Why Do Dogs Zoom-zoom-zoom Around the House?

Behaviorists call the syndrome of a dog running helter-skelter around the yard, or zooming from room to room in the house “frequent, random activity periods (FRAPS). However this is a profound misnomer because there’s nothing random about this activity. When a dog goes zoom-zoom-zoom it is actually fear coming to the surface so that it can be dissipated.

The opportunity for the release of fear occurs when the dog feels safe. That fear is being is expressed is why one can observe in such a dog a tell tale “scoot” in its hind end with a tucked tail and hunched in hindquarters as it corners and gathers itself for the next fly by. It looks just as if the dog is being chased by an imaginary predator close on its heels nipping at its tail so that it has to zig and zag to keep away from it.

You can see the identical behavior in cats that find themselves out in the yard, a gust of wind kicks up a leaf and the cat zoom-zoom-zooms until it finds itself up a tree and “safe.” Another example of the behavior can also be found in a litter of dogs. One puppy isn’t comfortable engaging in the group scrum with all the head knocking going on in the pile, and so not being able to participate directly but feeling just as energized as the others nonetheless: it races around orbiting the litter because it’s afraid to make direct contact.

Needless to say, the worst thing an owner can do is encourage this kind of behavior or play chase because now they are becoming the very embodiment of the imaginary predator. This will come back to haunt them in one way or another as we shall see when we plumb the nature of fear and the role it plays in nature.

(Postscript: The comments from some readers of this post indicate a degree of offense by my insertion of fear into the behavior of zoom-zooming. The term seems to immediately imply that their dog is flawed and afraid of things, and this may seem puzzling for it is typically the “friendliest” of dogs that are most likely to do the most zooming. In most people’s minds fear is linked to trauma but in the natural scheme of things fear is what adds intensity to behavior, and in this sense it generic, a function of a dog’s constitution. In other words, all dogs acquire fear simply in the course of being alive and conscious and then this goes on to be manifested in their most intense expressions of behavior. So there is nothing wrong with a dog that zoom-zoom-zooms, simply that this fear needs to be “grounded” so that the intensity can be harnessed for cooperative purposes rather than left to the dog’s instincts to find a way for it to be discharged.)

(Post-postscript: 9/28/13)  OR ZOOM/ZOOM/ZOOM AROUND THE YARD

Notice the husky tucks its tail and scoots its hind end periodically, and emits high pitched distressed sounds. That’s indicative of the perception of a predator and additionally, the crinkling sounds of leaves crunching is predator energy, i.e. it reflects emotion. In this dog’s mind, the pile of leaves represents an object of resistance that it associates with its owner, hence it peeks its head out from time to time at the camera man. Note how neat and tidy the yard is, a half mile of thickly painted fence, each tree lined with paving bricks. A very loving owner and turf builder to be sure, this is not a critique, but he runs a pretty tight ship. So the dog is cutting loose with the leaves because this is its chance to connect with his owner at a high level of energy, but it must do so indirectly. Whereas if the dog could connect with his owner directly at such a high rate of energy, it would not zoom/zoom/zoom around the yard. This is a principle of behavior.


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Published June 1, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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78 responses to “Why Do Dogs Zoom-zoom-zoom Around the House?”

  1. Kcat says:

    Your article describes my dog exactly. Very friendly but when stressed she zoom zooms. She is a Australian Shepherd / Husky mix.
    Things I have learned:
    1) Slowly introduce them to new things / places / activities She is 2 1/2 now and many of the stimuli that caused it no longer affect her.
    2) If you don’t know how or can’t channel that energy… let the zooms run their course without any feedback to the dog.
    3) If you are in a situation you must stop it, stop it and remove the dog without correction. Make him/her do a few tricks or anything else that is normal/correct behavior then praise him/her with affection and treats. Act like the zooms never happened. Thus channeling the energy.

