Why Do Dogs Get the Zoomies?

Contrary to popular opinion, this energetic behavior isn't always a sign of joy.

Almost every dog owner is familiar with the zoomies—those random bursts of energy that cause your pup to run in circles, chase their tail, or jet off as soon as you unhook their leash at the park. And while you might think dog zoomies are just one of those weird dog behaviors that pet owners have come to expect, they actually have a technical name—frenetic random activity periods, or FRAPS—and can tell you a lot more about your pup’s mood than you might think. For more ways to read your pet’s mind, make sure you’re aware of the 30 things your dog wishes you knew.

According to the American Kennel Club, dog zoomies are frequently caused by “an excess buildup of energy that dogs hold on to, which is then released in one big burst.” That said, there are several reasons your dog might develop this buildup of energy, from a fear-inducing grooming session to an exciting reunion with a fellow playmate. Ahead, an expert behaviorist explains the common reasons dogs get the zoomies, and how you should respond to them (if at all). And for more behaviors to be aware of, don’t miss the 14 ways your dog may be asking for help.

They are excited

In many cases, dog zoomies are caused by excitement and can occur whenever your pup gets into a high-energy state. For example, some dogs get the zoomies after a bath, while others get them after a favorite family member comes home or when they’re released from their crate. The zoomies can also be a learned behavior that your dog has picked up to entertain you, especially if you tend to hype them up as they jet around. “It may be that the dog has learned that this is a way to instigate attention or to create a game,” says E’Lise Christensen, DVM, DACVB, a veterinarian and board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

They are anxious

On the flip side, dog zoomies could be a sign of discomfort. For example, if your pup tends to get the zoomies after a high-stress walk or a trip to the vet, the behavior could be a result of anxiety. “When we see them doing this burst of excitement, it isn’t always a happy excitement,” says Dr. Christensen. “Sometimes you’ll see that their facial muscles are really tense, that their ears are back, that their muscles are tense, and even if they’re wagging their tail, they’re not wagging their whole body.” If that’s the case, you may want to speak to a professional who can help you get to the root of the problem.

So, how should owners respond to dog zoomies?

If your dog gets the zoomies on a regular basis, it’s worth mentioning the behavior to your vet or a professional who’s trained in behavior analysis. “When a client says zoomies to me, what I need to find out is: what does that look like, how long does it last, and what is causing it,” says Dr. Christensen. “And as we look at all those factors, we also want to figure out if it’s a problem for the family and if it’s a situation where the dog looks comfortable and happy or a situation where the dog looks uncomfortable or unhappy.”

From there, a professional can create a plan for your pup. “The plan might be that the behavior is no big deal and to ignore it,” says Dr. Christensen. “But if it turns out that there are specific things that trigger these events—and especially if it turns out that these events don’t look like a dog that’s really comfortable and joyful and happy—then we may try and backtrack to find out when these events are happening and what’s triggering them.” Once you know the cause, you can work on a solution; for example, teaching the dog a new way to respond to the situation that doesn’t involve running around. In addition to zoomies, these 11 behaviors mean your dog might need obedience training.

Ultimately, the goal is to make sure your dog is comfortable. “While I’m not trying to rain on anybody’s parade, sometimes dogs who are doing what people call the zoomies are not having fun,” says Dr. Christensen. “So we need to figure out who those animals are so we can treat them.” In order to know if your pet feels at ease, these are the 12 telltale signs your dog is happy.

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Juliana LaBianca
Juliana LaBianca is a writer and editor Based in New York City. She specializes in lifestyle topics from health and home to travel and trivia.