Cornell Margaret and Richard Riney Canine Health Center

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What are zoomies?

Your dog isn’t crazy, they're just having fun

Does your dog ever get a crazy look in their eyes, tuck their butt and take off running wild laps around your house or yard? This explosion of activity has many nicknames among dog owners, from 'zoomies' and 'crazy eights,' to 'midnight madness' and 'demon possession,' but the official scientific term for this behavior is frenetic random activity periods (FRAPs).

Why do dogs get FRAPs?

“There is no known specific cause of FRAPs in dogs,” says Dr. Pamela J. Perry '89, D.V.M., behavior resident at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “However, they appear to be a way to release pent-up energy, or perhaps, to alleviate stress. A dog who has been home alone all day with nothing to do may feel the need to zoom around the house or yard to expend some of that energy and get some relief from hours of under-stimulation. FRAPs also can occur whenever a dog becomes very excited (e.g., when an owner returns after a long absence).”

FRAPs are most common in puppies and young dogs, but other dogs continue to get the zoomies once in a while for their whole lives. Some owners are able to instigate an episode by playing in a certain way or making a particular sound that sets the dog off into crazy mode. Or sometimes it’s just a wide-open space.

Times when your dog may get FRAPs include:

  • When you get home from work
  • Late in the evening
  • During play
  • During training if overstimulated
  • After defecating
  • When something exciting happens

Play with me!

“If your dog exhibits zoomies frequently or at inopportune times (such as when you are asleep), they may be telling you that they need more exercise and mental stimulation. Otherwise, enjoy the adorable antics while they last!” says Perry. Spending more time interacting and bonding with your dog is always a good thing for both of you.

For physical exercise, you can take your dog for a hike or jog (depending on age) or play with a toy. Swimming is another great way to wear out your dog and keep them fit.

For mental exercise, work on reviewing household manners and teach some new tricks. Scenting games, such as finding a hidden treat or identifying an item that has your scent on it, are also excellent ways to work your dog’s brain. Taking a walk in a new location with new things for your dog to see and sniff combines both types of exercise, and can be more satisfying than a walk in a familiar spot.

Watch for hazards

Zoomies themselves won’t hurt your dog, but a dog running around at full speed without a plan sometimes has unfortunate consequences.

“Although FRAPs are normal, a dog zooming around the house or yard may be in danger of injuring themselves (or breaking something). Owners should keep zooming dogs away from stairs, slippery floors, obstacles and the road,” says Perry.

Keep your dog in an enclosed space when off-lead. The best footing for hard running is grass, but carpet and packed dirt are also good options. Hard floors, ice and unstable footing, such as gravel or sand, increase the risk of the dog slipping or falling, which could result in an injury. Fill any holes in the yard, or mark them clearly with a barrier, such as a post or traffic cone, so your dog can avoid them.

“However, if a dog zooming around the house or yard appears in pain, frightened or anxious, then the owner should investigate what caused the distress by seeking veterinary help,” says Perry.

Your dog’s posture during and after a FRAP episode will tell you if they are having fun or if they are upset. Many dogs tuck their butts and tails as they run, as if they’re scooting along and trying to keep their tail out of a playmate’s grasp (this is even more common if you have another dog to give chase!). A typical happy zooming dog will be loose and even wiggly, bouncing around you when they slow down. Your dog's tongue might flap out, and they may play bow.

A frightened dog will be more tense, with wide eyes and a tightly tucked tail that stays tucked to the belly even when stopping. They may also carry their head low with ears folded back submissively. A scared dog needs to be calmed down, since this kind of frenzy is not a happy one.

If you haven’t seen a dog exhibiting FRAPs, do a search for videos on the internet. It is quite the hoot! And if your dog does get the zoomies in a safe space, never fear, and let them party on.

This article has been reprinted with permission from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DOGWatch Newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group. Subscribe online to DOGWatch Newsletter here.