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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Schmich

Dogs With Zoomies? What the FRAP?!

Sometimes we just need to go mad for a while

Billy The Kid, like most dogs, has 3 gears for running. For simplicity’s sake: the trot, the canter, and the gallop. It was a warm August morning in Boulder County, Colorado, Planet Earth. Billy had just turned 1-year old. Our running career as a duo was happily underway. The canter is a nice warm-up pace. The canter, on its top end, is already pushing the limits of all but an elite runner if the intention is any distance running. He’s already getting the jerk of the leash at that point. So he pulls up a tad, being kind to me, snapping at an occasional butterfly as we find our running pace on the Davidson Mesa Trail overlooking the town of Boulder, Colorado. After a couple miles, The Kid wants to move into a gallop, a gait that has all 4 gittalongs off the ground at the same time. Billy likes to fly, literally. I’m sure it must feel awesome. But the gallop is beyond the elite runner. Beyond any human speed.  So the leash tugs him more and more as he gets more energized deeper into a run. I need him to run at an acceptable human pace if we are to run together. The first half of the run is wonderful; the second half leaves me a bit frustrated since I’m putting the brakes on him for most of it… On that day we finished our 5-mile run and went home. I let him out into our big fenced back yard, thinking we had both had a good workout, and went inside to make breakfast. 5 minutes later, I got a phone call from a lady I did not know in a neighborhood that was not mine. “Do you have a dog named Billy?” 

I often sit with that BTK head on my lap. The face of a Pitbull and the body of a small very muscular Greyhound. I’ve heard it said that a Greyhound is the fastest couch potato in the world. That seems an apt description of The Kid. This creature needs more than food, TLC, and exercise.

He needs to exercise the thinky-thinky part. Otherwise he will get bored; and there will be trouble. As my formerly-favorite Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, once wrote: Boredom is the root of all evil. Something like that. So, we have started trick training. You know, stupid pet tricks. My goal is not to have a better behaved dog, but rather to exercise the brain, perhaps make his life a little fuller. It’s fun for both of us!

“Yeees,” I replied.  “I have a dog named Billy.” 

“Well,” she said warmly, “he’s bouncing around my back yard right now.” She gave me her address. It was a circuitous block away. The Kid had quickly hopped a series of neighbor fences to get there. As I stood in the living room with this woman, we watched Billy doing large bounds across her back yard like some escaped kangaroo. She looked at me with amusement, “My cat has never seen a dog before.” 

That was the first time I ever noted Billy going into this trance and romp. It wouldn’t be the last.

What was happening here?

Billy had gone crazy. Or drunk. I took him home to sleep it off. What had possessed him?! Going for a spirited run is one thing. But he seemed “gone” for about 15 minutes. That was the first day, of what has become many, of observing these episodes of zoomies on crack.

Right now I’ve landed on this thought: Maybe physical exercise, and food, and love, and mental stimulation, are still not enough. Maybe there is a 5th element that is somehow akin to “wildness” or freedom. Maybe The Kid just needs to go mad for a while once in a while. Maybe there is no “solution.” Beyond food, water, and shelter. Beyond love and security. Beyond mental stimulation. Beyond exercise, there is a need for wildness in some dogs (as well as humans, and perhaps all creatures). I suppose it goes under the header of exercise, but it appears to be something beyond that. Beyond “zoomies” in the traditional sense. The workings and needs of our bodies is a fascinating frontier. It seems we are capable of so much more than we realize. Potentially and actually.

Stemming from my sense of needing control, I’ve meandered into some uncharted territory, one which I seem to have no control. I’ve been poking around for some scientific explanation and have come up mostly frustrated. Among other physical skills, my Billy is a fence climber. My attempts to Billy-proof a large expanse of fence have, so far, only worked for a few months at a time. Then he figures a work-around. He doesn’t jump fences, but climbs over the top by leaping up to hook his top paws to the top of the fence, then those long muscular back legs swiftly come up to meet the other two. For a brief moment he sits atop the fence like a gargoyle. Then he leaps down and the chemistry has been ignited.

