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Does Your Dog Trance? (And What the Heck Is Trancing?)

This behavior is when dogs creep as objects lightly touch their backs; you'll know it when you see it.

 |  Jan 27th 2014  |   34 Contributions


Also called "ghost-walking" or "weed-walking," trancing (is that even a word?) refers to a behavior in which some dogs walk -- no, creep -- excruciatingly slowly, in an almost trance-like manner, usually under hanging leaves, tablecloths or clothes that lightly touch the dog's back. But it sometimes happens just walking to the water bowl!

If your dog does it, you know what I'm talking about. If he doesn't, here's an example:

The first time I saw this was with a friend's Saluki, who liked to trance in her closet under her clothes. My friend called it "playing slo-mo dog."

Since then, I've had a Saluki of my own who tranced when he walked under a particular bush in the yard. No, he wasn't having a focal seizure, as some people who'd never seen it suggested. You could call him out of it (with effort), or interrupt him, and he'd be back to normal, although noticeably miffed at having his trance time interrupted. Trancing seems to be something the dogs that do it enjoy immensely.

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Sharkey the Borzoi in full-on trance mode. Photo by Sue McGorray.

Donna Moran's Greyhound, Festus, is a trancer. "His favorite place to trance is under our crape myrtle," Moran says. "He goes into a deep trance and we judge how deep he is by how high he raises his tail. While in a deep trance you can call, whistle or squeak a toy and you will not distract him, you no longer exist nor do any of the other hounds. Festus' trances last three to five minutes; when he comes out of them he trots off, happy-go-lucky, all is right with the world."

Her little male Whippet, Tigger, has watched Festus and now trances for a very short period of time under the same tree, but she has never been quick enough with the camera to capture him.

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Festus the Greyhound trancing under his favorite crape myrtle tree. These pictures may look almost identical, but that's only because he's moving so slowly. (Photos by Donna Moran.)

It's not the scent that appears to trigger it, as various dogs choose different types of bushes, and some prefer hanging clothes. Some even prefer odder things, but most have in common something that hangs down and scarcely touches them. Kathy Vogel, who owns the Hunt Club boarding kennel in Virginia Beach, Virginia, recalls a Saluki whose owner warned her of her dog's odd behavior.

"She told us not to worry if he did it; apparently they thought it was a seizure when they first saw it happen!" she says. "This dog did it when we opened the guillotine doors in the kennel; the cable was overhead and if you just held it instead of opening and closing the door the cable fell suspended over his head bringing on the trance like state -- very strange to witness."

Some people think certain breeds trance more than others, and it's probably true. Greyhounds and Bull Terriers seem to head the list. But Salukis also seem to have more than their share, as do Basset Hounds. I've also heard of it in at least one Whippet, Jack Russell, Labrador, Irish Setter, Cane Corso, Cavalier, Australian Cattle Dog and Puggle.

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This Bull Terrier is trancing under a blanket.

What triggers trancing?

Back in 2004, a group of Bull Terrier owners conducted a survey to see if there was any correlation between trancing and neurological problems. They found none.

There was also some thought that trancing could be a type of obsessive compulsive disorder, which are more commonly seen in Bull Terriers. Maybe, but if so, it's not going to lead to other obsessive behaviors. A leading researcher, Dr. Alice Moon Fanelli of Tufts Behavioral Clinic, had this to say: "I should mention that an extraordinarily large number of Bull Terriers trance. Some tail chase while others do not. While trancing is an abnormal behavior, I now view it as separate from tail chasing. In other words, if any of you have a Bullie that's currently walking in slo-mo under your Norfolk Pine as you read this -- don't panic that this will eventually evolve into tail chasing!"

Should you be concerned if your dog trances?

Probably not. It's not associated with known neurological disorders, doesn't seem to be a cry for attention (as one site suggested), doesn't seem to take over the dog's life, and doesn't seem to leave anyone worse off. It just seems to be something they greatly enjoy. Of course, there are always those who want to whip you into a panic. One person who asked on a pet dog forum about her Irish Setter trancing was warned not to touch him, as "bully breeds that were interrupted when trancing often attacked." We couldn't find even one report of such trance-attacks, but would be interested in hearing about them if they exist.

But most of all, we want to know: Does your dog trance? Tell us his breed, send a link to a video, and tell us what sets him off! 

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier

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