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Humping on Cue?

Twitter is all a flutter. The now notorious, 2007 YouTube video of Jean Donaldson’s Chow, Buffy, vigorously humping her extended leg on cue, has resurfaced. You can see it here.

Reactions to the video when it first appeared were swift and caustic. (And, they are still coming! The last one on YouTube was posted two hours ago.) In response to the immediate outcry and  in defense of her point of view, Jean posted “Buffy’s Nookie-Nookie and the New Breed of Trainer” to her blog on September 23, 2007. You can read it here.

Then just last Sunday (August 30, 2009) Suzanne Clothier posted a strongly worded blog entry, “Positively Abusive.” (Click here. You’ll need to scroll down to find the post). Suzanne said she hadn’t viewed the video until last weekend.

I’m not sure why I feel compelled to jump into this fray, but I do. Like the moth endlessly pirouetting around my desk lamp, my mind keeps looping around to the image of Buffy humping away and the myriad, mixed potent reactions it has evoked. Or, provoked.

Two things immediately came to mind.

One: I admire both Jean and Suzanne. Although I don’t know either one of them personally, I have read and enjoyed their books and I attended a workshop presented by Jean last September (2008) in Boulder. It was great. So their wildly divergent takes on this matter give me pause and stir my curiosity. 

Two: Demi Moore

Remember this photographAnnie Leibovitz‘s infamous portrait of Moore pregnant and naked on the cover of Vanity FairAugust, 1991. I do!

I was teaching Women Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder at the time. That magazine cover stirred some of the most spirited debates among my students that I can recall.

Some young women saw pornography, others beheld beauty. Some considered naked, pregnant tummies not ready for prime time, others thought it’s about time! Some perceived the image as being just the latest, brazen manifestation of sexual exploitation of women, others felt empowered to show off their own pregnant bellies too!

Just to be clear, I’m not equating Leibovitz’s photograph to Jean’s video. Artistically speaking, they are entirely different breeds. But, the strong and varied reactions to the video immediately bought to my mind the furor over the photo.

What do they share in common? It seems to me, both challenge taboos, specifically, taboos related in one way or another to sex. Both unashamedly expose images and behaviors we are not supposed to see boldly displayed in public.

Leibovitz’s photograph brought us up close and personal to a glossy image of a famous woman unabashedly showing her bare pregnant belly to the world. There would have been no dust-up had Leibovitz demurely draped Moore in tent-like maternity clothes. But, the photo left no doubt that Moore was a self-assured, sexually active woman, who  had had sexual intercourse (she was not artificially inseminated), and who was proudly pregnant as a result. Moore was shameless. This was a definite oops! In a society screwed up about sex, and especially queasy about female sexuality, Moore’s and Leibovitz’s audacity were beyond the pale.

The video of Jean and Buffy confronts us, from Jean’s perspective and presumably Buffy’s, with a ‘Girls just wanna have fun!’ version of a dog humping her mom’s leg—mom being a widely respected positive dog trainer. Not only that, the dog is being cued to hump and then encouraged and sweet-talked by Jean until she, Buffy, is, well, “finished!

While some of the reactions to the video, and I haven’t read them all, expressed approval, most ranged from harsh outrage to questioning what on earth was Jean thinking? If we consider these responses as a kind of a barometer of what is socially acceptable or not, then, like pregnant women nearly a generation ago were expected to keep their bellies concealed, it’s definitely out of bounds for our canine friends to hump human legs, and probably each other as well, in public anyway. And, it certainly follows from this that responsible dog trainers should not deliberately teach dogs to hump on cue and post the results on YouTube. Humping should be discouraged except, of course, when dogs are mating, ideally behind closed doors, or, on the Discovery Channel.

Need I say, when such social proscriptions are transgressed, naturally we react. While some of us may feel liberated–finally freed of cultural chains that bind–others feel disgusted and outraged. Some of us feel varying degrees of both!

I admit I felt uneasy when I first set eyes on Moore baring all on the cover of Vanity Fair. It was only by facilitating dialogue among my students that I recognized the taboos and social norms that were being challenged, and that my squeamishness was a culturally mediated reaction. I felt a palpable split between my gut (well conditioned to those social norms), and my brain, which eagerly engaged in one of my favorite pursuits at the time–dismantling male dominated Western culture’s repression of female sexuality.

