Why Do Dogs Mount Other Dogs?

My female dog mounts other dogs.  Why does she do it?  I assume she’s dominating others.  She’ll be playing well with a dog and then suddenly she’s mounting him or her.  I find it obnoxious and so do other owners.  What’s the best way to get her to stop doing it?

Let’s begin at the beginning.  Fixed action patterns, or F.A.P.’s, are important behaviours that are pre-installed in all animals, kind of like the bundled of software that comes with a computer.  Fixed action patterns require no learning and are triggered by something in the environment.  For example, a moving string of wool will triggers a kitten to pounce.  The pouncing sequence is stereotyped across all cats.  Another is when the cat puff up and hisses when it is scarred.  This a self-defence F.A.P., again common to all cats and stereotyped.

Ethologists have coined the four big areas of endeavour under which most P.A.P.s fallow the F;s don’t pass on their incompetent genes; but interestingly, domestication allows the occasional Four F incompetence T creep in  Domesticated animals are no longer making a living in the world the same way as their wild ancestors did, so they can afford to drop certain software programs with penalty.  A goat with out a well-developed flight response is in much less danger then a deer.

Cats are an interesting case as they retain most, if not all, of their Four F F.A.P.s.  Because of this, man consider them a semi-domesticated or even a non-domesticated species.  Dogs, however are all over the map, breed and individual wise with regard to Four F F.A.P. Retention.  A given dog may or may not be very predatory (feeding), skittish and neophobic (flight), or highly competitive over resources (fight).

On to sex, reproductive action is, evolutionarily speaking, the biggest and most important of the Four F;s.  An animal that lacks super-duper strong courtship and reproductive F.A.P.s doesn’t pass on its ascetic genes.  Genes are keen to get passed on and never neglect to install the “pass me on now” urge, action and “wow was that ever rewarding” software in the animals they build.  For the most part, domestic animals retain repro F.A.P.s, although technology like A.I. (Artificial Insemination) reduces selection pressure here.

In dogs, the courtship and reproduction sequence was studied in considerable detail by Frank Beach, Ariel Merari and Ian Dunbar at the University of California at Berkeley.  A female that’s ready to mate might flirt with a male by mounting, clasping and thrusting for a bit, then get off, run away and stop, hopefully with a super solicited male in hot pursuit, not to mention oriented at the operative end of the female.

Your dog is, not loose, primarily because in playing, all actions of the Four F F.A.P.s are expressed in a giant jumble.  In fact, the leading interpretation of why animals play in the first place is that they are rehearsing key F.A.P.s.  Dogs play consists of chasing (feeding F.A.P. by the chaser) Flight F.A.P. by the chasee); play biting (fight and feeding); wrestling, body slamming and pinning (fight and feeding); and courtship and copulatory behaviours such as pawing, mounting, clasping and thrusting.  These are punctuated by meta-signals such as play-bows, bouncy movements and grinning play faces, which signal the playful intent of the F’s that precede and follow.  Note, all sexes might mount other sexes: it’s play.

So, when you say she’s “playing well”. I presume you mean she’s biting, chasing, slamming and wrestling with other dogs.  I am wholly fascinated by the sheer number of dogs owners out there who find these behaviours non-obnoxious but consider sex play across the line or, automatically defaulting to a non-sexual explanation for mounting, notably our old favourite, has reckoned, when an animal mounts and thrusts, I think we need to rule out sex before entertaining other interpretations.  In other words, when an animal does the granddaddy of all F.A.P.s during play, mightn’t it be play six, just like play fighting, play predation and play fleeing?  Bottom line: she is also playing well when she mounts!

If, on the other hand, you think you might consider allowing your dog to act in that manner while play, you could preform a simple test.  If you suspect that her partner may not be consenting, pull her off for a moment.  Does the mountee grab this opportunity to get away?  Does he or she hang out near by?  Or does he or she solicit play from your dog?  This consent test works for pinning, wrestling, chasing and other behaviours where there is any doubt about whether both dogs are enjoying the action.

The consent of both dog owners is also important.  Although we have poked fun at this action of mounting, no owner at a dog run should have to be pushed around by other owner’s dog.  No dog owner should allowing undesirable behaviour with which they are uncomfortable with, including mounting.  If everyone passes the consent test, the dogs can proceed. Females that are in heat will also mount females and males.