Democratic Dogs Vote by Sneezing


Democracy isn’t just for humans. New research suggests African wild dogs make group decisions, too—and vote by sneezing. (Nat Geo)

What are African wild dogs?

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Photograph by Aaron Huey, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The fascinating new research reports that some packs of African wild dogs sneeze to communicate. Do other wild animals use their voices to communicate with each other?
    • Yes, of course they do! The new research mentions three examples in particular, cases in which vocalizations are used to decide if a group of animals will move from a comfortable resting spot: meerkats, honeybees, and capuchin monkeys. In addition:
      • Meerkat sentries send out “a soft, high-pitched call every few seconds to let their colony know they are safe from danger.” Learn more here.
      • Wolves “have an extensive repertoire of sounds. Whines and whimpers indicate friendly interaction but also show frustration or anxiety. Growls and snarls are threatening or defensive. Barking is rare, usually an alarm signal. Howls seem to be about togetherness, whether the wolves are gathering for a hunt, mourning a lost pack mate, or announcing territorial or mating intentions.” Learn more here.
      • Blue whale songs, pitched at far too low a frequency for humans to hear, are “likely a part of a pod’s ‘social selection,’ a process in which whales choose a mate.” Learn more here.
      • Elephants, too, communicate over long distances by infrasound, which “really coordinates elephant movement.” Learn more here.
      • The machine-gun song of the male brown sicklebill “advertises for females to come to his territory.” Learn more here.
      • What other examples of animal vocal communication can you think of?



  • “This is a really huge finding,” says one researcher, but not entirely conclusive. Can you think of other reasons why the African wild dogs in the study would sneeze while at a pre-hunt “rally”?
    • Sneezes may be a response to other stimuli, such as unusual sounds, smells, or temperature.
    • Sneezing, like yawning, can be socially “contagious,” and some dogs may have been influenced by their pack-mates’ behavior.
    • A South African conservationist said she has “not seen high levels of sneezing, so perhaps sneezing is only used by Botswana dogs.”



Nat Geo: These Dogs Vote by Sneezing

Nat Geo: Meerkat Messages

Nat Geo: Wolf Language

Nat Geo: Giants of Sri Lanka

Nat Geo: A Natural History of the African Elephant

Nat Geo: Machine-Gun Birds

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences: Sneeze to leave: African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) use variable quorum thresholds facilitated by sneezes in collective decisions

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