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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Dog humps husband's ear

Dear Jan,
We have an 8-year-old rescued border collie. He was adopted by us at age 1 year, was immediately neutered, and was a farm dog before he arrived to us. 
He has a consistent, nightly habit that we are wondering about...when my husband and I go to bed, Buddy jumps up on the bed, heads straight for my husband, sticks his nose in my husband's ear and tries to hump him, for lack of a better description.  His nose must find my husband's ear or it doesn't seem to count.  We tell him "no" and make him get down every night but it only delays the inevitable.  Once we shut the light off, he is on the bed like a boomerang and gives it a go.  If my husband hides his head, then Buddy waits.  When he tells him "no" he will again listen momentarily but then waits til we aren't paying attention again.  This seriously happens every night, has been a longtime battle and he only attempts this with my husband. 

Do you have an answer as to why he is doing this, or how we can curb this urge he has?  If my husband doesn't catch him and he is successful, he quits, leaves the bed and sleeps on his side on the floor.  We are quite tired of the game, but more importantly, we would love to know what this behavior is exhibiting.  After having performed rescue for 6 years with border collies, I tend to lean that it's an alpha thing but really would like someones input on it.

Lori

Hi Lori,
Dogs are a kick, aren't they!  The word that jumped out at me from your email was "habit."  Consistent, nightly.  Bingo.

This is a ritual that I'm guessing  got its start when he was an adolescent. Lots of dogs "hump" things on a human bed, some "mark" it by peeing (even females).  Dogs  pick up on the energy and the intense hormone exchange that happens between humans there, and it seems to trigger a reaction to mimic.  We have an 18-month-old Lab, very sweet and submissive, who will jump up on our bed and hump pillows when we leave him home alone for a few hours.  It's a fairly consistent but harmless behavior, so we haven't taken any measures to correct it...thus, it perpetuates.  We have a sweet female pit bull who consistently humps the male Lab in the kitchen each night while we're eating diner at the table.  Again....no great harm, somewhat humorous, so we haven't bothered to permanently stop it.  I suspect that's what's going on with your border collie.  His hormones initially triggered the action, and he didn't get an effective correction for doing it (in fact, he probably got some positive reinforcement, even though you didn't mean to...like hiding under the covers....that makes it a game).  Now he does it without even giving it much thought.

Have you ever played an internet game like "Bejeweled"?  It's easy to get sucked into playing "just one more, and just one more" of these fairly mindless games because there's something addictive (satisfying) about playing them.  When you click on "Play Again," you do it so quickly and reflexively that you're not even thinking about it.  If, however, you experienced a really strong negative reaction the next time you hit "Play Again"--like, your keyboard shocked you--you'd THINK about it next time and make the decision not to hit "Play Again."

If you really want to eliminate your dog's bedtime behavior you can do it in about three nights without much effort.  All the dog needs is a very immediate and explosive correction the next three times he does it, and he will choose to stop doing it.  Your husband should be ready for the moment he jumps up.  The second he's up there, husband turns into a big roaring grizzly, sits up and bounces the dog off the bed with a swing of his forearm.  When dog is on the floor, husband praises him in a normal tone of voice to reinforce the floor behavior.  Dog will try it again...same reaction from husband, maybe even stronger.  Repeat the praise when dog is on the floor.  Husband lies awake in the dark for a while, waiting.  IF the dog tries a third time, same scenario.  The dog will start engaging his decision-making process and choose to stay on the floor.

Let me know if this works.  Don't be afraid of offending the dog or hurting his feelings. You won't.  Feelings and emotions have nothing to do with this humping behavior, and your dog will be happy to oblige your wishes.  Your dog will learn to exercise self control the same way humans do--by making behavior choices based on the consequences of their previous actions.

Jan

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