Why does my pup get the zoomies?
No, your puppy’s not crazy. It’s not unusual for puppies to have episodes of uncontrolled energy or excitement. Cases of the zoomies, also known as puppy fraps, often occur later in the day. They can be that final burst of steam before the young dog retires for the day.
Pups can also have the zoomies associated with particular activities. It’s almost guaranteed to see some serious puppy fraps after bathtime. During or after playtime is another common time.
Although they are often just a release of energy and simple exuberance, the zoomies can sometimes be a sign that the pup is frustrated, overtired or stressed in some way. Mouthing or biting can be involved when this is the case.
How to deal with the zoomies
Depending on when the zoomies are happening, you may be able to recognize a pattern and be proactive. For example, if they always occur after dinner then the puppy’s environment and activities can be managed at that time appropriately to prepare for that.
1. Set things up to keep the puppy and you safe during the frap:
- pick a location for the puppy where they won’t hurt themselves flying off higher objects or knocking into stuff
- if you plan on interacting with your pup or being in the same area, use protected space to remove the chance of jumping or mouthiness
2. Refrain from interactions that will be too challenging for the puppy at that time
- kids and pups should be separated
- working on bite inhibition during a zoomies episode is not recommended
Be proactive and set the pup up before the zoomies begin. Use a management tool such as a crate, baby gate or leash.
Provide activities that will help keep the pup calm. A food puzzle, scenting game or chew item can help to keep the pup in a relaxed state.
If You’re Not Ready
There may be times when you haven’t been able to get set up or you get caught off guard. In these situations, it’s best to redirect the puppy.
If possible, interrupt the puppy by asking them to do something incompatible. Before they jump on you and grab you, ask for a sit. If they respond, praise and reward them well. You will now have a chance to change gears and get them onto something else. Make sure it’s something that is reinforcing to them.
- a treat dump
- a toy toss
- a favourite chew or settling item
If you are worried that they will immediately resume the zoomies, you can use the above to guide them into a contained area.
When used appropriately, consequences can be a very effective way to influence behaviour choices. They should not be used as your first line of defence, however. Although they can show the pup that certain choices don’t work out, they don’t teach the pup what to do. That’s why they should only be employed when you are already teaching preferred behaviours and redirecting your pup.
Please note that setting up your pup proactively in a containment area with something pleasant to keep them occupied and happy, is not a consequence. This can and should be part of your plan from the start.
Teach and reinforce skills
Although the zoomies are often completely normal and acceptable, it’s still useful to have some skills in place to help out. Teaching the skills needs to happen outside of the times you need them. By that I mean, you must introduce the concept and build it to a reliable and usable level as a training exercise. You do not train during the actual episode.
Here are a few examples of skills I teach that are helpful:
- settling skills
- space bubble
- lick not bite
In addition to teaching skills, you can also build a reinforcement history for calm behaviour by reinforcing those behaviours throughout the day. 50 A Day is one of my favourite ways to do this.
Are your pup’s needs being met?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, puppies can get the zoomies for reasons other than joyful exuberance. These outbursts can also be a result of stress, being over-tired, or feeling frustrated or bored.
Is something specific creating stress?
Jumping up, biting on the leash, and other forms of fidgety or frantic behaviour can be a sign that the pup is stressed or conflicted. Can you identify something that may be causing it? If so, support your pup by creating space, providing a distraction or lowering the intensity of the experience. If possible, prepare the pup for this situation in the future or be more proactive next time.
– Is your dog over-tired? Often incorporating more downtime with activities that encourage more settled behaviour will create a calmer dog.
– Is there too much adrenalin in daily activities?
– Are they getting an appropriate amount of variety?
– Do they get at least one good dose of mental simulation daily? Just with feeding alone, it’s easy to offer mental exercise 2-3 times a day.
– Is your dog getting enough physical exercise? The right type of exercise?
Usually, I have to encourage people to reduce physical activity and add more mental activity into their dog’s routine. It is possible, however, that a dog may not be getting appropriate physical exercise for their needs at a particular time. Even puppies whose activity must be managed to prevent injury or long-term damage, still need to be able to rip around to burn off steam. Long duration, mindless, repetitive activity is not recommended. Throwing a ball, non-stop for 20 minutes is not ideal, for example.
Having a safe, enclosed area to be able to run around for 5-10 minutes is really valuable. Before they are safe off-leash, many pups are not able to do this. This alone can create pent-up energy that can lead to inappropriate behaviour.
If a safe space isn’t always available, you can provide alternative physical activities:
- flirt pole
All of these should be played with some structure and rules in place so they do not turn into a free-for-all. Incorporate short breaks, changes of activity, and requests for settled behaviour throughout the session.
In conclusion, the zoomies are perfectly normal behaviour. Being proactive and using good management will keep both puppy and you safe and comfortable during these energy bursts.
And ensuring your puppy’s needs are being met, including teaching them the skills they need to be happy and successful will insure the zoomies don’t get out of hand.
In this blog, I suggested redirecting your dog by asking for a SIT. For many dogs, this would be a big challenge when they are mid-zoom. Although possible if you have separately taught your dog to respond when they are aroused or there are large distractions present, this would not be where you would ideally start. Instead, redirecting them is typically a better place to start. For example, I would employ a treat toss or toy toss to focus their energy on a more appropriate activity. This would allow you to then make requests for alternate behaviours such as SIT.