The first time I witnessed dog trancing was while sitting in my friend’s backyard. We returned from a girls’ night and watched on as her dog raced around the yard burning off pent-up energy. At one point the dog crept slowly beneath a tree with low-hanging branches. Once beneath that tree she walk so slow that the behavior caused me to pause.
At first it appeared she was stalking wildlife. She walked underneath the first bush, walked a few feet away and slowly crept under a second bush. Wanting to spare the life of the poor animal I thought she was stalking, I called the dog’s name. She popped out from beneath the bush as though nothing happened, looked my way and ran off. I did not expect that quick response from a dog who was hunting wildlife. She is normally too focused on her prey to respond when called.
Her behavior both mesmerized and concerned me. When I asked my friend about it, she shrugged it off and said the dog did it quite often. So, I went home and I researched the behavior.
The behavior is called Trance-like syndrome and is very commonly seen in certain dog breeds, such as Bull Terriers. The behavior is not limited to bull terriers, Greyhounds, Basset hounds and a few other breeds are known to exhibit this behavior too.
A paper written by (M. Lowrie, P.M. Smith, T. Keuster and Garosi) of Davies Veterinary Specialists in Hitchin, UK, indicates that trance-like syndrome consist of a hypokinetic, repetitive pacing gait.
Various studies have been performed, but none of those studies linked trance walking to underlying medical conditions, including neurological issues. The studies performed under the Davies Veterinary Specialists, along with studies conducted by other institutions, agree that trance walking is a benign behavior, possibly linked to canine compulsive disorder. It is further noted that unless a dog forgoes all enjoyable activity aside from trance walking or other OCD behaviors are present, there is nothing to be concerned about. Just make sure dogs who trance walk under foliage don’t come in contact with a bush or tree that can cause skin irritation.
Strange Behavior to Witness
Trance walking is also referred to as “ghost walking”, “weed walking” and “dog trancing”. Dogs who trance walk often do so under branches of a low-lying bush, under curtains, the corner of the table where the tablecloth hangs down, in your closet beneath hanging clothing, along a Christmas tree or anything else that may gently touch the dog’s back.
You may find the dog standing under the bush, allowing the foliage to dance on their skin, or they may s-l-o-w-l-y walk beneath the item, then turn and do it again and again. Dog trancing can last from a few seconds to more than 30 minutes [source: Black’s Veterinary Dictionary}. Dogs can be snapped out of this behavior by simply calling their name. This is demonstrated in the video posted below.
While the reasoning behind this behavior is a mystery to dog experts, I feel the dog’s response to trancing is no different than a person receiving a gentle massage or a parent tickling their child’s arm or back. A scalp massage makes the world stop for me. It is a relaxing, peaceful feeling that we often wish would never end. It appears some dogs have figured out a way to enjoy their own version of self care for free. When you see your dog trance walking, admire from afar, but try not to abruptly end the moment for them.
Written by Katie McKnight
ISCDT’s online program consists of 18 hands-on lessons, where students are required to work with dogs. Skill and ability is determined through a series of videos submitted to your personal ISCDT mentor. Students are also responsible for written homework assignments. In addition to the online program, we also offer one-and-two-week in-person shadow programs. To learn more about the courses we offer, visit ISCDT.com