Any pet owner will tell you that some animals are just quirky. Some quirks, though, are seen in not just your dog but many dogs. Trancing, sometimes called ‘ghost walking’ or ‘weed walking’, is a bit unsettling when first witnessed by an owner and is a behavior reported by a number of dog owners.
What Is Trancing?
Trancing is when a dog will gingerly and very slowly walk under overhanging foliage, tablecloths, curtains, etc. such that whatever they are walking under just barely touches them, or in other cases, they may freeze and appear to be ''in a trance." If you have never seen it before and your dog starts doing it at home, it can be a bit unnerving to watch. These dogs walk so slowly that it’s as if they were trying to sneak up on something and are trying let their footfalls make little noise. They also appear to be in an almost trance-like state, hence the term ‘trancing’.
Trancing is seen often enough in Bull Terriers that some online sources make the claim that it is unique to the breed. A simple search of dog trancing video clips, though, will quickly debunk that as there are clearly other dog breeds out there that have tranced while their owners captured it in real time.
While it's a common theory that all Bull Terriers trance, it's simply not true. A Bull Terrier may be more predisposed to trance than another dog breed, but that does not mean a Bull Terrier is guaranteed to trance and another dog breed is guaranteed not to trance.
Is Trancing a Type of Seizure?
Some people, upon watching a dog trance for the first time, will think it is some kind of focal seizure. In some cases, this can be true if there is an underlying medical problem. There are some important observations that can help distinguish whether or not this is a sign of seizure activity. A dog that is actively seizing cannot be ‘snapped’ out of it by calling their name or by giving a simple recall command. A dog that is trancing, though, even if they are in a "deep" trance, will give at least some sort of reaction to a name call or recall command, even if it’s just a flick of the ear to hear you better. Dogs that are trancing will be completely normal before and after the trance episode, while dogs that have seizure activity often do not seem completely normal right before and after the episode.
Some owners of trancing dogs suspect that their dog actually enjoys this odd behavior, noting that when they snap them out of their trance, they almost appear a bit miffed to have had their episode cut short. Most trancing episodes, when left uninterrupted, last only a few minutes and then once the dog is done, they are immediately back to their normal, happy, tail-wagging selves. This is in direct contrast to when a dog is coming out of a seizure. Dogs that suffer a seizure episode, when the seizure itself is over and they are no longer actively seizing, can take hours to be completely back to normal. If your dog suddenly starts trancing later in life, or the frequency of the episodes in increasing, these would be important points to mention to your veterinarian.
Is Trancing a Behavioral Disorder?
There are some owners that might fear that trancing is either a behavioral disorder itself or the precursor to a disorder such as obsessive compulsive disorder. Their fears might be bolstered by the fact that Bull Terriers, one of the breeds commonly known for trancing, are also prone to OCD behaviors, like tail chasing. A group called BT Neuro, however, in 2004 surveyed a group of Bull Terrier owners to see if there was any correlation to trancing and tail chasing and they could not find any. So if your Bull Terrier trances but doesn’t tail chase, the fact that they do trance does not automatically mean they will start tail chasing in the future. In other dogs, trancing itself is a compulsive behavior and these dogs may respond to certain behavioral interventions, such as increased enrichment activities, such as food puzzles, interactive toys, and more exercise.
Is Trancing a Learned Behavior?
What if you have a dog that trances in your home and you want to add another dog to your family? Is trancing something that can be learned and picked up? We still know so very little about why dogs trance to begin with, but some multi-dog home owners have noticed that their non-trancing dogs will start to trance after watching the other dog in the home repeatedly exhibit the behavior. The new dog may trance under the same item the first dog tranced under, but oftentimes one dog will prefer to trance under one item (like a house plant of some sort) while another dog prefers to trance under a completely different item (like fabric or beaded curtains).
Trancing, while an odd quirk for a dog to have, seems to be just that: a quirk. What is clear is that in the majority of cases, trancing is non-life threatening, and it isn't usually a pre-cursor obsessive compulsive disorder. So when you catch your dog trancing go ahead and let them be weird!