It's OK For Dogs to Engage in Zoomies and Enjoy FRAPs

Allowing dogs to engage in Frenetic Random Activity Periods is a good idea.

Posted Sep 26, 2017

Today, as I was talking with Dr. Jessica Pierce about dogs engaging in what I call high-energy fits, she alerted me to the fact that these are typically called "zoomies" or Frenetic Random Activity Periods, often referred to as FRAPs. I didn't know this and really wasn't surprised that they've already been labeled because they're pretty common and lots of fun in which to engage and to watch. 

Zoomies/FRAPS are high-energy bursts of activity in which a dog looks like s/he is possessed, after which they often lie down exhausted as if they've run a marathon or played to their heart's content and need a break. On these zoomies, some dogs chase their tail until they spin so fast they fall over, only to do it again and again, some dash here and there but somehow seem to know the dimensions of their body and rarely run into an object, other dogs, or people, and then there's Darwin "the water fountain frapper dog."

Royalty free stock photo, Dreamstime
Source: Royalty free stock photo, Dreamstime

Darwin "the water fountain frapper dog"

One of my favorite stories of frenetic self-play involves a wonderful dog who was aptly named Darwin, a.k.a. “the water fountain dog.” According to his human, Dr. Sarah Bexell, who teaches at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Social Work and is a member of their Institute For Human-Animal Connection, Darwin, an Australian Shepard-Catahoula hound mix, is high-energy and wickedly smart, willing to work 24/7/365 for the person with the highest treat bid. I agree! I've seen Darwin in action countless times.

About Darwin the frapper, Sarah told me that Darwin has multiple fascinations, but other than for food and squirrels, water is his strongest motivator. He is well known for not being willing to come out of swimming holes. I have to bring water sandals to walk out to get him if two hours have passed. Even beyond this addiction is his fervent desire to drink fast-moving water. This was first discovered at a shooting water display in the square of Old Town in Ft. Collins, Colorado, where he would entertain passersby with his antics of chasing the shooting plumes of water, drinking them head on when he could catch them, which was more often than not. This drinking desire manifests every day at shower time, too, and the word “shower” must never be mentioned in his presence. At the slightest hint of a shower about to be taken (such as a set of clean clothes being placed in the bathroom), Darwin rushes to the tub and sticks his snout under the spout with anticipation. If said person decides to get a few more tasks done before the shower, Darwin often disappears. Where is Darwin? Fully in the tub behind the shower curtain, waiting in anguish for his shot of water. Garden time is another favorite, oh my, the hose!

Darwin truly is a frapper in all his glory. He's not only a water frapper, but also wired in other situations. He's really a frapper generalist. Watching Darwin, I often laughed uncontrollably, and I always thought it would be a wonderful project to study his obsession with water and his zoomies in more detail. Two of the dogs with whom I shared my home engaged in zoomies regularly, although they got in at least 3 to 4 miles of walking and running a day. The urge to engage in a FRAP built up and they just did it.

FRAPS also can be contagious. I've seen other dogs join in when my dogs went nuts, and at dog parks, it's rather common for other dogs to look at a dog engaged in a zoomie and go off on their own frapper fugue. One day I saw three dogs thoroughly self-absorbed in their own zoomies, and within minutes there was a crowd of humans watching them, cheering them on, and laughing their heads off. The dogs were "gone" and paid them no attention, and then, one by one, they laid down exhausted and didn't move for minutes on end. One guy had to get to work but couldn't stop his dog from zooming, and when the dog finally laid down he was oblivious to his humans asking—and then begging—him to get up because as he put it, "Someone has to work."

Is it okay for dogs to engage in zooms or frapper fugues?

Is it okay for dogs to engage in zooms or frapper fugues? Yes, it is. I spend a lot of time at dog parks and people often ask me if it's okay for dogs to engage in zoomies. My answer is always something like, "Yep, as long as you're sure that she or he won't harm themselves or others and it's done in a safe area." And, it's essential for a human to know their dog and to remain alert when either the dog or other individuals are in the path of a frapper fugue and potentially can be harmed. 

There always seem to be naysayers, and a few people told me they were emphatically told that zoomies aren't a good idea because dogs can hurt themselves or others. While I can't find any data on this aspect of frapper fugues, I'm always amazed at how few zoomies turn into something bad or injurious. When I asked dog park humans about this, they all agreed that very few, if any, resulted in any harm to a dog, other dogs, or the hysterical humans who, on some occasions, are laughing so hard they're tearing up. On occasion, I've seen a dog turn an ankle or shoulder, but never have I seen this result in anything other than a momentary break on a FRAP. 

My advice is to let 'em FRAP, let 'em engage in frapper fugues if they enjoy them, and be sure that you watch them romping here and there and prevent any injuries that might result from these mindless fits. Many dogs really enjoy zoomies and if they didn't, it's highly likely they wouldn't engage in them. Zoomies surely are part of what it's like to be a dog.

As with other aspects of dog behavior, detailed studies of zoomies are sorely needed, and I look forward to seeing the results of these projects. I know for sure that whoever does the research will find it to be a lot of fun. And, who knows, they might jump right in, zoom themselves, and thoroughly enjoy fugues of fun. 

Please stay tuned for more discussion of the cognitive and emotional lives of dogs and other animals. There's lots to learn and it can be a good deal of fun to discover what's happening in their heads and hearts. 

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate ConservationWhy Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence,Emotions, Friendship, and ConservationRewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and CoexistenceThe Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do will be published in early 2018. Learn more at marcbekoff.com.