    When she started a new agility class she got the zooms each time, the best situation was when I was able to channel that energy into her working with me on the course.
    The zooms can be a dangerous situation if your dog is out in public (not safe for the dog mainly). Having to run becomes the only thought on their mind.

    My experience on how to get rid of / lower the frequency the zooms…train, train, train, train, train and if you find a stressful situation for that dog…introduce that situation slowly again with praise and rewards.

  2. kbehan says:

    Thanks for your input. In NDT model, fear equals ungrounded energy and so I don’t know if this came up in the comments section, but I recommend to owners of zoomie dogs that they train their dog to ground this fear energy into them during the zooms when it’s being expressed via the pushing exercise, plus with the bark and bite thrown in. Then, recognize that the dog is picking up a charge because it’s holding back when out in the world, and proactively engage the dog in pushing/barking/biting so that it doesn’t need the zoom-zooms when it gets back to a safe place. In this way the dog is able to absorb the stress it’s picking up on its outings, and immediately convert it to Drive. In other words, it feels grounded, i.e. safe. Keep On Pushing!

  3. Kcat says:

    I see your point. In agility, there are a lot of owners who use bite toys to channel energy. It doesn’t work as well for my dog as it does for the border collie types. My dog is more food motivated.
    There is a lot to be said about exposing a dog to different situations slowly. When she showed up on our doorstep at 4 months old she knew nothing and was so unsure of herself. Nice & friendly personality but no understanding of the world (she never had a collar on before – so we think she was from a nearby farm). Socialization and training (obedience and agility) have made a huge difference. Many, many, many hours spent with her but I have a dog that most people would love to have. 🙂 And many, many, many more hours yet to spend working with her! But it’s getting to be a joy rather than a chore.

  4. kbehan says:

    You have a very lucky dog. One thing you might consider adding to the mix is the pushing exercise especially given your dog’s love of food. In NDT model, overcoming resistance is therapeutic.

  5. Dana Cohen says:

    My dobie (1 year old) gets very excited over squirrels in the yard. He runs crazy around the room, jumps on furniture to the point of shifting the hole couch. He jumps and bangs on the windows. He will bark as well. He appears to be crazy for a while, then settles. I was letting him out side when he does this, but the behaviors seems to have gotten worse so I keep him in. I try to make him sit, but he is out of control. I want him back into control. He does not do this on walks just when inside and sees a squirrel (or cat). It could last a while, we have a lot of squirrels.

  6. kbehan says:

    Channel the squirrel frenzy into calm biting of the toy, then teach the dog to heel, sit, down, stay, recall in order to get the toy. There’s a long step by step process to get from A to Z, but when you’re at point Z then heel, sit, down, stay, recall and bite/carry is what killing a squirrel feels like.

  7. why does my 2 year old golden retriever keep snatching at imaginary flies.sometimes weeks go by without doing this .

  8. […] read on one blog that its fear (http://naturaldogtraining.com/blog/why-do-dogs-zoom-zoom-zoom-around-the-house/), which in all honesty I disagree with. We are not talking tail down, ears back, wide eyed running […]

  9. Kevin Behan says:

    This particular author takes issue with my interpretation of zoomies.

    It’s interesting how the elements of body language are jettisoned when it becomes expedient to do so. The internet has many websites with pictures of dogs wagging their tails while being petted by a child face-to-face, the dogs’ ears being ears pinned back. In this context tail wagging and lip licking are parsed apart (friendly + stress) so as to identify a more complex current in the interest of forestalling a tragedy. Or for example people go to a scary movie precisely for the element of fear embedded in the experience. This is why it is a pleasurable experience for an adult and also why we wouldn’t let a young child see the same movie because the fear component would prove overwhelming. When movie goers exit the theatre laughing and smiling this doesn’t therefore mean that the element of fear wasn’t necessary to make the movie experience enjoyable. Otherwise it becomes fodder for “Mystery Science Theatre.” So I’ve discovered that if a dog will express 100% of its energy in an object of resistance that he can bring to ground by being Direct and Active, then he will never exhibit zoomies. This is important because zoomies means that the dog is holding this energy back and sooner or later it could take a negative manifestation. Meanwhile this author advises to: “Set up a zoomie trigger – imitate a play bow or teach them a cue to start zooming in a safe area, don’t chase them – it will undo any recall work you have done.” So how could it undo recall work if it isn’t going to reinforce fear, which in my view is at the core of the zoomie behavior? In other words, chasing a zooming dog would be like taking too young a child to a scary movie.

