Your dog is often bouncy and energetic in the yard. You throw sticks for him, play fetch, and he runs all over. Except sometimes, he finds his favorite bush, and decides to take it slow. He moves in slow motion, letting the bush graze his back. His attention is fully focused on his experience of walking under the bush and he even comes to a near standstill. His tail might go up as he moves slowly under the bush. You call his name over and over, whistle, squeak toys, but nothing gets his attention. This behavior has been called many names, including trancing, slo-mo dogging, ghost walking, or weed-walking.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs do some things we mere humans can’t understand, and trancing seems to be one of them. For humans, a trance is when someone is half present, often moving slowly if they’re moving at all, and their mind is barely there, like in hypnosis. For dogs, trancing has a similar meaning. Trancing is when a dog slowly walks under a bush, low hanging clothesline or branches, the Christmas tree, or even your tablecloth, like he’s in a weird zone, unreachable by usual methods. When your dog walks under bushes slowly, humans are guessing he’s in somewhat of a trance state, but we don’t know for sure. His attention is hard to break, his eyes might glaze over, and he might even seem like he’s stopped moving altogether. It’s very hard to break a dog’s attention when he is trancing and if you do, he’ll probably be a bit perturbed. For reasons unknown to us, he was thoroughly enjoying that moment. Dogs typically trance for 3 to 30 minutes at a time and will resume normal activity once they’re satisfied. It’s unclear whether dogs choose their trancing spot because of a smell or the sensation felt when the bush or branch lightly rubs against their backs.
Some dog breeds trance more than others. Greyhounds, Labradors, Puggles, Jack Russels, Bull Terriers, Salukis, and Bassett Hounds have been noted to do the slo-mo dogging more than other breeds, but the root of the behavior is unknown. People often are concerned that trancing might actually be a focal seizure or other neurological disorders, but there have been many neurological studies and tests to rule that out. Trancing and neurological disorders are not directly linked and the habit of trancing leaves humans perplexed. Some suggest it might be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, but trancing and obsessive behaviors have not been linked yet, either. This odd doggy behavior remains a mystery.
Encouraging the Behavior
Trancing, while weird, is safe for your dog. It might be alarming to see your dog go into the zone and have a hard time snapping out of it, but most of the time, he’s just enjoying himself. For some reason, he gets pleasure out of slowly moving under bushes and zoning out for a few minutes. Dogs who trance don’t appear to be destructive or harmful and seem to keep to themselves. Owners report that dogs only seem irritated or annoyed when you break them of their trance, but not aggressive. If you must stop your dog from trancing, you’ll probably end up with a cranky dog on your hands. Dogs who trance don’t seem to be looking for attention, either.
Unless your dog is rubbing himself against poison ivy that grew on a fence or tree, you should not be concerned with this behavior. The only negative aspect of this behavior is having to explain to your neighbors or guests that your dog is doing something a little weird. Your dog is most likely not have a neurological episode and does not need to be rushed to the vet, although it might take some convincing for you to explain that to your nosy neighbor.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you are worried that your dog is having a neurological episode, you should call your vet immediately and describe the behavior and the duration. A partial seizure, also called focal seizure, usually only affects a small part of a dog’s brain, but over time will progress into grand mal seizures. Grand mal seizures affect the entire body and can make their legs and bodies twitch or lose consciousness. Seizures often happen during early mornings or late evenings, when the dog is at rest.
One symptom prior to a seizure to watch for is a change in mental state, which is called an aura or focal onset. Many people are concerned when their dog trances because it looks similar. Symptoms of a seizure include dogs looking stressed or dazed, he might hide or be afraid, or he could seek help from you. Chances are, if he’s in a trance under a bush in the middle of the day, he’s probably fine and just trancing. But it’s better to be safe than sorry, so when in doubt, call your vet.
Your dog’s trancing might seem weird to us, but how much of our behavior is weird to them? Let your dog happily trance in his favorite spot and try not to interrupt him unless it is absolutely necessary. After all, you do not want to be pulled out of your state of relaxation and neither does he.