Dog owners are often baffled when their pets will suddenly get a ridiculous burst of energy that sends them racing around and around the house or yard as if they're competing in a high-stakes chase with no other participants. As quickly as it starts, the frenzied race ends and the pup plops back down and everything is normal again.
Animal behaviorists and trainers have dubbed these bursts "frenetic random activity periods" or FRAPs. But pet lovers often just call them the zoomies.
FRAPs are just normal releases of pent-up energy, says veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker. They're relatively harmless unless you have a small house with a lot of fragile obstacles or you get caught in the path of your racing pet, he says.
"Puppy and young dogs are most likely to engage in these bursts of crazy, but even an old dog can sometimes get the zoomies, especially with a pup to spur him on," says Becker.
Don't want to risk the furniture or your kneecaps? Becker says it's an even better idea to help your dog release his energy with a good walk, a game of fetch or some other active fun. Most dogs these days are "born retired," he says, and rarely get the exercise they need.
Although some trainers say certain breeds such as herding dogs and greyhounds are more likely to experience FRAPs, U.K. animal behaviorist Georgina Martin points out that nearly all dogs zoom after a bath. Maybe it's the release of energy or frustration or just the relief that they're no longer in the tub and can do something a little less distasteful.
In any case, she says, "True zoomies are obviously fun, can start spontaneously and the dogs appear to enjoy them."
Some trainers, however, believe that FRAPs aren't normal or "cute" behaviors and that they should be curbed by training.
Trainer Suzanne Wiebe of the Sport Dog Training Center in Ontario says the occasional crazy racing after a bath or during a romp at the beach is fine, but regular wild outbursts are just not OK. She suggests that the zoomies may be related to overstimulation, stress, diet or lack of sleep. She doesn't think FRAPs — which she finds occur most often in the morning and at 7 p.m. — are related to a dog's need for exercise or play time.
"Managing the dog zoomies can be difficult," she writes. "Some people find the zoomies funny or cute. In many cases they do not get out of control. I don’t suggest allowing them because you have no control when the dog will zoom. Eventually your puppy will be bigger and you will find your home in a shambles. You will have to arrange your schedule around the dog’s outburst of energy."
Wiebe says don't punish or chase your puppy or dog. She also suggests that you don't laugh or encourage zooming. Never allow barking or biting while zooming either, she says.
Vermont dog trainer Kevin Behan believes that FRAPs are actually a dog's fear coming to the surface so it can dissipate. A dog typically zooms when it feels safe, Behan says.
"It looks just as if the dog is being chased by an imaginary predator close on its heels nipping at its tail so that it has to zig and zag to keep away from it."
Behan agrees that you shouldn't try to chase your dog when he has the zoomies.
"The worst thing an owner can do is encourage this kind of behavior or play chase because now they are becoming the very embodiment of the imaginary predator."
Some trainers — and lots of dog owners — don't agree that fear motivates these frantic outbursts.
In fact, veterinarian Becker says it can be fun to try to train your dog to zoom on cue.
Try it by mimicking a play bow with your front down, rear up and a smile on your face. Some trainers say give an oral cue "rev, rev" or "zoom" right when your dog starts to zoom. Combine that with the play bow and there's a chance your dog may eventually race off on command.
Not sure you've ever seen a dog with the zoomies? Take a look at this exhausting video: