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Mounting.... is it natural?

My male Cavalier has suddenly started sniffing and mounting my female a lot. ie: many times a day. He does it around the house and also when on leash on a walk.

If we stop to chat with someone in the park or have company he is sure to do it.

Chloe is just over 3- spayed at 10 mo. Finbar is just over 2 -neutered at 10 mo.


Mounting behavior is used to test dominance. As a matter of fact, when you consider that a bitch is only in heat twice a year for a few weeks, the great majority of mounting behavior has absolutely no sexual significance at all! 90% of mounting is dominance-seeking, pure and simple.

So the first obstacle to understanding and dealing with the mounting is to be assured there is nothing sexual about it.

The second obstacle to dealing with this type of behavior is the rather prudish sensibilities of many humans. If you feel a bit embarrassed, or some folks that are with you feel embarrassed by the mounting, what you need to keep clear in your mind is that this is absolutely natural communication of a non-sexual nature, and the dogs are not the least embarrassed or apologetic about it! You have to do what you feel you have to do, but after being around dogs for a long time, mounting is no more startling a behavior than barking or eating. So you need to keep human interpretations and sensibilities out of the matter if you are going to see it for what it is.

There are a number of dominance-seeking behaviors that dogs exhibit toward other dogs. (Today, many trainers and researchers have abandoned the term "dominance" and for a concept called Control.) Some common dominating behaviors include mounting, a dog resting its head upon the other's neck or back, side-mounting (placing the front paws on the other dog's back from the side), strutting tall and circling the other dog to sniff it all around while the other dog will usually stand still and even voluntarily lift a rear leg to make the job easier, and one dog bumping or leaning on another.

To concentrate on mounting, it is one dog's attempt to test whether it is the boss. You can think of it as a way for that dog to say to the other, "I'm the one who makes the decisions and will tell you what to do." In reality, however, the mounting behavior is really a sign of insecurity. The mounting dog is really saying something more like, "I'm the one who makes the decisions and will tell you what to do--AREN'T I...? (Hope so!)"

It is actually the other dog that answers the question and establishes the relationship. So if the mounted dog objects and turns and growls and pushes the other guy off regularly, the answer is "The hell you are, buddy!"

If the other dog tolerates the mounting with little objection, and seems to be intimidated by it, then the answer is, "OK, whatever you say, boss."

However, many times the mounted dog will do little or nothing, often allowing the mounting but occasionally objecting, and will seem very uninterested and nonchallant. In this case the dog being mounted is not acknowledging the other dog's claim to leadership, but is:

A) Either very secure in her place, confident, and therefore not threatened by the play for dominance, or

B) Just could care less!

So if any one of these interpretations seems to fit Finbar and if another fits Chloe, you can get an idea of what is being communicated between the two.

The opinion of the mounted dog will often change with time. Very often, the mounting is disregarded for many weeks, and then gradually, the mounted dog starts to object more and more. ("Enough of this, already!") At some point, a dog that accepted mounting for some time will also become adamant and will turn on the mounter and growl or snarl ("That's it! No more!) Also, the mounter may simply abandon the activity. This happens often when the other dog either gives many warnings and angry reactions, or gives the mounter no attention at all!

As you can see from the complexity of the situation and the continuing dialogue between the dogs, it is not always the dog doing the mounting that is in fact dominant or in control! Mounting is not an assertion of strength that indicates the confident leadership qualities of the dog; it is experimentation to see how far the dog can get! It is limit testing. And in many cases, the dog doesn't get very far!

So the last question is "What do you do about it?

In my own training practice, and in my opinion as well as the opinions of many others, the best initial reaction is to simply ignore the activity. That is where that human sensibility speech comes in! Some people are not comfortable or able to ignore it.

If you do ignore the behavior completely--which means you will not pull one dog off the other or punish or correct the behavior, but will keep your mouth shut and remain out of it, theoretically the two dogs will resolve the issue eventually. Often the resolution comes in a week or so. It is not unusual, as in your case, for the mounting to continue for a month or more--however, it is more likely that the mounting will last longer if you get involved!

As a success story, with one male and female adult, I added a third dog, a female, several years ago. At first, that female mounted everyone--the male Shepherd and the female Rottweiler. The Rottie would have none of it, so that ended quickly. This left the Shepherd as the main target. He did not object, and I think he was frankly confused a bit. But about three weeks after the new dog had arrived, the Shepherd began to nip and turn on the new girl, and soon all mounting stopped. That was about three years ago, and I have never seen that female mount any dog or anything since!

Your two dogs have something to negotiate and settle. (The youngest is at an "adolescent age" at which such things often come up!) If they are not allowed to negotiate in doggy fashion and their activities are interrupted by humans, the negotiations take longer, or the mounting may stop, but soon you will have Finbar putting his head on Chloe's shoulder or trying to sit on her all the time. The problem, if not settled, does not go away; it just takes another form.

In my experience, I have never seen or heard of a case of a resident dog continuing to mount a fellow housemate forever! It always ends at some point.

Having said all that, there are a few cases where gentle and non-aversive involvement may be required of the owner. Sometimes, a particular dog can become compulsive about the mounting behavior. He or she (females will mount males as often as males females!) will mount and mount and mount in an obsessive manner. The main signal to look for is when the dog begins thinking so much about mounting that it starts doing less of all the other doggy things like taking walks, eating treats, play-fighting, fetching, or spending time with you! In these cases, the mounting is more about anxiety than dominance. It is similar to a dog that habitually and unstoppably chews on its paws or runs in circles. It is what is called a stereotypy, or in human terms, an example of OCD. In such a case, the owner should intervene and in a positive and non- threatening way, gently remove the dog and redirect its attention to another activity.

The only other situation that would prompt me to intervene is if the mounting causes the victim to react very aggressively and the dogs begin fighting over the issue and put one another in danger of harm.

So that's the Sermon of the Mount! (:-)

here are those that disagree with allowing the mounting to resolve itself, I must say on all fairness. However, I believe the most common advice you would get from a professional would be to just leave it alone and see how it works out. Look for a gradual change in Chloe's reaction. Let Finbar mount all day and night if he wants! If after maybe 8 to 10 weeks, there is no change, or if the mounting behavior increases and continues, then you should intervene. Again, intervention should include no punishment or yelling. The mounter is doing nothing wrong to be punished for! Intervention, if it comes to it, should involve redirecting the dog's attention, getting it involved in other activities, giving it more exercise in general, and perhaps separating it temporarily from the other dog for some periods during the day. You can also use positive reinforcement and reward the mounter when he is not mounting. If the activity is deemed to be a stereotypy, medication may also be considered.


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