Gesundheit! African Wild Dogs ‘Vote’ With Sneezes

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 6, 2017 2:03 pm
(Credit: John Carnemolla/Shutterstock)

(Credit: John Carnemolla/Shutterstock)

If you want to get something done in an African wild dog pack, you’ve got to be ready to sneeze.

The animals seem to make group decisions based on a system of explosive exhalations — “sneezes” — that determine if they get up and go on the hunt. If the dogs reach a quorum of sorts, they all fall in line — no “bless you’s” necessary.

Sneeze If You’re With Me

Researchers from Swansea University and Taronga Conservation Society Australia noticed an abundance of “achoos” right before the wild dogs left to go on a hunt. While it was thought the motion could have something to do with clearing nasal passages to heighten smelling ability, they decided to investigate further.

By following a pack around, they were able to tally up the sneezes from 68 pre-hunt gatherings and note when they occurred. Each time the dogs headed out to hunt, their movements were preceded by a number of sneezes, leading them to conclude that they were likely acting as a kind of voting system. The more sneezes they heard, the more likely it was that the dogs would leave.

African wild dogs are highly social creatures, and they rely on communication — along with a strict hierarchy — to maintain group cohesion. They hunt in packs to bring prey down, so having everyone on board with a hunt is key. Similarly, following along with the will of the majority is a necessity.

It’s no perfect democracy, though. An individuals’ rank in the pack played a significant role in determining if a dog’s opinion was respected. It took subdominant dogs three times as many sneezes to motivate the pack to action as it did for the dominant male and female. And, once they were on the move, the dominant dogs usually took the lead and determined where they went.

Though sneezing may be unique, most social animals conduct some sort of group decision-making. Queen honeybees pipe, capuchin monkeys trill, apes grunt, and meerkats give “moving calls” all in service of reaching some sort of consensus. The dynamics differ by species, and sneezing is certainly new, but taking the will of the group into account is a necessity for animals that live and work together.

It’s nice to know democracy isn’t solely a human construct.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: animals
  • Erik Bosma

    After watching the video the screen quickly showed two links to more wildlife videos. I clicked on the eagle link and watched a video of mostly faked eagle attacks. This really lowers the validity of the article and corresponding video in my eyes. Perhaps you people should investigate some of the paid links which we’re invited to click on.

  • kmtominey44

    And people including animal behaviorist think dogs (and other animals) do not understand “I”, I am 3rd ranked, as signs of consciousness of self, others, etc.

    Hopefully this will help disabuse them.

  • Jose Martinez

    where do these people come from?what will they come up with next?if they are as smart as they claim(the people who say these things)they will say when they “pass”gas,they are little stinkers,that add to global warming….

  • OWilson

    I always figured that group yawing was a sign to all that it was time to kick back and take a nap! :)


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