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African Dogs Vote by Sneezing, Are Painfully Cute

Every day, it seems, scientists learn new things about just how intelligent animals are. But, even though we now know that crows can hold grudges and insects can learn basic concepts, it’s not every day that the pioneers of social intellect among our furry friends discover a phenomenon quite this cute.

Researchers from Australia and the US monitored wild dogs at the Predator Conservation Trust in Botswana. The group observed that when the pack was trying to sort out where to go, they’d gather in a cluster, dubbed a “social rally.” Then, each would make its case for its preferred hunting ground by sneezing repeatedly. This kept going until the group made their decision.

Sneezing isn’t a common mechanism of communication so, initially, scientists assumed that it was just doggos being doggos and doing adorable shit. Turns out, though, that more sneezing indicated greater preference.

“The sneezes act as a type of quorum, and the sneezes have to reach a certain threshold before the group changes activity,” Dr. Andrew King of Swansea University in Australia told the BBC. “[Quora] are also used by other social carnivores such as meerkats.”

Quorum is the minimum number of members needed to make a decision, and it’s a technique humans use in governance all the time. If Congress, for example, meets and only two people show up, it’d be pretty messed up to let them pass laws, right? Same idea stands here. Sneezes indicate a desire to do a thing (in this case hunt), and if there weren’t enough to get the doggos moving, they wouldn’t.

What’s also interesting here is that the process was, in part, affected by the social rank of each dog. If the dominant female and male were involved, fewer sneezes were needed — meaning that the group can understand and accept that some voices matter more than others in their society.

This shouldn’t, however, reinforce the wrongheaded notion of an alpha. L. David Mech, the researcher who coined the term admitted back in 1999 that his interpretation of the data was wrong. Dominance and slight differences in power make sense — particularly because most animals don’t have a system of age of majority, or another way to recognize wisdom or lived experience.


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