It seems he is experiencing an adrenaline dump. Scientifically, it’s known as FRAP: Frenetic Random Activity Periods. What is going on here!? Some would call it the Zoomies. But it seems different. In this big romp of excitement it seems he does not quite recognize me and has to run and jump and climb until he has consumed that entire adrenaline dump. Instead of the adrenaline rush inciting the hyper-activity, it seems as if the activity itself, the jumping the fence or running in an open field, summons the adrenaline which puts him into hyper-drive.

Most people with a dog or cat or a human toddler are familiar with “the zoomies.” You know, that high-energy running about helter skelter until a sudden collapse into a nap. Are the zoomies the result of boredom as some would suggest? Or some last-gasp of energy before sleep overcomes the young creature? Or is something else going on here?  Are zoomies simply the result of some chemical activitiy which seems to only manifest itself in very young creatures? 

This past year I’ve been observing and pondering the zoomies with a twist, what I refer to as zoomies on crack! It’s a high-energy burst lasting up to 15-20 minutes with my dog Billy The Kid. His pupils seem to dilate and he is suddenly off to chase some demons. The initial lure may be a bird or a squirrel, but then something takes possession of him and he is off hopping fence to fence through the neighborhood or just running manic over hills and far away on an off-leash outing (the off-leash part being intentional and legal!). When he sobers up, and he always sobers up, he looks mildly confused and exhausted. 

The common response to my query is that BTK needs more exercise or engagement. But the thing is, these crack zoomies usually arise after a long run with me (perhaps not a long enough run for Billy) or when he’s out on an off-leash trail with another pup and something invisible catches his fancy. I’ve witnessed him with standard zoomies in the house or in the back yard. This is something other. 

Most recently I’ve gotten a slightly better-nuanced take of the Billy modus operandi when the crack-zoomies kick in. He had been very compliant off-leash until he turned 18 months. Since then, I’d been keeping him on a fairly tight rein (ding! Red flag the experts will shout: that’s why he runs away!) but decided it was time to once again let him off leash on a large expansive open-space plateau in northeast Boulder (as he accompanies me with my client off-leash trail dog a few times a week). He bounced around for a bit, came back on call and took a treat. Then he suddenly perked up and stared into the distance, facing southeast. He had heard that distant call that is beyond my human perception, beyond the call of my voice. Suddenly he was gone, full greyhound mode.

Off the high plateau of the Gunbarrel Trail flying east down into the large expanse of prairie dogs, rabbits, and the occasional coyote. Billy quickly moved from a canter to a gallop. Quickly from a blur into invisibility he shot over the undulating brown hills. Appearing only briefly left to right. Then farther away. Then right to left. With my client dog, Hans, at my side the whole time we began a slow jog. The intention was not the impossible task of catching Billy, but just to be nearby when he “came to.” Once again I had fleeting thoughts of “ok I’ve really lost him this time.”  I threw a prayer up to the sky: just let me find him one more time, I promise no more off-leash (for a while!). And then suddenly there he was, stopped by some tall wire fencing at some multi-million dollar houses. Suddenly exhausted, he turned and saw me and Hans approaching from 50 yards away. He slunk toward us, his tongue hanging 5 inches out of his Pitbull smile. Hey, where you guys been!? He volunteered to be leashed, and we began the hike back up the rough terrain. He got back in the car and stretched out on the floor of the back seat panting heavily. He outran his demon. Or his demon outran him. I wasn’t quite sure what had just happened. Again.

Like people, dogs follow a general script of behavior. But also like people, dogs are individuals. A trainer can put you in the ballpark, but it’s up to you to know and understand your individual dog. There may be a well-fitting answer to this quandary, but I haven’t found it. I’ve had more than one well-intentioned expert fire back a quick solution when they hear the description: He’s bored. He doesn’t get enough activity. He doesn’t get enough mental stimulation. One or all of those may be correct. And it may be that there is no “solution.” (I have the greatest respect for an expert in any field who can scratch her head and say “hmmm, I don’t know”.) The Kid may be destined to run, to fly, until his chemistry changes with age. My mission is to keep him alive.

Some questions have no simple answers. I’m okay with that. But I will keep asking.

Andrew lives and works as the owner/operator of Front Range Pet Care, LLC, in Boulder County, U.S.A., Planet Earth


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