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Canine Behavior/Issues with humping

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Question
Hello,
My dog is around 6 years old, he's a crossbreed and has not been neutered.  Due to work he's in the house alone for most of the day. Recently he started humping the sofa cushions or his toys while he's on his own however this has now escalated and he does it all the time whether we're in the room or not, and he has started going upstairs and humping duvets, pillows, towels whatever he can get hold of really.  Each time he leaves considerable wet patches and slime afterwards which has resulted in our soft furnishings  being badly stained and needing replaced.
When we catch him in the act we discipline him by shouting but it seems to have no effect whatsoever.
I should mention the only other dog in the area is male so I don't believe he is sensing a bitch in heat and getting worked up.

What could be the cause of this behaviour and is there anything we can do to prevent it?

Answer
Thank you for your question. While it's possible that he is smelling a bitch in heat (if the wind is moving the right direction, he can smell her from a mile or more away...), it is very likely that his humping is being motivated by boredom. In his boredom, he's found an activity that is very highly reinforcing for him. It feels very good. And he can do it in many places around the house and so if you tell him not to do it in the room with you, no problem! He can go to another room and do this behavior without bothering you (from his perspective).

NOTE: It would be best to have a vet visit to make sure there is nothing medical going on that is prompting or exacerbating the behavior such as a UTI or other treatable conditions. Once the dog has been given an all-clear for health, we can address it as a behavioral issue.

You indicated that he is alone inside most of the day. Are you providing him with mental enrichment activities to engage his brain while you are gone? You can teach him to enjoy Kong toys and then instead of feeding him from his bowl, you can give him Kongs for both morning and evening meals. There are also dozens of other food-dispensing puzzle toys available so that you can provide some variety in your food presentation. You can also create food hunting games for him by hiding food around the house, or scattering kibbles around in various rooms of the house so he has to use his nose and track down each kibble.

These activities should be done for both breakfast and dinner, in part because this doubles the amount of brain games he gets each day, and in part so that these games don't become a cue that you're leaving the house as that might actually dissuade him from playing if he having any stress due to your absence.

Below is a list of links to toys and home-made options to give you some ideas.

Now, to be clear, your dog appears to be masturbating to completion and the wet patches he's leaving behind are exactly what you think they are... This is actually normal. Many male dogs will masturbate when bored, though not all of them "finish." One of my own boys will do this when he's bored. If I catch him, I just tell him in a normal speaking voice, "Put that away" and then I engage him in play with a Tug toy or I invite him into the back yard for a run around, or we wrestle (a gentle physical contact game) and I try to get my other dog to join the wrestle.

I do not encourage shouting at him for two reasons. First, he's not misbehaving. He's performing a physiological behavior that is completely normal for male dogs. Secondly, shouting is clearly not working. And since your dog is actually finishing the act, he may not be able to interrupt himself if he's nearly done (much like a human being). Your best bet for addressing this is to provide him with enough physical (walks, runs, tug, fetch) and mental (brain games) exercise that he's not feeling bored. This is the most likely way to curb the masturbation behavior. And, prevent him access to the rooms you can (bedrooms) if necessary so he can't get to some of his preferred locations unattended. And if you catch him in the act, instead of yelling at him, invite him with your happiest, most excited voice to join you in some activity. I will often announce "treat" since my dog knows this means a tasty bite of food. Or I'll say "Come see!!!!" in a super excited, high pitched voice as this nearly always brings both dogs from another room directly to me. Such tactics can be used to interrupt what the dog is doing in that moment, and then I MUST engage them in something the dog finds to be highly enjoyable or my call will lose value and they will be more likely to ignore it in the future.

So, physical exercise - you should aim for 30-45 minutes of physical activity before you leave the house in the morning. This can be a neighborhood walk (give him plenty of opportunity to stop and sniff in between fast paced walking), fetch in your yard or up/down a hallway inside if the weather isn't nice, Tug, a flirt pole game in your yard, or other physical activities that your dog enjoys.