Today, I barely blink at pregnant women wearing form fitting tank tops or their half-naked tummies bursting over low-rider jeans. My gut finally caught up to my brain. And, I do believe social norms have changed.

Getting back to humping. Just last evening Sadie, Romeo (Sadie’s best friend), and I were walking the Sanitas Valley Trail when Romeo had a humping moment—not unusual for Mr. R.

Poor sweet Ellie (not her real name) is a lab mix, I think. Sadie and Romeo have encountered Ellie many times before. Usually, Ellie is accompanied by her dad only. He’s fairly easy going with Sadie’s barking and pouncing antics at Ellie. He doesn’t even overreact to Romeo’s attempts to mount her. I, on the other hand, typically freak out. Romeo’s moms don’t want him mounting and I try to enforce their rules while at the same time attempting to extract Sadie from the mix. Two dogs on one is too much. I hate seeing Ellie overwhelmed and I don’t like Sadie’s bullying when she feels emboldened and backed up by her Romeo.

But last evening two things were different. One, Ellie’s mom was along for the walk. She frightens easily and tends to come unglued when Ellie drops her tail and rolls over attempting to appease my two rowdy kids, who, truth be told, are not easily conciliated. True to form, I performed my knee-jerk freak-out routine. Finally, Sadie came up for air enough to respond to my yelling at her “leave it” and “over here” which means stop what you are doing and come to me and sit. And yes, receive a treat.

With Sadie momentarily out of the picture, Romeo decided now is my moment to mount! This sent Ellie’s mom into greater paroxysms. But, and this is the second different thing, Ellie seemed not to mind one whit. While I was frantically imploring Mr. R. to cease and desist, my calmer brain was watching what looked like normal dog behavior. Ellie was just standing there, looking around as Romeo got off a few thrusts. Afterwards, the three dogs and three humans settled into playing keep away with a coveted stick, and conversation, respectively.

I’ve also witnessed Romeo make the mistake of mounting dogs that will have none of it. They let him know it with one sharp snark. And that’s the end of that.

All this reminded me a bit of butt sniffing–Unsavory from a human point of view, but a dog’s primary source of information about other dogs.

It seems to me people are coming to grips with butt sniffing. I see fewer and fewer dog owners chastising their dogs for chasing after another’s rear end. Maybe Victoria Stilwell is influencing us after all. In episode after episode she instructs people about the normalcy of butt-sniffing. Unlike us, dogs don’t possess an index of verbal greeting behaviors they can draw from and recite by rote upon making a new acquaintance. Rather inauthentic when you think about it. Instead dogs have amazing olfactory capabilities and butts. Really, what more do they need than for humans to step out of their way? Let dogs be dogs.

Of course when dogs sniff after people’s butts or, yikes, crotches, for the very same reason they sniff their own kind, many of us flip out.

Clearly the acceptability of dog-on-dog humping has not caught up to dog-on-dog butt sniffing. So, if dog-on-dog humping rattles many of us, then dogs humping people’s legs, even if invited to do so (or, especially if invited), well, that’s just too much. And, maybe it should be. Or, should it?

I do know that humping was the only natural dog behavior, except for bullying and overly excited play, that was interrupted in Sadie’s puppy kindergarten whether the humpee (human or dog) was bothered by the humping or not. But, because people generally are very uncomfortable with dogs humping and thrusting, simulating sex with physical movements uncomfortably familiar to us, our trainer was there to nip mounting in the bud.

And, that brings me back to Jean’s and Buffy’s video. The very behavior many of us are so intent on preventing or extinguishing in our dogs, Jean deliberately taught Buffy to do! And, then she demonstrated their accomplishment on YouTube! I mean, is that in your face or what? I must say, I admire Jean’s chutzpah regardless of how I feel and what I think about the humping itself. And, I appreciate Jean’s spectacular training acumen. Buffy, apparently not a humper by nature, humps Jean’s leg with gusto, on cue! Really, from a training point of view, that is, in my opinion, a stunning accomplishment.

But, should Jean have done it? Or, if it was okay for Jean to teach Buffy to hump her leg in the privacy of their home, should she have demonstrated her and Buffy’s skillfulness at her training seminar? Even if that’s acceptable, should that outtake of the DVD from the training workshop been posted on YouTube? And, what about the sweet talking encouragement and cuddles Jean gives to Buffy while she’s going at it on Jean’s leg? Is that going too far? Is it the sexuality, or what seems like it (if that’s what is even going on here), between a woman and her dog that pushes things over the cliff? 

