Q: I’m fostering a friend’s dog for a few months and my dog has started hugging him in that special way that dogs do. What do I do when the dogs start "special hugging" each other? It looks like a Roman orgy over here!

 

A: Lulu and I have fostered our share of dogs over the years. It’s always fun to watch her teach shy and withdrawn pooches to cuddle or play keep-away. But I must admit that Lulu also has humped a few foster dogs in her day, even though she was spayed as a puppy.

 

For advice on how to prevent this unwelcome behavior, I called trainers Andrew Zbeeb of Frogs to Dogs in Atlanta and Kate Jackson of Jabula Dog Academy in Decatur, Ga. Both deal with unruly pets for a living, and both agree that it’s important to address “special hugging” early and often. 

 

“It’s more of an assertive thing than anything else,” says Jackson. “It’s a way of belittling another dog. It’s not necessarily dominating, but it’s very rude.”

 

To correct naughty dogs caught in the act, separate them immediately, Jackson says. Give the offending pooch a 30-second time out to sit and decompress. Then allow the dogs to resume play. “If they step out of line again, offer time out again,” she says. “Redirect, redirect, redirect.”

 

Changing this behavior can take time, Zbeeb says. So don’t get frustrated. It’s the natural, normal way that dogs establish pecking order, he says, even if they have been spayed or neutered. That explains why Lulu reserves this unwelcome greeting for fosters rather than play dates. She never dared such rudeness with Daisy, my sister’s smaller but more dominant, pint-sized pooch.

 

“It’s a primitive instinct,” Zbeeb says, adding that a high-value treat such as cheese or meat can help lure pets to another activity. He stresses that the treat has to be especially good to trump that instinctual behavior to hump. Also, it helps to put a leash on the dogs so you can lead them out of the room for a time out.

 

No matter how embarrassed you get, it’s important to maintain a level head when addressing bad behavior. Cursing, yelling or getting excited only worsens the problem, warns Jackson. As a lead trainer of pit bull training classes offered by the Humane Society of the United States, she puts that theory to practice every Saturday with mix of altered and unaltered dogs. If they grow agitated, Jackson maintains a calm demeanor in the eye of the storm. 

 

“The minute you raise your voice and start yelling for something that’s embarrassing or stupid or bad, you lower your level of control,” she says. “When your dog does something that mortifies you, be swift and get in there.”

 

That same rule applies if your dog decides to hump humans. Pull them away and schedule an immediate time out that’s outside or far away from the situation. You also can step into the dog’s space, reasserting your authority.

 

“Humping a human, that’s pretty ballsy,” Jackson says, no pun intended. That may be grounds for calling in a trainer for assistance. “If a dog shows confidence enough to belittle a human, they have low regard for people. That’s a dog that won’t tolerate any correction from a lot of people — and that can be pretty dangerous.”

 

In a previous column, I offered tips to help dogs behave around guests. Mastering the “place” command helps ensure good behavior. Zbeeb also recommends teaching your dog to properly greet humans. Start by making the dog sit and stay about 8 feet from the front door, but not right in front of the door. Once your dog masters sitting and staying, it’s time for you to approach the door. If the dog moves, offer a correction and make it return to the original spot. Return to the door and open it slightly, rewarding your dog for sitting and staying. Repeat this process daily.

 

By the end of the week, your dog should be able to sit and stay without approaching the door, even if it’s wide open. Of course, it took much longer than a week for Lulu and me. Once you’ve mastered this step, practice with familiar faces ringing the doorbell, then graduate to having strangers come to the door. With each exercise, the dog should maintain a sit and stay when guests arrive.

 

“Learning how to do this will also resolve the issue of humping humans,” Zbeeb says. “Dogs that hump humans don’t have boundaries and are saying, ‘I’m the boss.’”

 

We can’t have that, can we?

 

— Morieka Johnson

 

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