Let’s face it: dogs are weird. They make strange noises, they keep odd hours, their personal hygiene is just awful. Dogs are attracted to strange smells and they eat awful things (like poop) and they seem to have a sixth sense about when to jump on the wrong person at the right time. One of the strangest things that dogs do is to mount, well, almost anything you care to name. Dogs will mount legs, furniture, household appliances, anything that stays still long enough. And that includes other members of the household, such as children, other dogs, and cats. In fact, of all the strange things dogs do, mounting cats has to be at the top of the list.
The Root of the Behavior
We know, of course, that the act of mounting is part of reproduction. And yet, mounting is a behavior we see in dogs who have been fixed. Female dogs mount as indiscriminately as any other hound. And although we see unaltered male dogs using mounting to masturbate when they can’t get to a female in heat, the behavior seems otherwise untied to reproduction. It’s just a weird thing dogs do at one time or another.
Other than sexual arousal, conventional wisdom tells us that dogs mount out of a dominance display. However, mounting by itself may not only be about dominance. As Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist Dr. Peter Borchelt says, “Mounting could be a part of a suite of behaviors associated with aggression, such as high posture, resource guarding, direct stares, and threats and standing over. But mounting, in and of itself, doesn’t indicate a status issue. By itself, mounting might not mean a lot.
So if mounting isn’t necessarily a dominance posture and it isn’t about reproduction, why do dogs do it? Dogs, especially young dogs, will often mount during play. Such play habits rarely result in erections and are closer to children wrestling rather than anything sexual or domineering. Mounting during play is often seen in poorly socialized dogs.
Anyone who has ever lived in a mixed household (with dogs and cats) knows that, contrary to popular myth, dogs and cats often get along well. In the artificial environment that we create for our pets, they are family and often friends, but always rivals. So your dog may mount your cat, or even vice versa. These interactions are generally playful, but it’s important to make sure that your animals don’t inadvertently hurt each other.
Often, dogs will mount when they are stressed or over-emotional. You may find that your dog finds something to mount when you break out the leash or mention a car ride. Perhaps your dog mounts other animals while at the vet’s office. After all, going to the doctor’s office is stressful for anyone. Other times, your dog may be inspired to mount when a visitor comes to the house.
Encouraging the Behavior
When you see your dog mount inappropriately, whatever the reason, it can be embarrassing. Sometimes, it seems like dogs have a sense for maximum awkwardness, and they wait to mount until they can do it in front of a visiting pastor or a young child. In general, dogs don’t need encouragement to mount, and people can’t eliminate the behavior. But we can control it.
The first step in controlling inappropriate mounting is the most obvious: spay or neuter your dog. While it’s true that pets that have been “fixed” will still mount, the elimination of the reproductive drive will go a long way towards curtailing the urge.
Another important step towards controlling mounting is to take note of the behavior of your dog before she begins to mount. Dogs will generally exhibit specific behavior before mounting, such a licking, panting, or pawing. When you see your dog start to act like she is going to mount inappropriately, distract her. Give her a toy or play with her. Give her something to do other than mount inappropriately.
If your dog mounts people, be sure to push her off with a firm no. If necessary, be prepared to give her a time out. Put her in a room by herself, without any people, pets, or toys. Be sure to let her out after a few minutes, but if she starts to mount again, put her back in isolation.
Other Solutions and Considerations
In some cases, your dog’s behavior may actually stem from a physical ailment. Urinary incontinence, urinary tract infections, skin allergies, even priapism, which is a persistent, painful erection, can all lead to mounting in an effort to seek relief. These medical conditions, if left untreated, will not get better on their own, and can cause other medical conditions such as hot spots and kidney infections.
In addition to physical concerns, dogs can become compulsive about mounting, meaning that they simply can’t stop themselves from mounting. In this case, training would be ineffective and your dog may react with hostility to any effort to redirect their behavior. If you suspect your dog’s mounting is related to a physical condition or a compulsion, please talk to your veterinarian.
All of this brings us back to the original question: Why do dogs try to mate with cats? The fact is that your dog really isn’t trying to mate with a cat, of course. Dogs usually engage in mounting behavior as part of play, as a show of dominance, or out of just sheer obnoxious excitement. The truth about cats and dogs is that cats will also use mounting for the same reason that dogs do. Cats are just as weird as dogs are. But, let’s face it, their people, us, are also pretty weird, too. Isn’t life great?