Since this is a family newspaper, we must approach this week's canine problem in a delicate fashion. However, mounting behavior in dogs is a serious problem that is seriously embarrassing. After watching commercials (during football) this weekend, I've learned that embarrassing problems are given initials -- so, from here on out, I am going to refer canine mounting behavior as CMB -- those of you who have read the first paragraph will know what I mean henceforth. And those who skipped the first paragraph -- well, you're reading it now, aren't you?
CMB is usually seen in young puppies. Male or female, this problem behavior is not gender specific. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that CMB isn't even a sexual behavior in most cases, because these puppies haven't gone through puberty.
Instead, CMB is a sign of dominance, or "ownership," as I like to think of it. When a puppy displays CMB on a pillow or toy or another dog or a person's leg, that puppy is actually saying "I own you." Left untreated, CMB is not only embarrassing for the owner, but it also creates a bratty dog that thinks that he owns everything and will refuse to respect everyone.
If your puppy is less than 6 months of age and is displaying CMB, then this most assuredly is a behavior problem and not a sign that she or he is "in love." Remember, most puppies go through puberty between 8-9 months of age (though it can be as early as 6 months of age in some cases).
Adult dogs tend to be very forgiving with puppies, and they will tolerate CMB because they realize that young dogs have no manners. However, if you allow the puppy to repeatedly display CMB on the adult dog, then you are actually sending a message that the puppy may be in charge.
It is important to correct CMB as soon as it begins, and it starts with a clear, loud, firm "No!" Clapping the hands or providing some other sort of distracting noise can send a message that this behavior is unacceptable. For goodness sake, don't laugh at the dog, because this just encourages more bad behavior.
Some puppies are so stubborn that we need to place a long leash on them and give a firm tug on the leash whenever he's being naughty (and say "no.") Of course, if a puppy continues to "own" a particular pillow or toy, then take it away.
A repeat offender doesn't deserve to play with the rest of the pack (human or canine), and isolation can be an effective punishment for some dogs, but the puppy must be immediately isolated as soon as the behavior begins.
It is important for your dog to respect you and the normal pack order within your household. If a dog keeps displaying CMB with people or dogs, then he doesn't respect those individuals. In extreme cases, I have had to roll a dominant, misbehaving puppy on his back (just like a top dog would do) in order to teach him that I am the boss and he isn't. Don't expect a dominant puppy to like getting that message -- many will try to bite their owner and have a tantrum when being held on his back. You must hold the puppy until he has submitted by no longer struggling or having a tantrum.
When adult dogs engage in CMB with people, it is a very worrisome sign that they don't respect those people at all. An owner who tolerates CMB in his/her adult dog actually reinforces the message that the dog is in charge -- and that dog will assert his dominance in other ways -- often by soiling in the house, refusing to eat dog food, or running away whenever he is called. I don't recommend rolling adult dogs on their back -- unless you have been advised to do so by a dog training professional who knows you and your dog.
Having a pet spayed or neutered (at about 6 months of age) will eliminate a lot of the dominance (ownership) behaviors that we see in intact pets. Even "fixed"' dogs have a certain pack order, but they don't usually need to assert it as much as intact canines. Certainly, if your adult dog is exhibiting CMB, the he or she should be fixed (immediately!) and enrolled in obedience classes -- both activities will improve your dog's overall personality, as well as his respect for you and the rules of the household.
Dr. Jon Klingborg is a veterinarian associated with Valley Animal Hospital in Merced. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.