Article: The Sex Life of Our Pets by Colin Tennant

Previously published in PPM and Mad About Dogs Magazines

Pets and sex is not a subject most people like to dwell on, the idea of their beloved pet enjoying sex produces a cross between an uncomfortable feeling or outright embarrassment. It does not fit in with the pet image; safe, friendly, loyal, fluffy and cute. Sex has other connotations and unwelcome ones at that.

The nearest we get to discussing the sex lives of our pets is through dog jokes. Pursuing bitches relentlessly around the neighbourhood, cocking legs and sniffing the back end of bitches to poking their wet noses in the crotches of red-faced guests.

I personally find the whole dog sex drive fascinating and funny – well funny from the perspective of the reactions of dog owners. When a client is in my consulting room and in full verbal flow about their dog’s present outrageous behaviour, i.e. destroying valuables about the home, the dog only has to roll on its side with a projecting penis, which it slowly licks, this one action generally stops the consultation dead; if we both ignore it the owner can nervously proceed, if, however, I smile at their dog’s interjection (I often can’t resist) then the owner will normally try and nudge the dog out of its intentions or interrupt the performance in some other way. It never enters their mind that the dog is actually cleaning its sexual apparatus; the difference, of course, is that the client does it in the privacy of the shower or bath. It is animals’ unabashed openness that many pet owners find difficult to deal with.

The Fido Libido
Very few dogs are actually hyper-sexual. Some puppies display sexual behaviour such as mounting cushions or people’s legs. This is a part of their adolescence and the puppy is merely seeking relief for the desires caused by innate surging hormones that it is experiencing whilst growing up. Nearly all puppies grow out of this, however, some dogs of both sexes may continue this behaviour into adulthood. It is not just male dogs either, thrusting by females is not that unusual, but on the whole this is a harmless behaviour easily discouraged. Bitches basically come into oestrus twice yearly, an anomaly of domestication – their wild cousins, the wolf, experience oestrus once per year. Dogs, like the males of most species, are always trigger-happy when sex is on offer.

My mum who is 81 years old was watching Inspector Morse on TV the other night when Saphie my well written about Cairn decided to roger the fluffy teddy bear and right in front of my mum’s line of vision. Saphie carried on merrily thrusting the teddy – just short bursts and then she shook the life out of it like prey. She’s a rough lover and the whole action is innocent, maybe amusing, but most of all it caused embarrassment, especially, when Morse was about to solve his case. My mum was tutting under her breath and asked me to put the teddy out of harm’s way; more mutterings and disapproval of Saphie’s teddy bear adventures ensued. Mum was not pleased; someone of her age group is not so understanding about the sex life of pets. Attitude is an important factor with dog sex.

Males are the sex that obviously practice sexual mounting the most and can, on rare occasions, develop the habit to an unacceptable level or transpose the behaviour onto young children or adults who have not managed to stop the dog performing. This is when some dangers need to be taken account, which I will deal with to later.

Many a client has telephoned me and using euphemistic language, tried to describe their dog’s sexual antics with the neighbours kids, the cushions, granny’s leg or the obvious pursuing every dog walker’s bitch around the park, eventually causing serious altercations. Most owners don’t like their bitches being rogered in the park and that I can understand. Control is the key through obedience training. Humans practice courtship in the park and on a sunny day the boys will be chatting up the girls; even if they are rejected some carry on trying. Now dogs may not have the subtleties of people, but they are more or less chatting up the bitches in a more direct manner and often getting the same message from the pursued. Some dogs just don’t take no for an answer.

When women come into menstruation that will sometimes stimulate a reaction in certain male dogs and this can be another area of embarrassment, but it is simply the curiosity of dogs that is driven by their olfactory interest in all around them. Remember scent is their life. One client I had last year became frightened of her male German Shepherd Dog who became vocally aggressive each month. This was dominance drive behaviour over a close relationship; though the whole matter was solved it is a more extreme example.

The bottom line is that if you don’t like pets occasionally behaving like their species then don’t buy one; if animals demanded that humans should not have an interest in sex, we would find that difficult to deal with, so try to understand the species’ behaviour before getting all worked up. Most pet sexual activity is harmless and often is easily redirected or ignored.

Children
I don’t allow any dog to have sexual encounters with children regardless of the dog’s natural innocence and the child’s response, which is normally one of finding the attention amusing. Most of the sexual mounting of young children can be discouraged in a non confrontational manner or a way that does not upset the child-dog relationship. In more serious cases a concerned dog owner should seek the help of a CFBA practitioner at www.cfba.co.uk. You will get an email reply with the relevant details.

Marking Territory
Another unpleasant habit is when dogs, especially males, cock their leg on furniture in your or someone else’s home, or worse, even on some people’s legs. Though this not necessarily hyper-sexual, it can be discouraged using some of the methods outlined below. Dogs use scent in urine as we leave a business card for another to read. It is an instinctive behaviour and not related to cleanliness or our sensibilities.

