QUESTION: You say that mounting is either sexual (but only if the dogs are of opposite sex, the male is intact and the female near or in estrus) or a show of dominance/demonstrating pack status. Ok....
Then why does my 9 year-old, neutered (since he was 8 months old) GSD insist on mounting my son's spayed, 2 year-old Lab? And why does our friends neutered male insist on mounting so many inanimate objects that his nick-name is "bucket-f***er"???
ANSWER: You didn't indicate in what forum (or what response) I said that sex or dominance were the only two times when a dog might mount, so I can't go back to review my earlier comment. It's possible that I did say that a few years ago. I'm always continuing my education and so that may have been my understanding at the time that I wrote that original response, but I have a much more nuanced understanding of this rather common behavior now than I did previously.
Today, I can tell you that mounting is quite often a reflection of poor social skills and nothing more. Dogs - male and female - will sometimes mount in an effort to solicit attention/play, as part of play or as a means to try to control a situation when they're feeling overwhelmed. You may have seen 2 dogs playing with high energy and suddenly a third will come in and try to mount one of them. That's generally viewed as the third dog feeling over stimulated by the activity/energy of the other two and so is attempting to control or calm the other dogs so he/she feels more comfortable.
In your case, without seeing your GSD or your friend's dog, I'd venture to say that it's poor social skills or learned behavior on both their parts. Mounting is a normal part of all dogs' behavioral repertoire and so will be used, tested and experimented with during various social situations. Dogs (just like people) tend to repeat behaviors that work for them - that satisfy some need they have. So, your GSD may get the attention he's seeking, either from your son's dog who may accept the solicitation and begin a game, or by attention from the humans in the room who then speak to him, laugh at him, chase him away or start a different game in an effort to redirect him. Your friend's dog may mount inanimate objects because it successfully gets attention from the humans in the room who may laugh and watch or speak to him or engage him in another activity to redirect him. Or because he's bored and it's a fun way to expend energy.
And then there's masturbation. Yes, dogs - especially males - will sometimes masturbate. Even neutered dogs. This is most often attributed to boredom. My older male will masturbate if we haven't been doing enough active play for a couple days. He will chase his tail, biting the very base of it or his hip. He'll sit down and hump as he scoots in a circle on the carpeted floor and then lick/groom his privates. He'll continue this for sometimes several minutes unless I interrupt him with an activity. My younger male doesn't masturbate and only mounts my older male if the older one is engaged with a long lasting chew toy and the younger one wishes to engage in a wrestle. I simply say "Don't hump your brother" and that ends the behavior.
Your dog mounting another dog is not likely to be masturbation, but your friend's dog who is mounting inanimate objects could be. It likely began as a boredom behavior - a way to entertain himself and expend some energy when nobody was around to play with him or when there was no other mental stimulation available to him - and has become a learned behavior either by self-reinforcement (it feels good) or by the humans in his environment reinforcing it with attention.
The best way to prevent your friend's dog's behavior is to provide sufficient physical and MENTAL stimulation so that he's not bored. And to never acknowledge him if he begins to mount any inanimate objects. Ignore that behavior, even leave the room and then after about a 10-20 second pause, call him from the other room and begin a game so that it doesn't appear to be a response to the mounting behavior. If he's doing it for attention, and every time he starts, the humans get up and leave the room without a word or a glance at him, he'll soon realize it's no longer working to get attention. But the key is to provide attention for another, more acceptable behavior such as bringing a toy or sitting politely near the human.
For your dog, providing sufficient mental and physical stimulation may reduce his efforts to mount your son's dog. But if the female dog is responding to being mounted by engaging in play, then it will be very difficult to curb the mounting behavior because it's being so heavily reinforced by the female dog's response. You may be able to prevent it before it starts simply by getting both dogs involved in an active game of chase or friendly wrestle before he tries to mount. If he's getting the game without having to first mount, then that behavior may extinguish on its own as he determines he can get the result (a game) with other behavior choices.
I hope this helps. If you could reply to this with a link to that previous answer, I may wish to go back and revise it as I didn't recall making such a definitive statement and I should correct it. . . Thank you for that assist.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Here's the link: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Canine-Behavior-3553/2009/7/Dog-behavior-3.htm
I didn't realize it was that old.
Last question...what about a neutered male who humps air?? It seems to be random and beyond his control.
Of course, to really address this, a full history would be needed - when it started, how long it's been going on, how long each incident lasts, how frequently they occur, what's going on in the environment in the few minutes leading up to them, how he behaves immediately afterward, can he be interrupted and redirected during an episode, how frequently does he pee and does it appear to be emptying his bladder or marking or dribbling, a complete medical history, and a whole host of other questions. This forum isn't really set up for that kind of intake and client history. So, to speak generally...
Air humping can be a sign of excitement or stress. In fact, there are two kinds of stress that we all experience: distress (fear, anxiety, conflict, etc) and eustress (happy excitement like winning the lottery, anticipation, sexual arousal, etc). For the most part, the body doesn't know the difference between the two - both involve increased heart rate and respiration, adrenalin and cortisol flood the body, pupils dilate, digestion slows, etc. The difference is the emotional response. But because the physical reaction is so similar, we often see behaviors that appear sexual during other kinds of arousal. So a dog humping the air could be super excited and unable to contain himself. He could be feeling stressed or anxious and unable to cope.
There is a saying in dog training when it comes to male dogs: If you see pink, he can't think. This is because no matter the kind of arousal/excitement, the dog will start to do what's called "penis crowning". This can be just the tiniest tip of the penis or a full display. The more pink showing, the more aroused the dog. The more aroused the dog, the less able he is to think clearly, respond to commands, remain calm... So, if it's just the tiniest tip of pink, and it's in a known environment such as pulling out the treat pouch and clicker for training (and the dog loves training), he may still be able to focus and comply with behavior requests, though he may be bouncing around between commands. If he's got a lot of pink showing, it's not likely you'll get any good responses or any good learning taking place because he's just too worked up.
But, if it seems to be happening truly at random - there are no consistencies of who is present or the activity that's occurring or about to occur, or any other environmental things that are similar across incidents, then this dog should have a complete medical workup including a urinalysis to check for infection as well as a neurological exam as seizure disorders can manifest in many strange ways and a seemingly random loss of ability to control a part of his body which is moving erratically can be indicative of a partial focal seizure.
Thank you for the link to the previous question/answer. I had a feeling it was back when I first started answering questions here (2009). I've learned soooo much since then that I almost wish most of my answers from back then would just leave the internet. ;-)
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist