Wild Dogs Say 'Yes' By Sneezing

By Allegra Ringo

We've known for a long time that dogs do a lot with their noses. They use them as their primary way to gather information. But we didn't know until recently that wild dogs may also use their noses to vote.

Starring African wild dog in the Kruger National Park
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In a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers found that when it's time for a pack of African wild dogs to decide whether to leave for a hunt, the pack engages in a bout of sneezing to find out how many members are ready.

Researchers watched five packs of wild dogs in Botswana and found that when hunting time came, the more sneezes the group got, the more likely the pack would be to set out to hunt. After watching the groups engage in 68 "high energy, socially intricate pre-departure greeting ceremonies," the researchers determined that there was a general threshold the pack had to clear before leaving to hunt.

African Wild Dog watching proceedings closely
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The exact number of "required" sneezes varied depending on the roles of dominant dogs within the group. According to the study's authors, "rallies never failed when a dominant ... individual initiated and there were at least three sneezes, whereas rallies initiated by lower ranking individuals required a minimum of 10 sneezes to achieve the same level of success."

It's not fair to say that this process is exactly like human voting (but it is fun to think about). The New York Times points out that unlike most human voting, wild dogs aren't limited to one sneeze each. Additionally, we don't know if their sneezing is voluntary or involuntary.

Pollen Allergy Symptoms
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Though wild dogs aren't the only animals who display this behavior — meerkats, mountain gorillas, and white faced capuchin monkeys all make unique noises when it's time for their group to move — this finding among wild dogs is unprecedented.

It's not exactly clear what this finding may reflect in domestic dogs, but for those of us with dogs who sneeze when they're excited to go outside, it's certainly interesting to think about.