The leader of the pack

Dogs’ paths during group walks could be used to determine leadership roles and through that their social ranks and personality traits, say researchers from Oxford University, Eötvös University, Budapest and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

The research team tracked the movements of six Vizsla dogs and their owner using high-resolution GPS harnesses during fourteen 30-40 minute walks off the lead.

Photo credit: Zsuzsa Ákos

Photo credit: Zsuzsa Ákos

The dogs’ movements were measurably influenced by underlying social hierarchies and personality differences.

‘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.’ said study author Dr Máté Nagy of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology.

Dogs that consistently took the lead were more responsive to training, more controllable, older and more aggressive than the dogs that tended to follow. Dogs that led more often had higher dominance ranks in everyday situations, assessed by a dominance questionnaire.

One possible use of the technology would be to assess search and rescue dogs to see which dogs work best together.  The results have been published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology.

Source:  University of Oxford media release

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