If allowed to stay in the same room, most dogs will watch their owners have sex, according to Katherine Houpt, a Professor Emeritus of Behavioral Medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In one memorable, instance Houpt recalls a woman telling her that her dog offered her a toy in the middle of the act — and not one meant for puppies. Still, this isn’t something dog owners need to freak out about.
“The dog senses the increased attention and emotion, and people usually aren’t moving and bouncing around so much,” Houpt says. “It’s likely that they’re responding to the unusual activity.” This may be why dogs bark or try to insinuate themselves, even when couples embrace fully-clothed.
More than 80 percent of dog owners think it’s fine to let dogs watch them have sex as long as they’re not being disruptive, according to a highly suspect but entertaining survey conducted by Barkpost. While there are no breeds known to be most likely to peep, Houpt says that dogs that are allowed to sleep in the bed or bedroom are obviously more likely to notice the action and stop by to watch.
For dogs, part of the appeal is envy—not of the sex, but of the intimacy. “Dogs are certainly aware when you show affection to another dog, even a stuffed dog,” Houpt says. “So I think that they can be aware of people paying attention to somebody other than them.” There may also be an element of exerting control, not over the human, but over the space. “I don’t think that has anything to do with sex. It’s more resource guarding — the soft bed, being able to stretch out — that is more likely.”
Ultimately, unless a dog is aggressive in response to its owners having sex (and as long as Fido isn’t killing the vibe) there’s really nothing wrong with letting your dog watch. And you can take comfort in your dog’s ignorance—despite a growing amount of neurological research on dogs revealing their responses to their owners, Houpt doubts dogs have any idea that you’re having sex. “We don’t know what the dog is thinking, but I really don’t think they’re able to intellectualize that sex is happening,” Houpt says.
“The question of whether they understand sex is very hard to answer,” Houpt says. “And I sincerely doubt the National Science Foundation would give you or I the money to find out.”