What, if anything, in the video pushes your queasy buttons? Ignites your disgust? Rallies your righteous indignation? Or just leaves you LMAO

Like Suzanne, I just caught wind of the video about a week ago. Ensconced at Vic’s, my favorite coffee house in Boulder, I was reading and tweeting when I came upon a flurry of tweets referencing some outlandish dog training video on YouTube. After some time searching, I found the link to Jean and Buffy. But, because I was in a public setting without earphones, I watched the video without sound. And sure enough, I was, figuratively speaking, LMAO. That’s amazing! I thought. And, what a work-out for Buffy! The aerobic benefits were not lost on me.

Later that day at home, I watched again with the sound turned on. Oh my! I must confess the sweet talk and cuddles reached right out and pushed my queasy buttons. I will be perfectly honest with you. I felt embarrassed. Like I was seeing and hearing something I shouldn’t, something very private. It all seemed so, well human. Like one person helping another to masturbate to orgasm. But, it wasn’t two people. It looked to me like a woman helping her dog get off. Eeeww! And when Jean said Buffy wasn’t “finished”! Finished with what?  Executing a cued behavior? Engaging in a self-reinforcing behavior? Like eating? She just isn’t finished eating yet? Or, (gasp) she isn’t finished cuming?

Whoa! Watching those lovey-dovey interactions between Jean and Buffy set me on a collision course with our socially constructed wall of taboos and norms regarding sex, dogs, and people. I remember this feeling, I thought. I remember hitting the limits of my sensibilities back in the day when Demi Moore was pregnant and displayed naked on the cover of Vanity Fair. It was déjà vu all over again!

As I see it, my discomfort reveals as much, or more, really, about myself than it does about Jean. Whatever qualms I’m feeling, they’re all mine. Mine to observe, question, investigate, and explore—hopefully in dialogue with others.

For example, I tried putting myself in Jean’s place. I was imagining all the time and creativity required to teach Buffy to, on cue, do “a full mount, clasp and thrust on my leg,” as Jean described it. And, I was thinking not only of the time, but how, after hundreds of iterations of the same incremental behaviors, Jean likely became far more focused on the behavioral mechanics of achieving the end result to the point where the sexual aspect of the behavior faded into the background.

In fact, for all my talk about sex, I’m not even sure most humping has much to do with sex anyway. From my limited understanding, humping in dogs, especially a spayed female, like Buffy, can be motivated by many different things, including, but not limited to, sexual gratification. From what I gather, humping is a complex behavior to say the least.

I would certainly feel differently about the video if I thought Jean was harming Buffy in any way. But as far as I can determine from the video, and from what I know about how much Jean loves her dog, Buffy by all counts was happy. Unafraid. Alert. Upbeat. Generally enjoying her Chow-Chow self.

And, here’s where I see things differently from Suzanne. I just don’t see Jean sexually abusing Buffy. I don’t see Jean taking sexual advantage of Buffy. I don’t for a minute see Jean putting herself or her own needs as a trainer ahead of Buffy’s safety and wellbeing.  

Suzanne’s remarks do, though, remind me of the importance of context. The context in which we see an image, or in this case a video, greatly influences our interpretations of it. Just as my students and I would have had entirely different reactions to and debates about the same image of Moore if it had appeared on the cover of Hustler, so would I feel differently if I viewed a video of, as Suzanne puts it in “Positively Abusive,” a “motley collection of morons & stoners and humping dogs” in which the people and the dogs are engaging in the same behavior as Jean and Buffy. This conjures all sorts of possible horrible consequences for the dogs that, for me, would prompt cries to investigate whether or not animal abuse had occurred.

I guess as I see it, it boils down to this: When it comes to dogs’ welfare, I trust Jean because from what I know of her I have no reason not to. I don’t trust “morons and stoners”. Until proven otherwise.

There’s one more thing I feel compelled to comment on. Like Suzanne, several people remarked that some viewers would try to copy Jean’s behavior with Buffy like they imitate Cesar Millan–with disastrous consequences. For example, after Millan chokes  or zaps a fearful dog for displaying warning growls or barks, the fearful aggressive dog becomes even more aggressive and ends up biting.

