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Do Zoomies Signal a Happy Dog or a Crazy One?

... and should you ever try to stop a zooming pup?

Key points

  • When a dog frantically races around the room without apparent purpose, it's often referred to as "zoomies."
  • Some worry that zoomies is the canine equivalent of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
  • Zoomies are more likely expressions of excitement and positive emotion, although other factors may trigger it.
Eric Sonstroem/Flickr
Eric Sonstroem/Flickr

I no longer have a coffee table in my living room. According to some animal behaviorists that circumstance may have come about because I had a very happy dog—or perhaps because I had a dog that suffered from bouts of insanity.

To back up a bit, I used to have a coffee table in front of my sofa, which I actually used to rest my coffee cup and a bowl of popcorn or plate of cookies on when I was watching TV—but then I got Darby. Darby was a Beagle who grew up to be a highly sociable 35-pound dog. He was a perfect companion to interact with my nine grandchildren since he was incredibly friendly and relatively unbreakable. His only flaw might have been that Darby had occasional bouts of the zoomies.

What Are Zoomies?

For those of you who don't know the term "zoomies," you would probably recognize the behavior when you saw it. Your dog suddenly bursts into a frantic run. With his rump tucked and back rounded he's running erratically looping around the room or yard at high speed.

For someone unfamiliar with dogs their first thought is apt to be, "This dog has gone mad." But someone who knows dogs might observe that the dog's mouth is open, his tongue is lolling out giving the impression of a happy grin on his face, and his eyes are wide—all expressions more indicative of play than fear or aggression.

However, the dog is moving so fast that he seems to be oblivious to what's going on around him. He's unaware of what he collides with or bowls over. Then, after a few moments of this warp-speed activity, the dog seems to run out of steam. He plops belly-down on the floor as if nothing had happened, with the only evidence of his previous burst of activity being heavy panting. (Click here for an example of a dog's bout of zoomies.)

Scientists have labeled this pattern of behavior "frenetic random activity periods." The older label for this was "emotional overflow." Both labels are reasonably descriptive. This kind of behavior is not exclusive to dogs. Bursts of frenetic activity can be seen in wild animals ranging from ferrets to elephants. Zoomie-like behaviors are so common in rabbits that they have even earned the special name of "bunny binkies." Even human toddlers show spontaneous bouts of zoomies.

What Is the Meaning of Zoomie Behaviors?

For some people, witnessing such high-speed, but apparently meaningless dashing around by their dog evokes fears that their pet might be suffering from the canine equivalent of ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) since restlessness and random movements at inappropriate times are part of the cluster of symptoms for this psychological condition.

However, the occasional bout of zoomies is not a sign of a mental disorder in dogs. The consensus seems to be that the meaning of this behavior is similar to that often observed in young children, especially those between the ages of around 2 to 5 years of age.

It is hard to imagine a parent who hasn't encountered comparable behavior in children, especially if there is more than one child in the room. You announce "Who would like some ice cream?" The effect is immediate—children start running around the room waving their hands screaming "ice cream" or "Me! Me!" Such increased activity is usually associated with a positive event, since a negative or frightening situation typically results in freezing, cowering in place, or slinking away slowly.

Animal behaviorists have apparently drawn a parallel between such behavior in young children and the zoomie behavior that we see in dogs. This is sensible, because the average dog's mind works in a manner that is very similar to that of a human 2-to-3-year-old. A search of the Internet finds that many veterinarians and even the American Kennel Club define zoomies in dogs as "an excited expression of happiness."

The Multiple Causes of Zoomies

It certainly is the case that zoomies seem to be infectious fun. If you have two or more dogs, and one suddenly bursts into frenetic activity, it can cause the others to join in and you soon have what looks like a stampede of crazy wild-eyed dogs running around like they've all lost their minds.

However, further observations suggest that zoomies can be triggered by more than happiness. Although they may occur when a dog sees another dog or when their favorite person comes home, the behavior is also common following circumstances where the dog has been released from being restrained in some way, such after being groomed or bathed or is unleashed or released from a crate or anything else that might restrict movement.

Sometimes zoomies occur when a dog is confused or slightly stressed; perhaps after a dog-training class where the skills and behavioral controls being worked on are a bit more challenging, you may suddenly be confronted by a dog zooming around the room.

Should You Try to Stop a Zooming Dog?

Fortunately, zoomies don't last very long—a minute or two is typical—and, barring the effect of collisions with young children or items in the environment, they are not harmful. That means no intervention is necessary.

There is also an age factor since zoomies are seen more frequently in puppies and young dogs than in older dogs. That means that generally, you can expect that your young dog will zoom less and less as he or she matures.

When my Beagle Darby had the zoomies he would race around my small living room, inevitably colliding with the coffee table, spilling the coffee or anything else which might be resting on the surface. Unfortunately, during one bout of frenetic zooming, he collided with a leg of the coffee table with such force that he snapped it off. Since it was a fancy carved wooden leg it turned out to be irreparable, causing us to get rid of the table. Without that obstructing bit of furniture, we could watch Darby safely careen around the room every now and then, which was often more amusing than what was on TV.

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: gabriel12/Shutterstock


Bays TB. (2012). Behavior of small mammals. In: Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW, editors. Ferrets, rabbits, and rodents: clinical medicine and surgery, 3rd ed. p 545–556. St Louis (MO): Elsevier

Posner J, Polanczyk GV, Sonuga-Barke E. (2020). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Lancet. 8;395(10222):450-462. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)33004-1.

Lindsay SR (2013). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Volume 3, Procedures and Protocols. New York: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-118-69675-0

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