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."

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.

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