Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
The Mystery of the Ghost-Walking Dogs
It's one of the oddest behaviors you will ever see a dog do and one that, once you see it, you may never forget. We're talking about dogs who ghost walk in a trance-like state. Also known as trancing, this weird dog behavior is not very common, but countless dog owners are reporting their dogs performing it. What exactly is trancing, and why would dogs walk in a trance-like state?
In the human world, when we talk about trancing, we're likely to think about being in a semi-conscious state, somewhere in between sleeping and being awake. We may think about the trance-like effects associated with hypnosis, deep meditation, or prayer, or perhaps the aftermath of some sort of paranormal activity or arcane ritual as seen in some cultures across the world. But what about dogs? It's not like you'll ever find Rover going for a round of hypnosis or smoking weed (at least, we hope not)!
So What in the World Is Trancing in Dogs?
Turns out, many dog owners report that their dogs start walking in a trance-like fashion when they feel something that gently touches their heads and backs as they walk by. Tactile stimuli that seem to trigger this behavior are low-hanging branches, bushes, curtains, tablecloths, clothes hanging down, and Christmas trees. Affected dogs will walk very slowly, their eyes glazed as they walk back and forth under the item that touches their backs.
According to Black's Veterinary Dictionary, these episodes tend to last anywhere between a handful of seconds to more than half an hour. This is one of those behaviors that you can't really describe without seeing it. They say seeing is believing, so we are going to add a couple of videos of dogs trancing for the skeptics out there. You'll see videos of bull terriers trancing in the next few paragraphs.
What Causes Trancing in Dogs?
It turns out that some dog breeds seem to be more prone to ghost walking than other breeds. When it comes to this behavior, the egg-headed bull terriers are the winners, so much so that bull terrier owners have started referring to it as "The Bull Terrier Ghost Walk.” However, many other breeds can be affected. This includes Basset Hounds, Salukis, Greyhounds, and Jack Russell Terriers. There is no real explanation as of yet as to why these breeds seem to be affected more often than other breeds.
We have seen that tactile stimuli trigger the behavior, but what causes trancing in dogs in the first place? Among the many odd behaviors dogs engage in, this is one that still needs some research. Owners are rightfully concerned about this behavior, especially when it happens the first time as they wonder if their dog is suffering from some odd neurological disorder or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. As of now, the behavior seems to not have been associated with any medical or behavioral disorder.
A while back, in 2004, the Bull Terrier Neurological Disorder Resources, conducted a survey to try to shed some light on the behavior. The poll in which bull terrier owners participated revealed that 86 percent of the dogs were considered normal while 14 percent were showing neurological issues. Out of the dogs that were considered normal, 73 percent would trance while 27 percent would not. This seems to suggest that the majority of dogs who engaged in the trancing behaviors were normal, happy dogs.
Alice Moon-Fanelli, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist with Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, has shown a keen interest in the behavior and has conducted some research on it by collecting data from many bull terrier owners. While she has noted that a great amount of bull terriers trance, she didn't find a connection with the behavior of tail chasing, which is quite common in this breed. She reassures dog owners claiming that trancing should not be considered a precursor to tail-chasing behavior.
As seen, trancing is one of those behaviors that will seem odd, but anecdotal evidence and the few surveys we have seem to suggest that it, fortunately, appears to be harmless. What should a dog owner do if he notices his dog trancing back and forth? Trying to snap him out of it by asking the dog to perform another behavior may go a bit to deaf ears as affected dogs may not be responsive, explains D. Caroline Coile and Margaret H. Bonham in the book Why Do Dogs Like Balls? Interrupting the behavior may also cause the dog to be a bit irritated. Therefore, letting the dog be and allowing him to enjoy this innocent "high" may be the best solution, just as kitty gets to enjoy his catnip.
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!"
— Alice Moon Fanelli
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
JenBen on August 29, 2020:
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My French Bulldog started trancing after a surgery for an eye injury.
Deborah Benner on July 16, 2020:
I adopted an 8 uear old Bull Terrier in Feb and this was the first time i had seen this behavior. If i let her she would do this trancing for long periods of time. She seems to thoroughly enjoy it and i like watching her. She is an absolute joy along with her many quirks and i am forever grateful to have her, my April-Rose.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 28, 2019:
Hayley, if this is a totally new behavior for your dog it may be still worthy of mentioning to your vet just to play it safe.
Hayley on May 21, 2019:
Oh thank you, though my Staffordshire Bull Terrier (Honey) had something wrong with her in the brain tumour way. Quick google search confirms she is ghost /trance walking, it’s such an odd thing for a dog to do, she’s nearly 9 and I’ve never seen her do it before. First seen her do it coming out of the bush in garden, then when she was under the net curtains.....
Marcy on April 27, 2019:
My cockapoo does this on anything hanging low. She especially likes my curtains and house plant. I swear she keeps eye contact while she does it which is a bit creepy haha!
She always seems so happy afterward..like I would feel after doing yoga so I let her be.
Anna on April 02, 2019:
Watching my boyfriends Basset do it makes me crack up
Kevin Mccoy on September 16, 2018:
may the best solution
Brenda Gilliss on March 06, 2017:
My pug does this all the time. Sometimes it is Because he wants something like food. water or to go out but other times there seems to be nothing that he want, he just keeps walking around in a slow walk for hours.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 21, 2017:
Valeries, love the slo-mo description for the behavior, it really gives the idea!
Valerie J Duhr on February 17, 2017:
I have a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon that is 7 years old. She has done what I call the "slo-mo walk" for years, but I never thought about it too much because the breed is so goofy and silly anyway. Being a pointer, the breed is very obsessive anyway and, when pointing, they do freeze into pointing mode when focusing on a bird or lizard or whatever, which might look like the slo-mo stance, except she's not moving at all while pointing. When she slo-mo walks, she has never brushed against anything while doing it. She simply wanders around verrrry slowly like the videos of other dogs I've seen doing the same thing; head down as if in a trance. Otherwise, she's a healthy, puppy-like, loveable, loving goofball with tons of energy like most hunting breeds.
Michelle mccauley on January 02, 2017:
It won't let me wat h the videos but my Shepard boxer mix will go under the dining room table or in the closet and look as though she is stalking something there has been numerous times we have tried to pull her out of looking at what ever it was but she will go right back at it.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 02, 2016:
I haven't had the luck to see this happen in front of my eyes as of yet. Didn't get to work much with bull terries or salukis, and the Jack Russells and basset hounds I have met didn't do it. I hope to see it one day though, trancing seems fascinating to watch!
Nancy Yager from Hamburg, New York on May 02, 2016:
I have seen a few dogs do this and I never really knew why. The music in the video is so funny.