Biology

Democratic dogs sneeze for their supper

Democratic dogs sneeze for the...
Sneezing in wild African dogs had previously been thought of as a way for the animals to clear their throats, but new research claims it's used as a form of voting
Sneezing in wild African dogs had previously been thought of as a way for the animals to clear their throats, but new research claims it's used as a form of voting
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New research has found that African wild dogs use sneezes to vote on whether or not the pack should move off and start hunting its next target
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New research has found that African wild dogs use sneezes to vote on whether or not the pack should move off and start hunting its next target
Sneezing in wild African dogs had previously been thought of as a way for the animals to clear their throats, but new research claims it's used as a form of voting
2/2
Sneezing in wild African dogs had previously been thought of as a way for the animals to clear their throats, but new research claims it's used as a form of voting

An international team of researchers has uncovered an interesting technique packs of wild African dogs use to make collective decisions. Observing these creatures in the wild, the team found that they use their sneezes to vote on whether or not the pack should move off and start hunting its next target.

The work stems from observations of African wild dogs taking part in vigorous greeting ceremonies called social rallies once they are done resting. These gatherings seemed to take place just before the pack moves off again, but for Dr Neil Jordan, a research fellow at Australia's University of New South Wales (UNSW), there were still questions to be answered.

"I wanted to better understand this collective behavior, and noticed the dogs were sneezing while preparing to go," he says. "We recorded details of 68 social rallies from five African wild dog packs living in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and couldn't quite believe it when our analyses confirmed our suspicions. The more sneezes that occurred, the more likely it was that the pack moved off and started hunting. The sneeze acts like a type of voting system."

New research has found that African wild dogs use sneezes to vote on whether or not the pack should move off and start hunting its next target
New research has found that African wild dogs use sneezes to vote on whether or not the pack should move off and start hunting its next target

This sneezing was previously thought to simply be a way for the dogs to clear their airways, but the researchers found that the behavior instead acts as a form of voting system. Additionally, if a dominant male and female happened to be members of the pack, only a few sneezes were required for the group to move off, while if the dominant pair were not engaged, however, around 10 sneezes were needed before the group made its move.

"The sneezes act as a type of quorum, and the sneezes have to reach a certain threshold before the group changes activity," says study co-author Dr Andrew King, of Swansea University in the UK. "Quorums are also used by other social carnivores like meerkats, but our finding that the quorum number of sneezes changes, based on who's involved in the rally, indicates each dog's vote is not equal."

You can see the sneezing dogs in action in the video below, while the research will be published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Source: University of New South Wales

Something to sneeze about: democratic voting in African wild dog packs

3 comments
Joe 5306
Fascinating. We have a domestic pack of our own. 3 very highly socialized canines of various breeds, but they all share this behavior and I always had a hunch that it was an effort to communicate something, and this article confirms it. Interestingly, the most common time I see it is when it is close to their daily afternoon walk, after which they are fed. Sometimes its more random than that, but corresponds with changes in my behavior (like getting up from my desk or moving into a part of the house near their leashes) that I might get sneezed at! I suspect they are still trying to say, "Yes, let's go walk!" Another very common time this happens is when I'm in the kitchen and they hope to get a treat tossed their way.
fen
It's probably both, them clearing the airways and a voting system. If the alpha dog gets up and clears their airways, its highly likely that they are clearing it because they are going to start moving. The others learn this and get up, clear their airways and move off with them. When a lower level one gets up and clears its airways the others can just ignore them. But if enough stand up and clear their airways then the choice has been made. Like in humans when someone gets up to leave, they put their jacket on, but none of the group is ready, so they end up sitting back down in their jacket.
BeinThayer
Interesting study. I also feel like I have seen this behavior in my own dogs. Personal anecdotal evidence aside, how were other explanations for the sneezing ruled out? How did they rule out the possibility that the dogs moved because enough of the dogs or the important dogs were irritated by something in the air that was making them sneeze? How did they rule out the possibility that getting up and beginning to move (which might signal a desire to move) triggered sneezing? . Were any solitary dogs observed for similar periods? A lack of sneezing in solitary would lend support to the idea of sneezing as signalling. Then again, perhaps just as some people talk to themselves outloud, maybe some dogs sneeze to themselves when alone.