Here’s why this analogy doesn’t work for me. Millan is actually harming some of the dogs he works with on TV. And, dogs bite him. Jean isn’t harming Buffy, I don’t think. And if a dog is not already inclined to hump, well, teaching all the successive approximate behaviors necessary to accomplish the ultimate goal takes considerable skill. Most people couldn’t begin to do this.

Maybe I’m going way out on a limb by saying this–you can take a dog to a leg, but you can’t make her hump—unless you really know what you’re doing. I suppose some jerk could try accomplishing the goal using positive punishment and negative reinforcement. But, wouldn’t they have thought of training their dog to hump their leg on their own? Or, are these crackpots so lacking in imagination that they need a creative boost from Jean and Buffy?

The conversation over this video, I’m sure, has not concluded, but I do need to end this post. It’s late. Sadie is impatiently staring at me. Time to go to bed, mom. So I’ll just bring this paragraph to a close and call it a night. There’s lots of ‘kibble for thought’ here. In the video. In Jean’s and Suzanne’s blog posts. In the comments to all of those. In the conversations on Twitter. There are still lots of unexamined assumptions to unpack. Lots of genuine questions to pursue. Lots of points of view to understand, even, or especially, if we don’t agree with them. I hope we can continue talking! But for now, I’m signing off. Good night. :)

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10 Responses to “Humping on Cue?”

  1. barrie says:

    You bring up a lot of very interesting points! I was in high school when the Demi Moore photo came out and I remember it well: fwiw all my friends and I thought it was empowering.

    I really had no reaction to the humping video other than, huh, what an odd behavior to bother to put on cue. But I remember assisting with an artificial insemination among dogs quite a while ago and while I understood what AI was it was a totally different thing to stand there holding the male dog during the process and for two weeks after his AI that dog would rub against any person’s leg and air hump next to you which was just flat out icky.

    I would be interested to see how some other cultures where people don’t have the same hang ups about sex that American’s seem to feel about the video and how they react when one dog begins to hump another.

  2. I participated in those Twitter conversations, and find it an interesting topic, much as you describe here! This post leaves me smiling. I often encourage “nose to butt” dog greetings, and it never occurred to me before that maybe people are a bit embarrassed by that and tend to want to discourage that! OH! Funny how when we work a lot with dogs, we just get used to their butt-sniffing ways!

    The part of the whole story that bothered me was just the condemnation, the tone. It’s scary to see how easily something we post on the internet can suddenly unleash that sort of “punitive” condemnation. Far better to let it unleash a conversation.

  3. Erica Houck Young says:

    I, for one, am extremely saddened by Clothier’s venomous attack. It was best left for an email directly to Jean Donaldson if she really wanted to address her outrage. Her blog is childish and pangs of jealousy via 7th grade verbal assaults. Also, she turned her blog comments off on her post about this video.

    Clothier screams outrage at what a “guru” is supposed to be portraying to other dog trainers – but instead points the fingers back at herself for her kindergarten tantrum/antics.

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Edie. Edie said: Fascinating post from @boulderdog1 http://bit.ly/160V6n (gives "Hump Day" a whole new meaning…) [...]

  5. Edie Jarolim says:

    Thanks for your analysis; it was really fascinating. I’ve got to admit that the video made me feel queasy and I don’t think it was just the taboo nature of the topic. I think Suzanne Clothier’s comments were a bit over the top but I’ve got to agree that Jean Donaldson was teaching a behavior that is socially inappropriate and therefore somewhat dangerous to encourage. Many people get upset, perhaps irrationally, by dogs humping their legs — which makes them less disposed to be kind to dogs. Demi Moore’s display and Buffy’s have in common social transgression but there’s one key difference: It was Demi Moore’s choice, but Buffy had no say in the matter.

  6. I saw this video a while back and never thought there was anything inappropriate about it. One of the best ways of dealing with self-rewarding behaviors is to put them on cue and bring the cue under stimulus control; from humping to biting, jumping to digging. Not only does this eliminate the unwanted behaviors uncued, but also provides the trainer with a non-food reward for behaviors which is obviously very reinforcing to the dog. I think it’s actually very clever training.

    Stimulus control is the critical component in putting any unwanted behaviors on cue. If a behavior is under stimulus control, the dog will offer the behavior when cued and never in the absence of the cue.

