convenient body part for mounting, but an arm would do just fine (or the air!). And an arm would do just fine! You may have seen "pre-mounting behaviors" leading to or instead of the headlining act. This can be a little dancey-dance of the pelvis without actual contact. You may see signs of stress, such as the whites of their eyes or panting. The dog may clasp your leg, digging in their dew claw, without even getting to the tango. 
Mounting humans is obviously rude behavior and should be redirected. If you have a humpy dog, keep them leashed and managed in scenarios that will be difficult for them. Never punish a dog for humping; it will only stress them. Giving attention to the behavior can actually reinforce it! Instead, encourage your dog to engage in more appropriate behaviors that may effectively replace humping, such as a game of tug or fetch. Some quiet time with a chew toy is an excellent way for a dog to blow off steam.  
When I have been on the grabby end, it's while working with a dog who has become frustrated because the training has stopped or become more difficult. When this happens, we take a break and begin again with tasks that build confidence rather than cause stress.
Some dogs have a "special friend."
We understand that humping is often a symptom of arousal. Most often, that arousal is in the form of stress. Some dogs may turn to mounting a bed, stuffed toy, or a pillow to relieve that stress. As long as it relieves stress, letting your dog have occasional private time is okay. Suppose it seems to cause your dog more stress or is a compulsive behavior. In that case, you may remove the object of affection and redirect your dog to appropriate enrichment activities such as a chew toy, a frozen Kong, a snuffle mat, or other treat puzzles.
What does your dog's mounting behavior tell you?
Ultimately, we're better served by understanding the cause of the humping rather than being embarrassed by it. Observe your dog before and after the behavior to understand the root cause of humping and when to manage it. 
If you determine that your dog's humping behavior is due to stress, use this information to make them more comfortable daily. That may be making introductions slower and easier, adding enrichment activities to their day, or avoiding situations that cause your dog a lot of stress, such as the dog park. If the humping behavior persists or becomes a concern, it's always a good idea to consult a professional dog trainer or your veterinarian.
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