Ahh, The Epic Agility Dog Zoomies
We had a subscriber ask a question that we are sure many new teams have wondered about if not experienced themselves. She asked, “I have a great agility dog. We have been competing for approximately 10 months. So we are a young team. My problem is this: It is pretty typical during her first run of the day for her to get what we call the zoomies. At some point during the run, she decides to take off running like the wind. Not necessarily taking obstacles, but just starts running all around the course. It’s like she is just showing off how fast she can run. Frequently, I can’t get her back on course. She is having so much fun, but I get a little frustrated, because she rarely does that during training but often when we are competing. We do focus work prior to running, acceleration, deceleration, circle work, playing tug, etc.
We asked if any of you had ideas and Kate V. had a lot to offer so we are posting her advice for all of you dealing with this sometimes frustrating issue.
My dog doesn’t usually get the traditional zoomies, but he does get so excited he takes off doing obstacles I’m not indicating (more during training than trials, but sometimes he makes up his own full course before he comes back to me!) I also have a friend who’s dog frequently gets the traditional zoomies (running around the course, visiting people, sniffing, ignoring obstacles). We’re both young teams also, but here’s a few things I’ve found that have helped so far…
1) In addition to focus work, drain some energy before hand. My friend takes her dog for a LONG (few miles!) walk the night before, that morning also if she can, and also jogs around the grounds right before her run. I have a Chase It toy (basically a cat wand toy) that I use to make my dog *run* about half an hour before his agility run. He’s so high energy and fast it doesn’t slow down his actual run (we frequently finish our run in half the course time) but it takes that top layer of over-the-top energy off.
2) I use a product called Comfort Zone, sprayed on a bandanna around his neck. It mimics a mother dog’s pheromones and calms dogs. My dog would get so over excited in the crating area and around the ring all day, hyping himself up that he couldn’t focus on me. This product sprayed on a bandanna (or on his trial collar in the ring since he can’t wear a bandanna in there) again, just takes the edge off- doesn’t drug him or knock him out at all. It allowed him to focus on me and listen, and to calm down enough to make better decisions. After just a couple trials, we didn’t even have to use it any more. It allowed him to calm down long enough to teach him better coping techniques, and now he knows how to behave himself and focus without any “outside help”.
3) Depends on what organization you run in, but may work in any… I run AKC, and recently had a seasoned competitor suggest to my friend and I that we enter FAST or T2B runs in addition to our normal Standard and Jumper runs we’d been sticking to. Even if we don’t use it hoping to Q or title, at least one of those classes are almost always held at the beginning of the day before the other runs and so can act as a semi-training run. Obviously you can’t use treats/toys or do formal training, but you can let the dog get the Zoomies out during that first “throw out” run (or, for my dog, it’s the first time he sees the contacts and remembers “Oh yeah, I forgot, I’m not *supposed* to jump off the top of the A frame. Okay, I got this now!” then he’s good the rest of the day/weekend, lol). You said your dog usually gets the zoomies for the first run, then is good after that. This might be a good option for you. It’s a few extra dollars to enter an “extra” run, but you can treat it as a “training/throw away” to get your dog in the better state of mind for the “real” runs later in the day.
4) As was pointed out in the main article, try to figure out what’s triggering the zoomies so you can focus on actually working on it, not just managing it (my tips were mostly management tips to get you through it for now, and also to get the dog in a state of mind that they can actually listen to your training to actually fix the problem rather than manage it). Is it too high energy/nerves/excitement at the beginning of the day? Is it cues from you coming too late and the dog doesn’t know what to do next instead? Is it stress/frustration after a mistake (or perceived mistake!) is made? Is it just plain self reinforcing- “It’s fun to just run rather than work, and hey, now mom’s chasing me and barking with me, this is great!” For my dog, it’s excitement and energy. For my friend’s, it’s frustration after a mistake (and energy). Lots of possible reasons why the zoomies start, but knowing the reason helps you better tailor a training plan. Record runs whenever possible- I’ve found things look a LOT different sometimes on video than I thought they looked when I was in the ring…
Hope that helps!