  10. Sarah says:

    My new rescue dog did this when we first bought her home. In the garden, around the house but its becoming less and less as she gains in confidence.

  11. b... says:

    Would it be accurate to say that when a dog, or any animal for that matter, is running at full speed, they are either running towards prey/object-of-attraction or away from predator/negative?
    So if the dog is not running towards OOA (as is the case with zooming), it must be running away, i.e., according to a fear imprint? And there is no such thing as running for the sake of running, so even though it feels good to run, there’s an underlying motivation that gets the dog moving in the first place?

  12. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, emotion always needs an object, and if one isn’t available, the Brain conjures one up from physical memory as a short term solution and which can give rise to all kinds of OCD and dysfunctional behaviors. In order for the animal to run, it must have an object, toward which it can move or away from which it can move, either way these are both functions of attraction (magnetic-like attraction vs. magnetic-like repulsion). In a larger frame of reference of course there is a function to this “dysfunction” since even the latter is intensifying the state of attraction. It’s just that it won’t end up accruing to the individual’s benefit, only the networks’. We can observe animals in the wild and see that they aren’t running around for the fun of it, even though running gives them great pleasure. They need to have an object, i.e. know where the predator is.

  13. Johnsen says:

    Seems you might be trying to simplify things too much down to fear alone. I have a dog that loves to run. We go on the tundra and she can’t wait to run. There is nothing but joy in her body. Fear is an emotion, but not the only emotion, so why should it always be the underlying cause of behaviorism your opinion?

  14. Kevin Behan says:

    I’m not speaking of the pure joy of running, but the zoom-zoom back and forth hectic pattern of running, which means the dog is experiencing a release from a compressed state, compression being due to fear in its generic sense (as opposed to an overt threat). So all dogs are excited when being let outdoors, but the lower the dog’s prey threshold, the more susceptible to compression they would be by being cooped up with a human, or other dogs, and the more they would need to run, manifesting in running without a clear object of attraction. So even this is getting closer to the zoom-zoom generic acquisition of fear state. I don’t think I’ve ever raised a pup that needed to run as soon as we went outdoors, they were excited, but they merely oriented toward and orbited around wherever I was headed. Now I’m rehabbing a corgi and she needs to run which I believe is directly proportional to the state of compression she feels when indoors from the negative imprint she acquired as a puppy.

  15. Barbara says:

    I have just been reading through the comments on your site and do find some of the terminology difficult to understand. I have a six month old border collie who is normally very friendly and affectionate, but then for no apparent reason, to me, she will start to race around the house barking and then biting the back of my legs and arms. She does look afraid when she is doing this,but I do not know why. I try to ignore the behaviour, I do not shout at her and when she starts to bite I turn my back on her She will show the same behaviour when she is let outside. She does seem to be easily spooked but again I have no idea why. She will stand with her tail curled high on her back but with her head down. I have never raised my hand to her in anger, but if I do raise my hand, even though its not towards her, she backs off as though she was expecting to be hit. Any ideas. I feel I may have to have her rehomed.

