Domestic canines’ wild relatives are predatory and scavenging omnivores that live in complex family groups. Domesticated dogs retain some of the behaviors that worked well for their wild counterparts, including territorial marking and mounting behavior. Urinating in the house may seem distasteful and mounting behavior embarrassing, but for dogs these behaviors are like leaving a message or shaking hands. Female dogs are equally as likely to mark or to mount as males under certain circumstances.
Social ranking in a group of dogs tends to be consistent as long as the group is consistent. However, as group members are added or subtracted or as group members pass through life stages, social rankings will fluctuate. New members of a group may produce increased activity and noise with their presence, such as mounting, posturing and other activities. New members’ position in the pack or their acceptance by the pack depends on their behavior when challenged by these behaviors. A change in reproductive status may also trigger a change in social ranking, so a recently spayed female may be attempting to re-establish her place in the group.
Mounting is sexual in nature only when a male is stimulated by the hormones of a female in heat. Otherwise, it is a ritualized behavior often used to establish rank: the animal on top is establishing his or her higher rank over the dog that is on the bottom. Spayed females are incapable of hormone production of that nature and are rarely aroused themselves by such hormone production in other females.
Dominance between dogs in a group describes the group interaction. The dominant dog in that situation is the one at the head of the group, which, in turn, should be subordinate to the owner. However, a dog who displays dominance aggression, often incorrectly referred to as a “dominant dog,” may differ from the lead dog in a group. If a dog demonstrates behavioral issues like resource guarding, aggression to people or to other dogs, and is generally disobedient to her owner, then she is not merely establishing her role in the group. Rather, she is an aggressive animal who requires careful training and constant supervision in a controlled environment. Spayed females may be prone to display dominance aggression. Ordinary dominance behavior to establish rank is actually intended to peacefully resolve disputes between group members.
Because mounting to establish social rank is not a sexual behavior, dogs will mount humans, other dogs and even inanimate objects. A short “tab” leash attached to your dog’s collar can be a useful tool when attempting to discourage inappropriate mounting behavior. Removing your dog from on top of another dog and placing her in a time-out can reinforce that you deem the behavior to be inappropriate, as can blocking the mounting behavior with your body if you see it beginning to take place.
- PetEducation.com: Normal Behavior and Instinct in Dogs
- PetEducation.com: Dog Parks: Fun and Games
- Televets: Dominance Aggression in Dog
- The Whole dog Journal: Dog Mounting and Dog Dominance Behavior
- Association of Pet Dog Trainers: Dominance and Dog Training
- Association of Animal Behavior Professionals: The Effects of Spaying and Neutering on Canine Behavior
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