African wild dogs are a fascinating breed of animal. On an organizational level, there aren’t many animals that can rival their ability to support different members of the pack. After each hunt, the puppies are the first ones to feed. A healthy member of the pack always shares his part of the spoils with a sick or injured member.
And the way they organize for a hunt is special as well. They vote on a hunt by sneezing. Not only that, other important decisions are made in this way. A dog, when it is preparing for a walk, lowers its head, opens its mouth and pushes its ears backwards. The African wild dogs, when getting ready for a hunt assume a similar position. On the other hand, the less dominant members of the pack, who eat after their companions who are higher in the social hierarchy, started developing a habit of sneezing in order to jump-start their superior companions into the mood to hunt.
Scientists from the University of New South Wales noticed this pattern and started writing it down. They kept track of five packs, with a total of about 50 dogs, for a year. They started noticing that the number of sneezes was the most important part in the communication between pack members.
The number of sneezes determines the timing of the hunt, but leader decisions also played a large part. They organize a hunt by holding several rallies before a clear decision to depart is made. The first rally had a 25 percent chance to start a hunt, but by the third rally, this percentage rises to 65 percent. The percentages further increased if a prominent member of the pack led the rally. Three sneezes were usually enough for a dominant dog to start the hunt. The scientists think that this is a way for the animals to show their eagerness to go hunt. In doing this the dominant members filter out any of the less eager members of the pack in order to raise their chances for a successful hunt.
The sound the dogs produce during this is not much different than a sneeze the dogs made when clearing their throat. Proper sound testing may be needed in order to determine any clear differences. The noise is also much different than a grunt or growl, as it does not provoke any kind of aggression between the different members.
But voting is not only specific to these dogs. Meerkats also use this method, and the larger the number of meerkats participating the quicker any decision is made. Bees make decisions about changing hives by the process of unanimous consensus. Grunting in some primates has a similar effect.
The population of the African wild dog has dwindled down to some 7,000 dogs. It is imperative that scientists learn the exact communication patterns between these animals in order to better keep them away from people. If scientists want to discover a way to deter the animals from venturing into populated zones, they need to understand the exact way in which the dogs communicate.