  16. Kevin Behan says:

    The point I’m trying to make is that there is a generic source of fear and which doesn’t have to have any traumatizing source such as being hit. Anytime a dog is stimulated and this energy doesn’t run to “ground” through a full completion of an “emotional cycle,” which itself is dependent on the locomotive rhythm, then fear is internalized and registered as the primary feature of that experience. So the zoomies are when the dog feels safe enough to let this fear out. This means therefore, that the pup is experiencing a rate of stimulation in certain situations that it is not able to fully discharge through movement, hence it stores it as fear, and then it comes out later when the dog feels safe. The typical sources of too much stimulation is play indoors, too much attention, especially indoors, “leave-it” and “no-bite” training, hyper socialization regimes, and so on. An aversion to the hand can come just from having to grab the puppy from time to time if they’re in a stimulated state. Think of stimulation as an electrostatic pressure, the hand being the source of such a pressure since this is obviously how human beings direct and exert force, hence a dog can learn to avoid the hand because it associates it with an electrostatic like pressure. (The antidote is to sensualize a dog to the human touch as opposed to stimulating them with excited petting and voice.) Trust this clarifies and appreciate your question.

  17. Rebecca says:

    How does one sensualize the human touch to a dog? I have a 3 yr old German shepherd rescue who seems to get overstimulated by too much attention, too much time indoors, too much petting or interaction. When he gets overwhelmed he will become quite mouthy, not to harm but to express something I’m not quite sure of. I’m flattered he feels safe enough to zoom around me. I just watch him and smile… He doesn’t mind baths, brushing… But again how do I sensualize the human touch to make it less overstimulating?

  18. Kevin Behan says:

    The first step is to look at the dog as a feedback to one’s self and practice being with the dog without stimulating him. And then gently massaging him so that he doesn’t get excited. When he does the zoomies you want to capture that energy through the pushing exercise and then soften him with the massaging you’ve already been practicing. If you’ve ever been on a boat cruising through a harbor you’ll see a sign saying “No Wake” so that’s our mantra and don’t look at your dog as a person which prompts so much need to stimulate them, but as part of a feedback loop and you need to learn how to move your body so as to not cause a “wake” in his body/mind. Use this to offset the need to talk to him and making fusses, it’s like an exercise in mindfulness as opposed to personality “vibrations.”

  19. Anne says:

    After reading these comments I am interested in exercises to reduce fears of noises and larger dogs, that seem to be increasing in a 1.5 yrs border collie mix. could someone please explain what a pushing exercise is exactly? Thanks

  20. Kevin Behan says:

    Pushing is offering a dog food in one hand, while progressively increasing the resistance offered by the other hand. I begin with a hungry dog and encourage him to jump up and make contact (leaving the feet is the first act of your dog countering its fear since all fear is rooted in the balance circuitry and is thus tantamount to a fear of falling) and then progressively push the dog away from me while I simultaneously move backwards. The dog learns to Drive into the handler to overcome the resistance. For one thing a dog is learning to take food no matter what since the overcoming of resistance is how a dog weights the value of anything, so it becomes possible for a dog to become interested in food even in the presence of previously scary stuff. The other benefit is that the dog is becoming more emotionally grounded in his owner and thus an owner can offset the fear of falling simply by being present. The dog’s threshold of emotional capacity (the intensity level over which a state of attraction collapses, i.e. fear of falling is initiated) is being raised so it will take more and more to knock the dog out of emotional stasis (balance). NDT is different from other approaches because it identifies the master threshold (resistance relative to fear of collapse, i.e. Drive) and increases a dog’s capacity. We don’t work to keep a dog under threshold until it somehow improves, we work to increase the dog’s capacity so that it can improve.

  21. Lynn Berzins says:

    After we get home from a car ride my Terrier mix runs thru the house starting with whatever room my hubby is in. Her tail is going full speed in circles, she pauses each time she finds us in our places then sprawls out on the floor. She must be making sure everyone is where we are supposed to be. She is a second time rescue and this is now her forever home.

