Why Do Bull Terriers and Some Other Dogs Ghost Walk? Understanding Trancing in 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 most of all, 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 s couple of videos of dogs trancing for the skeptics out there. You'll see videos of bull terriers trancing in the next few paragraphs.
Bull Terrier Trancing Under Curtain
What Causes Trancing in Dogs?
Turns out, 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 and 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 in, revealed that 86 percent of the dogs were considered normal while 14 percent were showing neurological issues and 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, explain 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 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
Bull Terrier Trancing Under House Plant
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.