Flirt Pole
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glQybALe2KU

Mental exercise should include a variety of food-finding games. Provide some kind of food dispensing toy that he can use unattended (and that he is skilled enough to actually empty if you're not there to help) for breakfast, and present it to him about 5-8 minutes before you leave the house so he can get fully ensconced with it before you leave. Then also provide food dispensing puzzle toys or other kinds of interactive mental activity for dinner. Options for interactive mental activities include:

Find It - where you announce "Find it!" and then toss a kibble (or 6) for him to scavenge. First you will toss the kibbles essentially right to him. But as he gets the hang of the game, start tossing the kibbles several inches away, then a few feet, then across the room, then maybe through doorways so he has to look in other areas. I will sometimes toss kibbles for my dog in one direction, and then as he goes to collect that handful of kibbles, I'll toss more in another direction so that he can just continue to scavenge as there's always a few more to find. I do this with the dinner ration of food. The game can take 30+ minutes if you chose to throw just one kibble at a time. Or it can take 5-10 minutes if you through a dozen kibbles at a time... (this is for a 35-lb dog who eats 2/3 cup of kibble in a meal - a smaller dog will be done faster).

Nose Work This is a great game and easy to play and dogs LOVE it. Below is a series of videos I made to teach people how to begin playing this game, and how you can take it to a more advanced game as your dog becomes skilled at it.

Beginner Nose Work
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJNeWNwXFq8

Beginner Nose Work - Steps 2 and 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RavS1IuXpGI

Nose Work - Out of the Box
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70qinSWoGdk

Food dispensing puzzle toys
Kongs

Kongs for Beginners
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EuY98sRPb8

Intermediate Kongs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KMz1qWjyro

One Way to Load a Kong (for advanced users)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-tfF0NpWy0

Tricky Treat Ball (supervise use of this toy until you are certain the dog will not rip it apart, as it's a soft rubber material
http://www.amazon.com/Omega-Paw-Tricky-Treat-Ball/dp/B007T9VS1U/ref=sr_1_2?s=pet

Buster Cube - if you have carpet as it needs traction. This toy is more challenging than the tricky treat ball
http://www.amazon.com/Kruuse-Buster-Food-Feeder-Purple/dp/B003XLCISK/ref=sr_1_2?

Kong Wobbler
http://www.amazon.com/KONG-Wobbler-Treat-Dispensing-Large/dp/B003ALMW0M/ref=sr_1

Results from searching "food puzzle toys for dogs". You'll find that many are independent toys such as the examples above. And then some require you to be present to reload the compartments after the dog gains access to the kibbles. The latter category (a couple examples below) are more difficult typically than the solo activities. And work best when there's just a few kibbles in each compartment.

Interactive puzzle toys that require you to be present:

Outward Hound Paw Hide Treat Toy
http://www.amazon.com/Outward-Hound-41004-Puzzle-Training/dp/B0043A71PU/ref=sr_1
https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Dpets&field-keywords=food+puzzle+toys+for+dogs

Trixie Move to Win (this is one of my boys' favorite puzzle toys
http://www.amazon.com/TRIXIE-Pet-Products-32025-Move-2-Win/dp/B0054LTPTC/ref=pd_

Home made toys
Snuffle Mat
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaZeXOvnXik

Use a Muffin Tin to create an interactive puzzle toy
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=muffin+tin+toy+for+dogs

Results from YouTube search for "homemade puzzle toys for dogs"
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=home+made+puzzle+toys+for+dogs

And, of course, training using positive reinforcement is a fantastic way to provide brain exercise and increase the bond with your dog. You can work on basic to advanced obedience, or you can teach fun tricks. Training should be fun and low-stress. Using a clicker to mark the moment he does the behavior you're teaching, and his regular kibble for reinforcement, your dog is having a fun time and earning his food by using his brain!

101 Dog Tricks: Step by Step Activities to Engage, Challenge and Bond with Your Dog , by Kyra Sundance
http://www.amazon.com/101-Dog-Tricks-Activities-Challenge-ebook/dp/B004PLNSJK/re

Kikopup
http://www.youtube.com/user/kikopup

Donna Hill
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBObkR4ZUNY

Victoria Stillwell
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TxvHDVX2rQ

Having a variety of toys and activities that you can rotate through will allow you and your dog to engage in interesting activities regularly without either of you becoming bored. And by having some activities that are solo activities, allows you to continue to provide mental enrichment for your dog, even if you're busy or otherwise unavailable to engage with him at that moment. By using his regular food rations, we avoid over feeding him and he enjoys meals far more because he is getting to work for it, which is far more normal for a dog, than to have it provided for free in a bowl...

Hopefully some, or many, of these options will help to provide enough enrichment for your dog that he no longer feels compelled to find other (totally natural) ways to entertain himself...

Good luck! Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.

Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Worceter, MA Behavior Specialist
Masters Candidate - Animals and Public Policy (Animal Behavior)
Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
http://NutzAboutMutz.com  

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT

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IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com/ If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.

Experience

I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

Organizations
I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications
http://NutzAboutMutz.com ; http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

Education/Credentials
I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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