  22. This was really a Great Deal of differnt things to read about other people and there dogs. I was really hoping to read why a Dog Should Not Sleep in Bed With You !!!! I just by mistake come across these Question’s & Answer’s I’m NOT Good at All by using a personal computer, l’am 61 and l have a Lab/Terrier JJ is now seven (7) months old he hasnt had a problem the last 30 days in the house where l read on here ??some where?? That they need to go 90 days with NO Problem …. JJ has them Zoom zooms tail under his leggs and Stops & Jumps at you with a Real Scary Growl a few time and off to the Zooms zooms then after a yell of Stop It, jJ goes and lays down and to sleep in a few short minutes…. thanks if you happen to read this, and maybe you can send me a Answer to This and Why he should NOT Sleep in a Bed ?? should he go into his cage like when leaving the house ?? Got home his bedding in cage was Ripped to pieces
    Thank You So Very, very Much,
    Randy and Dog JJ ?

  23. This is Really a Neat Site. How do l fine this again ?? Really would Love to know why JJ should Not Climb or Jump into my Bed JJ is a Great Alarm Clock with that Squeaky Ball of his. You cannot turn it off, toss it out of the room right back Seconds Later, No Plug to Unplug !! Get up and Let JJ Outside. Then the Day Begins !!!!! Yahoo JJ !!!

  24. Kevin Behan says:

    JJ sounds a bit frustrated, sleeping on the bed is one aspect of an overall syndrome. Needs to get into the core exercises and learn to live life in a sobered up state.

  25. Thornton (Tony) Carpenter says:

    Kevin – I read with interest your comments about the “zoomies” being a manifestation of fear tension release, but I wonder if fear is really behind the zoomies in our dog, Joey. When he takes off, his tail is flying straight out behind him and he runs flat out in a straight line unless there is an obstacle in his path; if the back door is open, he runs all the way to the fence and then back into the house as far as he can go, over and over again. He looks like he’s having the time of his life (and no whites showing around his eyes) rather than looking like he’s being chased by some scary, imaginary monster. He finishes up each “zoom” segment with about a half dozen high speed tail chasing turns and then plops on the ground to catch his breath. Then he’s off to do the same thing all over again. We live in a suburban neighborhood, so our pieces of property are small. If the zoomies come upon him when we’re outside, he usually runs around in a high speed circle, staying close by rather than taking off and running up the street.

    Do you think this is still the same thing you allude to at the beginning of this topic?

    The zoomies still seem to come on quasi-randomly, although at times they appear to be triggered when we verbally try to stop him from trying to dig holes in some of our rugs. Then it looks like the zoomies might be a reaction to a scold: sort of like “when he knows he’s done something wrong” (sorry; I know this isn’t Kevin-speak).

  26. Kevin Behan says:

    I do believe that no matter how much pleasure may be registering, nonetheless it is fear and the pleasure derived is due to offloading the fear and getting to relief. (But I mean fear in the generic sense, not due to trauma, in other words, it is an inevitable thermodynamic consequence of experiencing resistance so that the full flow of motion does not occur and therefore the “heat” is captured as fear, stored in the emotional battery — hence its seemingly unpredictable pattern of expression — the function of fear is to later add intensity to behavior. Whenever a dog feels safe, and this is most especially true of friendly dogs, i.e. those that vibrate the most intensely with personality are the ones most likely to do zoomies when they feel safe from social pressure.) The main thing in my view is to capture the zoomie energy and turn it into Drive. In Drive, resistance becomes arousal as opposed to fear and is not stored.

  27. Boyer Writes says:

    Can a dog get zoomies when they are hungry and want to tell you they are hungry. My Golden Retriever puppy will race around like crazy for a few minutes, stop in front of me and bark. If I go to the kitchen, she follows and I usually feed her. She will not zoom any longer. I’ve seen this behavior several times. She is 3 months old. Thanks for your answers.

  28. Kevin Behan says:

    I think when your pup gets hungry enough, the intensity of the excitement triggers the latent fear, and then the hunger also makes this exciting versus overwhelming and hence the zoomies. This then can become learned and take on a life of its own which sounds like what you’re observing.

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In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
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