Cats
Cats on the other hand perform their amorous, but noisy encounters in the night and rarely in sight. Only the Tom licking his wounds is the indictment of some fight over territory or a female in oestrous. Cats are or may appear more subtle lovers than dogs, though the barbs on the male’s penis that scrape the female’s sex organs upon intercourse, account for some of those blood curdling screams during the night, but that is the way of the cat and they truly are the sexual masochists of the pet world. Perhaps that is why dogs come in for more criticism, because they flaunt their wares unashamedly in our lounge or a public park, not as a moving shadow in the night.

Should I Neuter My Dog?
Male dogs, like the males of most animal species, are driven by their instincts and hormones to reproduce with any female found to be in heat (oestrus) and in their vicinity. For some reason it is comparatively uncommon for owners to neuter male dogs as opposed to spaying bitches. This in my view is definitely a man attitude, most women are keen to neuter a dog that I have made this recommendation about, but husbands and boyfriends seem most reluctant, it’s as if you are neutering them metaphorically.

I feel that providing the male dog is not developing some of the problems associated with an entire male (with testicles) then it is a personal decision. There is an argument that if all non-breeding male dogs were castrated then the amount of dominant aggression exerted by dogs to people and other dogs would reduce considerably. This is probably so, though much of the aggression of this type could be equally prevented by educating the owners more thoroughly on how to socialise young male puppies during the sensitive periods before puberty.

Is some pet sex more acceptable in certain species?
People certainly make assumptions and arbitrary decisions on what type of sex they will or will not tolerate; for example, the smaller the species or the less we are aware of its sexual activity the more tolerant we are. Fish mating in a tank excites most observers and hobbyists and is rarely seen as disgusting. Butterflies when mating is another exciting and often described as beautiful sight by many people. An elephant with a huge penis dangling near the zoo fence produces a mixture of embarrassment and mirth, depending on who is present. Yes, sex and pets produce a curious array of views.

So now let’s go back to our dogs. Having personally supervised the mating of many dogs and bitches, I can honestly say that the dogs appear to be as unashamed about their immediate actions and completely unfazed by humans’ sensibilities. I believe that animals trigger our cultural learnt inhibitions and one culture will react differently to another about the sexual lives of dogs or other pets.

Some methods to prevent or interrupt sexual activity
Use a water pistol or a washing up liquid bottle filled with water. Whenever you see your dog masturbating on a cushion etc., squirt a jet of water at it and command ‘No!’. Eventually the command ‘No!’ should suffice to make your dog stop. You are not actually trying to teach your dog that masturbating a cushion is bad, more that ‘No!’ means ‘stop doing that action’ or the dog may associate that its own action or position brings an unpleasant experience.

Redirect the behaviour
If your dog loves playing with a favourite ball or toy then teach him to fetch it. Reward your dog with praise each time he brings the ball back and repeat the exercise two or three times daily, though be careful not to go on until your dog gets bored.

When the ball’s appearance or your commanding ‘fetch’ produces an immediate response from your dog then his training has progressed sufficiently to be of use as a distraction to over sexed dogs. Now if you see your dog about to mount somebody or something, speak its name excitedly and throw the ball. In this way we divert the dog’s mind to the ball game and away from the sexual thought.

Using a scent or taste deterrent like lemon or citronella, spray the body parts that your dog is attracted to. This is especially true of small children who have difficulty controlling the dog with their voice. The dog receives a natural distraction or dissuasive experience as a result of its own interaction. For example, if it is a cushion or a child’s leg, then by spraying these three times daily for about a week, the dog consistently is deterred. Often this brings splendid results

Dog training
Last, but not least, have your dog obedience trained. When your dog has been trained to a sufficiently high standard you can use the sitting, down and stay commands to divert your dog’s attention. When he goes to mount something, give the command. Then reward him when he obeys the command and forgets the sex action.

In Conclusion
If the dog is only sexually stimulated by an object, like mounting cushions, simply by leaving the room each time the behaviour occurs, can result in a cessation of the behaviour. There is ample evidence to suggest that some dogs use masturbating on a cushion as a means of actively seeking attention. In fact with these dogs, even saying ‘No!’ or squirting the water pistol can be construed as a form of attention. So use your methods with this in mind and the ones that work with your particular dog.

Neutering is not a panacea for all male bad habits and is often carried out unnecessarily in the hope it will have an effect rather than being a rational assessment of the behavioural problem beforehand.

Some Main Points Associated with Neutering a Male Dog:

  • Some breeders request you do not neuter their sold progeny, but this is not a good reason to prevent neutering your dog. That is the breeder’s self interest.
  • Reduces sexual activity considerably
  • Dogs are prone to put weight on if their diet is not carefully watched
  • They are less likely to roam for sexual or territorial encounters
  • Urinate less often (mark territory)
  • Has a calming effect on its general behaviour.