- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Every night at about 8 pm, Snoopy came to life. I mean, Snoopy was already alive—an adolescent mutt of the terrier variety—but at night it was like someone flipped a switch, turning Snoopy from a laid back pup into a little fireball of insanity. He galloped at top speed from room to room, barking like crazy and tossing innocent pillows and shoes around the house.
What was driving this little furball so bananas? Was he going crazy?
As a dog trainer, I’ve always found it amusing that we humans expect our dogs to be predictable. And when their behavior is not what we expect, we tend to label it as “crazy.” Not only does this perspective short-change our dogs, but it also demonizes a range of behaviors that are perfectly normal.
That being said, not every “crazy” behavior is created equal. Some of the baffling things your dog does may be coming from a place of anxiety, fear, or even physical pain. The best advice I can give you? Don’t panic when your dog starts acting oddly. Instead, let our guide to seemingly crazy behavior help you better understand what may be going on.
Below we break down some common (and admittedly odd) dog behaviors and how you can respond to them.
What’s likely going on? If your dog is on the younger side, a puppy or adolescent, they’ve probably got a case of the zoomies, a sudden burst of excess energy referred to by veterinary behaviorists as Frenetic Random Activity Periods or FRAPs.
This was what was driving Snoopy’s witching hour and it’s super common in all dogs of all types; even older dogs get the zoomies on occasion. Usually, a pup with the zoomies will engage in high-speed repetitive behavior like running in circles. The zoomies can occur at any time and are a common conclusion to high-stress situations like a bath.
What should I do? Wait it out or join the fun! FRAPs are always short-lived—generally just a couple of minutes—so pick a spot out of the way and enjoy watching your dog careen around with a giant smile on their face. If you’re worried that your dog may hurt themselves or damage your home, try to usher them to a safer location mid-zoom (like a backyard) or close the doors in your home to funnel their zoom into particular areas.
What’s likely going on? This kind of “crazy” behavior probably stems from one of two things (or a combination of both): Over-arousal or uncertainty.
Let’s start with over-arousal. Over-arousal doesn’t mean your dog is sexually aroused even if one of the behaviors they are engaging in is humping. Instead, an over-aroused dog is like a little kid who had way too much sugar. They’re hyper, they’re active, and they want your attention so badly that they won’t stop even once they have it.
On the flip side, an uncertain dog who isn’t sure how to act may lash out towards their human or another familiar figure with behaviors that seem excessive. In human terms, this is like the little kid who throws a tantrum, becomes bossy, or does something they may not understand is inappropriate like removing their clothing in public.
What should I do? Try redirecting your dog’s attention with a toy or a game like “Find it”. If they’re too worked up to be redirected, try physically separating yourself from your dog for a short 30-second timeout. If you’re in your home when the behavior happens, step into a room and close a door between yourself and your dog. If you’re outdoors, try hooking their leash to a post or tree and stepping 20 feet away. Return to your dog after 30 seconds. If they’re still going nuts, do another 30-second timeout. Repeat this until your dog is able to be calm when you come close. This method helps them to learn that this “crazy” behavior makes you disappear, something they probably would prefer not to happen.
What’s likely going on? This form of “crazy” is actually perfectly natural doggy behavior. There are two issues at play here. Genetically speaking, your dog is built to alert you to the presence of strangers, and what’s the best way to get your attention?
Make a whole lot of noise.
Part of the problem here, though, is your dog is experiencing the coincident issue of barrier frustration. Unable to access the stranger (or, depending on your fence, even see them) your dog’s reaction becomes bigger, bolder and more, well, frustrated.
What should I do? The simple answer here is don’t leave your dog unattended outside, even if you have a fenced-in yard. Leaving them tied-up outside is even worse. If you have to leave your dog alone for long periods of time, a predictable, indoor environment is likely to keep them more relaxed. If your dog tends to have the same barky reaction through your front windows, restrict their access to the front of the home with a baby gate or x-pen while you’re away.
What’s likely going on? If your dog is a senior, this kind of perplexing behavior is likely a result of the onset of canine cognitive dysfunction (AKA: doggy dementia). Just like in humans, dementia can cause dogs to become easily confused, engage in repetitive behaviors, or become disinterested in things they used to enjoy.
Common symptoms include pacing or circling, getting stuck in corners or behind furniture, ignoring toys, food and/or affection, and developing fear or sensitivity to being left alone. Increased confusion as the day goes on is also common.
What should I do? Like human dementia, there’s no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction but there are medications that can help ease your dog’s transition into this new phase of life. The first order of business if your dog is experiencing this form of “crazy” is to visit your vet.
Back at home, some important adjustments should be made. Block off any stairs so your pup can’t accidentally take a tumble, push the furniture back to provide more open space, and place rugs on slippery floors. Try to keep routines and the general set-up of your home consistent; moving to a new house or buying all new furniture during this stage of your dog’s life can make them more unsettled and distressed.
Sometimes dogs behave in ways that seem odd to us, but they usually have an explanation. Just remember: you probably behave in ways that seem crazy to your dog and they love you just the same.