In Indian folklore, there is a story about a woman named Draupadi. Draupadi had five husbands who were all brothers. Her five husbands all agreed that while one of them visited her room, no one else could enter, and the husband must leave his shoes outside the door. The penalty for breaking this rule was exile for an entire year. One time, while one of her husbands was in her room, a dog stole his shoes and ran off with them. Another husband, unaware of her existing company, entered her bedroom to find Draupadi with the other husband, who would have to be exiled for a year. Embarrassed and furious, Draupadi found the dog who stole the shoes and cursed all dogs, saying “All the world will see you copulate in public, stripped of all shame.”
Dogs, like virtually every other animal, aren’t bound by the same kinds of morality and conscience as humans are. They feel no shame or embarrassment. For you, your dog’s mating habits might be a little bit awkward, and could even potentially result in legal consequences. So why do dogs mate in public?
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The Root of the Behavior
Did you know that the state of California has a law that says that it is illegal for dogs to mate within 500 feet of a tavern, school, or church? Despite this silly law, dogs will tend to mate wherever they have the opportunity, just like wild dogs do. If we take a look at the way dogs and their wilder cousins are wired to love and mate, we may understand a little bit more about what makes mating in public no big deal for them. For them, mating time might only happen once in their lives, or never at all. They have no reservations in regard to “getting’ down” anywhere there’s a willing female. Which could be, to your embarrassment, in broad daylight in a public setting.
Dogs, wolves, coyotes, and other canids all share the same evolutionary build when it comes to mating. Females enter their first “heat,” a phase of sexual receptivity and fertility called estrus, between six and twelve months of age, often depending on the size and age of sexual maturation in the breed. Males remain interested in sex all year-round, while unspayed females may enter their “heat” one to four times annually, usually twice per year. When a female is in estrus, she goes through a sudden rise in her estrogen hormone, which lasts for around ten days, before finally reaching the release of the ova, which initiates the dog’s true fertility.
When females are in heat, they emit pheromones, which are natural chemicals that are perceptible to other dogs. This scent may be detectible up to miles away. Most dogs are so instinctually driven toward this scent that even the most highly trained dogs will disobey their owner’s commands, sneak out and pursue the female in heat. Males will even fight each other over the right to mate the female. These same behaviors are still observable in wolf packs today. Mating and dominance go hand in hand.
Encouraging the Behavior
While mating is a completely instinctual and biological drive, it may not be convenient or appropriate. Generally speaking, dogs will mate whenever they have the opportunity, a willing female, and no other dog is around to fight off competitors. But that doesn’t mean that letting dogs roam around and mate freely is the right thing to do.
Because animal shelters and humane societies are usually overwhelmed with puppies and kittens, having your pet fixed as soon as your vet advises is a good idea. You may have to endure several months of hormone-driven behavior before that opportunity arises, however. In the meantime, you can start deterring your dog’s amorous behaviors with some training.
First and foremost, consult a vet to make sure there isn’t any underlying condition affecting your dog’s behavior. If other factors are ruled out, try to limit or prevent your dog from practicing his humping behavior, which can help prevent it in future. In this case, your dog’s lack of practice will pay off.
You can train dogs not to mount, but it may be one of the more difficult behaviors to curb, especially since mounting is not only a biological drive, but also relates to dominance, which is why even females may mount other dogs. Additionally, humping and mounting is a learned behavior, so restricting it early on will help you later. You can use a short leash to control your dog when they start to exhibit mounting behavior. You can also use a clicker to distract your dog, and reward them for halting the behavior. Persistence and consistency is key.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While mating is perfectly normal and natural, it’s not always acceptable timing. Dog parks, for example, don’t usually allow unspayed dogs in, since it only takes a few minutes of lack of supervision before you or someone else may end up with an unexpected litter of puppies, which may become expensive and inconvenient. You could even end up with a civil case on your hands if it’s your dog that is responsible for the unexpected litter. It’s just smart and responsible to keep dogs who are in heat in confinement until their estrus has passed and to fix males as soon as your vet is able to, which is somewhere around six months of age.
Additionally, if you’re considering breeding your male dog, be aware that once he mates the first time, he may be more inclined toward mounting in the future, regardless of the availability of willing females or even the ability to actually reproduce if he’s later fixed. That means your leg, your houseguest’s legs, your furniture, and even other dogs—regardless whether they’re male, female, fixed or not—may become targets of your dog’s amorous advances.
If you’ve got “mounting” problems with your dog, you should consider taking all the necessary steps to discourage the behavior, including training and “fixing” your dog. Not that mating is dangerous or harmful, but you may not appreciate the consequences, ranging from accidental dog pregnancy, legal action, or a nasty habit of mounting other dogs, you, your guests, or your belongings. With enough diligence and effort, your dog will avoid finding “satisfaction” wherever he can get it.