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Trancing: Zombie-like behavior in dogs is nothing to worry about, scientists say

As “in the moment” as they are said to be, some dogs — like many of we humans — do zone out, and the behavior is nothing to worry about, scientists say.

Pete, the bull terrier above, is trancing, or ghost-walking, and maybe you’ve seen your dog doing the same thing: They stare blankly ahead, or close their eyes, standing either perfectly still or taking small slow motion steps. Most often, this is done in an enclosed space, like a closet, or under a bush.

Caroline Coile, a researcher specializing in canine genetics and behavior at Florida State University, noticed one of her Salukis doing it in her closet. Years later, when she got another Saluki, it did the same thing, except under a backyard bush.

She began researching the behavior and concluded, as others have, that it’s not a disorder, but more like human forms of meditation, Popular Science reports.

Dogs do it because it feels good.

Though many dog owners worry when they see it, though it does look weird, Coile says, “It’s not like they’re in an actual trance where they’re looking into a crystal ball or something. But it does seem like they go into some sort of meditation-like state.”

There does seem to be a tactile element involved. In most cases, dogs seek out a location where they have contact with something, such as clothes hanging in a closet, a curtain, or the fronds of bushes or house plants.

Coile says she believes trancing is more common in some breeds than others, with bull terriers and greyhounds seeming most likely to engage in the behavior, but she adds there is no evidence the behavior is hereditary.

One study published in Veterinary Record found trancing to be “apparently purposeless.”

Alice Moon-Fanelli, a certified animal behaviorist from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, investigated trancing while studying compulsive tail-chasing in bull terriers.

Moon-Fanelli worried that trancing was yet another manifestation of compulsive disorder in the breed, but trancing appeared to be unrelated, and completely harmless.

“The bull terriers would go under Christmas trees, curtains, towels… anything hanging that would cause dorsal stimulation,” she says. “Their eyes glaze over, and they would go into this slow moonwalk. Then they’d come out of it and be fine.”

So before you rush your dog to the doggie shrink, ask yourself this: Is canine trancing really any more bizarre than the things we humans do to relax and comfort ourselves, or to free and rest our brains — be it taking that Xanax, engaging in some meditation, or watching an episode of Law & Order that we’ve seen ten times?