What Makes Your Dog Get ‘the Zoomies’?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

dog zoomies

Story at-a-glance -

  • Researchers have determined that the endearing behavior in dogs known as “the zoomies” is completely natural and stems from a feeling of well-being
  • The technical term for the zoomies is frenetic random activity periods, also known as FRAPs, and it’s been exhibited in dogs regardless of their age, size or breed
  • When you’re home with your dog and he gets a sudden bout of the zoomies, it may be acceptable in the backyard or inside where nothing can get broken, but you may wonder if your dog will hurt himself
  • As long as you keep your eye on your dog and he’s in a safe place when he starts dashing back and forth and “going bonkers,” animal experts say such behavior is completely normal and does not pose a risk to your dog
  • Humans also experience feelings of exuberance and normally know how to temper them, but dogs have no such restraints. But don’t worry; when dogs exhibit feelings of such irrepressible happiness, it’s actually a good thing

When dogs see their favorite human walking up the driveway or hear the question “Would you like a treat?”, dogs sometimes exhibit excitability similar to what you often see in toddlers. It’s an over-the-top happiness that some might describe as “bonkers,” but a new term was coined recently, and it fits quite well: “the zoomies.”

Sometimes dogs are overtaken by excitement for no discernible reason, dashing around in circles or back and forth, stopping abruptly to look at you quizzically before taking off again. While it’s pretty funny to witness, it can get a little dicey if the dog is very large, or if they’re in the dining room where the china is.

If you’re at home and get a kick out of watching your hilarious pup tearing around out of sheer excitement, crashing into furniture or using couches, tables, lamps and anything else as vaulting pads, you may be fine with that. But when guests arrive, or you take your dog to visit someone else’s house (or the social equivalent), such behavior in a dog is generally not well understood.

To some pet parents, it’s credited to the dog being young or excited about an event, including unexpected visitors, but if you really have no clue, you’re not alone. Many people have asked why it happens, especially if you’ve tried multiple times to get them to stop. Are such bursts of high-strung excitability normal, short as they are? Author and animal emotions expert Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., weighs in with assurances:

“I’m always amazed at how few zoomies turn into something bad or injurious. When I asked dog park humans about this, they all agreed that very few, if any, resulted in any harm to a dog, other dogs, or the hysterical humans who, on some occasions, are laughing so hard they’re tearing up.”1

The Zoomies: There’s a (Scientific) Name for That

You may have seen children get a little animated just before bedtime. Not just asking for another glass of water or one more book to be read to them, but the animated silliness that might ensue when they’re overtired. Depending on their age, they may be unable to curb their enthusiasm, which is why you’re the parent; you can help guide them to a slightly less strenuous pastime. As BarkPost observes:

“The zoomies are totally normal — and, in the right circumstances, they can be pretty entertaining (who doesn’t love watching a dog run around in the backyard?!). But there may be times when the zoomies just aren’t convenient (like bedtime!) and you want to calm your dog down.”2

Zoomies is just a descriptive name, but it turns out there’s a technical term for this behavior: frenetic random activity periods, also known as FRAPs. The burst of energy dogs exhibit usually lasts only a few minutes, but they can happen any time, whether your dog is excited or seemingly relaxed.

According to Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a veterinarian based in Los Angeles, any and every dog can demonstrate FRAPs, but surprisingly, very young puppies may not show their exuberant selves in this way as often as older dogs do simply because their bodies haven’t fully developed enough physically to exert that much energy. In fact, if they’re healthy and happy, adult dogs can zoom any time.3

Animal experts aren’t 100% sure why dogs get the zoomies, but it’s possible that it’s simply a surge of pent-up energy. Humans experience it, too. Normally, adults know how to temper it when a bubble of exuberance threatens to spill over, say during a wedding, at work or some other inopportune time. When dogs experience a sudden surge of conviviality, it’s actually a good thing.

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Is It OK for Dogs to Exhibit Frequent FRAPs?

Is it OK for these surges of energy to occur in dogs? In a word, yes. Bekoff notes that as long as you’re keeping your eye on your dog and he’s in a safe place, such as inside a large room, in a park or other safe area, he’ll be OK. It’s also important to know your dog and remain alert when they’re under the momentary influence of the zoomies, especially if there are other dogs or people around.

In fact, Bekoff adds, FRAPS can be contagious. Dogs observing other dogs in the throes of such enthusiasm often can’t help but join in. Further, any dog can experience them, regardless of age, size or breed. Zoomies are normal. In fact:

“It’s nothing to be concerned about. In fact, quite the opposite! These bursts of energy are typically a sign your dog is happy and healthy. Your dog’s not going to run around like a crazy pup if they’re feeling sad or under the weather!”4

What to Do When Your Dog Has the Zoomies

While it may be entertaining to watch your dog experiencing the joy of being alive and letting it all out in the truest form of “frequent random activity,” even if it’s just dashing around with no real destination in mind, there will be times when it’s neither convenient nor appropriate.

So what do you do? You don’t want to scold him — he’s just burning off excess energy and doesn’t know what to do with it. If you think he might be trying to deal with stress, there are a few positive actions you can take.

If you notice that your dog gets the zoomies at certain times of day, whenever you take him for a play date with another dog or you can read in their unspoken communication that the zoomies are imminent, keep them away from stairs or any elevated areas, as well as slick surfaces such as wood floors, which they can slide on and go further than they calculated. Grassy places are safer.

If you’re with your dog in areas close to a road and the zoomies set in, don’t chase them. Your dog will likely think you’re joining in their game and run faster. Try coaxing the pooch to you with a treat or toy, and if all else fails, run the opposite way, and they might chase you. As soon as you can, slip on the leash to keep them with you.

One of the best ways I’ve found to help curb the frequency of energetic outbursts is a daily dose of rigorous exercise first thing in the morning. In fact, I’ve been able to moderate the length and intensity of outbursts from healthy dogs living with geriatric pet parents by designing daily morning routines that include rigorous swims, treadmill sessions and/or 20 minutes of intense retrieving exercises. Even a really long walk can help reduce the amount of pent up energy healthy dogs carry around all day.

If they’re into it, they may enjoy a vigorous run, even if you have to attach their leash to your bicycle handle. If you’re with your dog in a place that’s not conducive to zoomies, don’t engage or otherwise react, and speak calmly to avoid having them get even more excited.

After an intense exercise session, if your dog still has the desire to really move his body you might also try playing calming music, which studies like one in the U.K.5 have shown to go a long way toward relaxing your pup long enough to run out of steam, whether they’re experiencing stress or have a case of the zoomies. The main thing is, don’t worry. Zoomies are normal and show your pup is happy and full of energy. And that will undoubtedly make you happy, too.