  7. Donna Jones says:

    I guess I must think differently to most people because to be honest I don’t feel queasy watching this. Mainly because I think of all the films that are family titles that have dogs humping in scenes with the main characters. Our kids laugh at that kind of thing, how do you train a canine actor to do that if the whole idea of training it to a cue is so distasteful? Almost every movie that contains a dog being cutely naughty has a leg mounting scene. A certain very well known one with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson springs to mind. No one kicks up a fuss about this, but when an accomplished trainer shows that she has achieved this behaviour, which is actually a natural occurrence, it’s like a huge group of people want to scream “cruelty”, “exploitation” and dare I even write the word, “bestiality”.

    I think this reaction, this hail storm of outrage is more a reflection upon those flinging the insults than the actual offending material being the issue. The people witnessing it and strongly becoming objectionable to what she is trying to show are voicing their inner fears regarding what they are seeing and what that means to them within their own moral standpoint, rather than a realistic and fair response.

  8. Kim Blankenship says:

    Suzanne Clothier’s blog about Jean Donaldson’s abuse of her dog Buffy, is completely on target. Clear. Honest. Calling an abusive moment clearly and honestly for what it was and what it remains: Abusive.

    If this had been a human child, and not a Chow named Buffy, I do not for one minute, believe that anyone, would be delving into “art? or not-art!” comments and queries. Instead, Jean Donaldson would be sitting somewhere serious, (police station, perhaps, or in front of a judge), attempting to explain/excuse/turn the “beholder’s eye” from the situation. (after all, Jean Donaldson said in her own video, “I have no shame.”)

    There are definitely times, when, if an abuser has no shame, then we, as thinking, knowledgeable human beings, must separate those who harm other living beings apart from those they would harm. An abusive parent, (for example, and I use the example extremely consciously), often still feeds, shelters, clothes the child, both before and after abusing the child’s body, mind, spirit, & soul, in ways that cause lifelong damage.

    Those abusers need to be removed, from the living being they are abusing. A lack of shame, is particularly dangerous, as it indicates a willingness to continue the abusive actions.

    There are abusive parents, parental figures, in the world, who are considered outstanding professionals in their respective fields. Among other members of their “elevated professions.” For example, doctors, lawyers, church clergy. (I picked those professions because they are positions of authority and power, and their colleagues, often continue to look the other way, even after learning that the colleague-doctor, -lawyer, -church clergy, is sexually abusing his or her son or daughter at home.

    I deeply respect Suzanne Clothier for not being willing to “look the other way” when one of her professional colleagues commits an act of abuse to her dog, Buffy. I stand with Suzanne, in calling abuse, what it so clearly is: Jean Donaldson is guilty of abusing her dog, Buffy, by teaching her to hump Jean’s leg on cue. It’s an abuse of body, mind, spirit, and heart, of a supposedly beloved pet, who’s owner has violated a sacred trust.

    Absolutely sincerely and serious,

    Kim Blankenship
    September 15, 2009

  9. Wendy says:

    “If this had been a human child, and not a Chow named Buffy”…
    Sorry but this is a totally irrational way to stage the argument that the cued behavior involving a dog. I couldn’t even read past that sentence as we are *not* discussing a human child, we are discussing an animal performing a self-rewarding behavior on cue. I understand that we all love our dogs like family but this is a real apples to oranges comparison and really devalues your statements.
    Deborah wrote a well thought out article, one of the best on this situation that I’ve read. To simplify the humping as a sexual act when it’s really very complex behavior is to totally ignore expert & experienced persons and throw it all out as “sexual abuse”, which I find insulting to those who have actually been abused.
    I found it a bit uncomfortable at first watch but acknowledge the training that went into it becoming a cued behavior and frankly even watching some Animal Planet’s Pet Star acts make me a bit uncomfortable with their cued behavior, like eating out of the owner’s mouth or human/dog dancing that looks like humping conga lines. I let my dogs sniff butts & inspect genitals & get flirty & humpy if it’s all done in play, because they know best how to be a dog and who am I to put my human morals on them?
    Hang choking a dog, standing on the lead near the collar to force a down, e-collar shocking a dog that’s showing dog aggression… those are abusive training situations. Keep it in perspective.

    Wendy
    camppitbull.com

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