As a veterinarian, I get asked all kinds of questions by adults and children. The medical questions are easy - like how many teeth should my dog have (42) and do I really have to have that rabies shot? (Yes, it is the law).
The behavior questions are a bit harder and sometimes a bit uncomfortable for clients to ask - like why does my cat have accidents on my bed and why does my dog mount other dogs he meets in the park and my friends?
These are real questions that I try to explain easily.
Recently, I ran across a good article in a magazine called Clinician's Brief written by a veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Laurie Bergman, that addresses some of the issues with mounting behavior in dogs that is easy to understand and interesting. So in case you were too embarrassed to ask, here's a summary of her explanation.
In veterinary medicine, we believe there are five basic motivations for mounting behaviors.
1. Anxiety. This is probably the most common reason for mounting behavior. Mounting can actually be an abnormal behavior that occurs as a response to an external stimulus. Sometimes it can be a good stimulus such as a new toy or a new friend that the animal feels excited about and is seeking an outlet for its emotions. If the animal is mounting people, we believe it might be unsure of how to interact with that person and start the behavior out of confusion. Mounting can also be a response to a bad stimulus, such as a punishment and the anxiety that the animal feels when punished. It can also be a learned attention-seeking behavior; it certainly gets our attention quickly and completely.
2. Sexual. Sometimes this is the case in both intact and neutered dogs. Castration does eliminate circulating hormone levels, but the instinct and behavior for sexual activity can and does remain. That being said, most mounting behavior is more than a response to sexual arousal in dogs.
3. Dominance. Sometimes this can be the cause if a dog mounts other dogs only. But if a dog mounts other pets, objects and people, then the dominance theory does not apply to that pet. This motivation certainly has a place in dog interactions, but there are usually more factors involved.
4. Play. In the animal world, mounting can be a normal part of social interaction and be well-accepted with interchanging behaviors between the dogs. It could be a way they establish trust and signal that a healthy relationship does exist between the animals.
5. Self-soothing. Mounting can be a way dogs behave prior to settling down for a nap. This is much like a child sucking his thumb or a cat kneading her paws.
So what do you do about this behavior? The first thing to do is make sure there is no medical reason for the actions. Have a good check up to look for things like a skin rash or a urinary tract infection that might be causing some discomfort. After that is ruled out, you can try redirecting the dog to a more appropriate object instead of a person or another dog. This can often be less stressful for everyone, including the dog that may be anxious or excited in the situation.
Avoidance is always effective. Look at what precedes the mounting behavior and try to not put your dog in that situation if possible. Counter conditioning and using positive rewards when the behavior does not occur can help if certain situations cannot be avoided. Surgery such as castration can help decrease the episodes of mounting by about 50 percent in most dogs. Remember, mounting is usually due to anxiety and not sexual arousal, but castration may help some. Lastly, some owners are just happy to try to understand the behavior and elect to do nothing about it as long as it is occasional and not harmful.
So there you go. I hope you are a little more comfortable with this topic and understand this often embarrassing issue. Just pay more attention to your pets, and perhaps this behavior can be reduced or eliminated.
Send questions for Dr. Allison Dascoli to "Ask the Vet," Charleston Daily Mail, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston WV 25301 or email them to askthe...@dailymail.com. Comments or suggestions can be submitted the same way.