Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We love dogs and cats equally, and reserve treats for questions about your turtle, guinea pig, bird, snake, fish, or other beast.
Dear Beast Mode,
I have a little Chihuahua mix who is about 8 pounds. He’s been neutered and is incredibly sweet. When I first adopted him, he didn’t know how to play with other dogs, but he’s gradually gotten more playful and will now romp around with other dogs at the park (though he reasonably stays away from big dogs). However, there’s one male puppy we see regularly who’s about three times his size and seems to bring out my little guy’s dominance instincts. He’ll chase him around growling (and with his tail wagging), and my dog will try to hump him repeatedly. The puppy doesn’t seem bothered by this—he just throws him off and comes back for another round. But it feels awkward to me! Am I letting my pup commit a doggie faux pas? Should I apologize to the owners? Is this going to become something he tries with every dog?
—Must You Thrust?
Dear Must You Thrust,
I’ve never been to an ancient Roman bacchanal, but do I visit the dog park regularly—so I know what true hedonism looks like. It’s a wild scene, what with all the drooling, running, stumbling, wrestling, and peeing. Where else will a scatophiliac Weimaraner indulge in her most taboo desires right out in the open and in broad daylight? The idea of a “doggie faux pas” is pretty funny to me, but I can still understand your concern about the little humper.
First, you should make sure his behavior isn’t a sign of a medical problem, like a urinary tract infection or some other kind of irritation. If he humps more frequently or does it to more dogs (or people or fauna or a scale die-cast model of the USS Missouri), then you would be wise to schedule a trip to the vet.
Humping can be a display of dominance, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes dogs are just happy to see each other in a very platonic way, and this overexcitement manifests itself as pelvic thrusting. Anxiety can also trigger this behavior, as can fear. The emotional complexity of a hump is truly something to behold.
It sounds as if the problem is solving itself in your situation, since the humpee takes no offense and simply shrugs your dog away. That is great, but not all dogs are as chill as your pooch’s buddy. Some may interpret a little bump-and-grind as a sign of aggression and react in kind. Nothing breaks up a party like a fight, so keep your little guy in sight, and be ready to interrupt if he winds up picking a new target.
Training a dog to stop humping may be difficult, as it is often a compulsive behavior. The ASPCA recommends teaching the “leave it” command, which can halt all sorts of doggie indiscretions in their tracks. This requires patient repetition, but, once trained, “leave it” will work like the motion sensors in front of the Mona Lisa. (Trained or not, please don’t let your dog hump the Mona Lisa.)
I usually chuckle if a small pup at the park tries to hump my dog, who is about 65 pounds and knows how to politely tell the jittery Don Juans to buzz off, but that’s just one person’s reaction. Dog parks have as many human personalities as they do canine ones, so you never know how offended someone will be by your overeager Chihuahua. While I don’t think you need to send a handwritten apology note to anyone, it never hurts to offer a quick “sorry,” if only to let them know that it’s your dog and you’re available to pull him off if needed.
Given that he only humps one specific puppy, it might be a good idea to introduce yourself to its owners anyway as a simple courtesy. Dog parks may be full of wanton debauchery, but that’s just for the dogs. As humans, the most that’s expected from us is a polite conversation here or there.