Social Order In Domestic Dog Packs Can Be Determined During Group Walks
January 25, 2014

Dog Paths Can Tell A Lot About The Pack Pecking Order

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Researchers writing in the journal PLOS Computational Biology say that you can tell a lot about the social order of a dog pack by looking at their paths.

A group of scientists from Oxford University, Eötvös University, Budapest and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS) found that a dog’s path during group walks can determine social ranks and personality traits. In order to come to this finding, the team utilized high-resolution GPS units to track the movements of six dogs and their owner across 30 to 40 minute off-leash walks.

“We showed that it is possible to determine the social ranking and personality traits of each dog from their GPS movement data,” study author Dr Mate Nagy of Oxford University's Department of Zoology said in a statement. “On individual walks it is hard to identify one permanent leader, but over longer timescales it soon becomes clear that some dogs are followed by peers more often than others. Overall, the collective motion of the pack is strongly influenced by an underlying social network.”

The movements of the dogs were influenced by underlying social hierarchies and personality differences, according to the study authors. The findings show how path tracking can measure social behavior and automatically determine a dog’s personality.

Scientists used the Vizsla breed dogs for the study, which is a Hungarian hunting dog known for their good-natured temperament. The team said that the leader-follower relationships were always voluntary, and dogs chose to follow and the leaders did not compel other dogs to follow them.

The way a dog behaves during a walk can reveal a lot of information about that particular individual. Findings revealed dogs that are consistently leading the way tend to be more responsive to training, more controllable, older and more aggressive than dogs that followed. These dogs also are more likely to have higher dominance ranks in everyday situations, according to a dominance questionnaire.

“The dominance questionnaire tells us the pecking order of dog groups by quantifying interactions between pairs,” Dr Enikő Kubinyi, senior author of the study from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said in a statement. “For example, the dogs that bark first and more when strangers enter the house, eat first at meals and wins fights are judged as more dominant. Conversely, dogs that lick other dogs' mouths more often are less dominant as this is a submissive display.”

Typically, well-established wolf packs are led by a single breeding pair, but scientists are still unsure as to whether groups of domestic dogs have a social hierarchy.

Kubinyi said that while domestic dogs may not have a breeding pair, there are still dogs who take the lead more often than others.

“On average, an individual took the role of the leader in a given pair in about three quarters of the time. This ratio is of similar magnitude to the case of wild wolf packs with several breeding individuals,” Kubinyi said.

The team used this qualitative data to look at the more subtle relationships that might otherwise have been missed without it. They hope to use this technology on other animals in future studies. The study could be used to help pick out dogs to be used in search and rescue missions. Data like this would allow search and rescue members to determine how different dogs would work together, helping them pick those that have the highest compatibility.