What Is Dog Trancing?

Why dogs do it and what it means
By Joan Kubicek, June 2021
dog ghost walking

The first time you notice your dog slowly creeping beneath a low-hanging branch or a dangling tablecloth, head moving languorously side-to-side and a far-away look in his eye, you might worry that it heralds a seizure, or points to obsessive-compulsive tendencies. But once the pup has performed this ritual repeatedly with no apparent ill effects to health (his) or property (yours), you may simply wonder what causes this hypnosis-like behavior.

In fact, experts say that Trance-like Syndrome (TLS)—also referred to as “ghost-walking,” “weed-walking” or simply “trancing”—is usually a benign canine quirk. Though most common in Bull Terriers and sighthounds (such as Greyhounds and Salukis), TLS has been observed in multiple breeds and mixes.

But why do our furry friends act this way in the presence of low-hanging objects, and are there any situations in which this ritual indicates an illness or behavioral issue?

Experts refer to the manner in which dogs move while experiencing TLS as “hypokinetic gait,” an incredibly slow pacing characterized by soft, deliberate footfalls. This slo-mo walk seems to be stimulated by the dog passing under a plant or fabric hanging at head- or back-height. In some dogs, the sensation elicits a glassy-eyed gaze and affects the way they position their faces. “Their ears will be completely flat to the head, nose pointed up to the sky and eyes squinted,” explains Dr. Michelle Burch, DVM, with Safe Hounds Pet Insurance.

GET THE BARK NEWSLETTER IN YOUR INBOX!

Sign up and get the answers to your questions.

Email Address:

They may even pause their glacial mosey and stand stock-still for several seconds before resuming their pacing. Uninterrupted, this blissed-out state can last anywhere from several seconds to half an hour, but is easily cut short by calling the pup’s name. Though some dogs may briefly exhibit annoyance at being yanked from their reverie, they quickly return to their normal selves.

Veterinarians and canine behaviorists are not sure what causes TLS. Seemingly, the light brush of line-drying clothes or foliage against their bodies activates feelings of happiness and tranquility. Some experts consider trancing to be a form of canine compulsive disorder, as many dogs who exhibit TLS are prone to other neurotic behaviors. There’s no conclusive evidence, however, that trancing is connected to a neurological issue. Unlike a seizure, a TLS “spell” can be easily broken.

In most cases, TLS behavior doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with the dog. Though it may appear strange and pose a mystery to canine experts, in and of itself, it’s not an indication of health or behavioral problems. “If you do not see any other symptoms associated with trancing episodes,” Burch says, “I recommend not panicking and allowing them to finish their ritual.”

A visit to the veterinarian is in order only if the trance is accompanied by vomiting, excessive drooling, muscle spasms, unresponsiveness to outside stimuli or sudden unconsciousness. “Dogs who display such symptoms may have an underlying seizure disorder, metabolic abnormalities or organ dysfunction,” warns Burch. It’s also a good idea to make certain that a dog’s trance-trigger of choice isn’t potentially damaging to his skin; a “massage” from a poisonous shrub, for example, could produce a painful rash.

So, if you spot your fuzzy pal inching past the coatrack, running his back along jacket-bottoms and scarves with a dreamy look on his face, don’t worry. It’s fairly safe to assume that his behavior, though odd, is entirely harmless.

Photo (top): iStock Photo (middle): Cameron Woo

Joan Kubicek is a writer, performer, pet-sitter, and dog-mom to a curmudgeonly Terrier named Lyle. She lives in Los Angeles. 

We Recommend