Dogs reach a quorum by sneezing, though some votes count more than others.
Now, a new study of African wild dogs in Botswana adds another animal to the voting pool. It turns out that these endangered, undomesticated dogs “vote” on whether to start hunting by making noises that sound just like sneezes.
Neil Jordan, a fellow at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, worked with a team to follow five packs of these dogs for roughly 11 months, observing their behavior and recording the sounds they made. Based on previous research, he and his colleagues were fairly certain that the dogs had to reach a consensus before setting out on a collective hunt. The scientists already knew that the dogs had a very specific social pattern, called a “rally,” wherein the pack would come together and boisterously greet each other. Writing in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Jordan and his team describe how they figured out that rallies were generally initiated by one dog, who “rose from rest in the distinctive initiation posture: head lowered, mouth open, and ears folded back.”
After witnessing several rallies, the researchers noticed something strange. They started hearing patterns of sneezes. Jordan said in a release that they “noticed the dogs were sneezing while preparing to go.” So the researchers went over recordings of 68 rallies 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.”
Even more interesting, however, is that dog democracy is as imperfect as the human version. When a dominant male or female dog called the rally, fewer sneezes were needed to start the hunt. Study co-author Reena Walker added, “If the dominant pair were not engaged, more sneezes were needed—approximately 10—before the pack would move off.” In other words, some votes count more than others.
Walker told The New York Times that the noise they called “sneezes” isn’t really like a human sneeze. There’s no inhalation, just an “audible, rapid forced exhalation through the nose.” We also aren’t sure that this noise is involuntary, like a sneeze, or more like a person making a grunt of assent. What is certain is that the more of these sounds you hear during a dog vote, the more likely they are to move along to do some dog business together.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2017. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0347 (About DOIs).
Listing image by Andrew King