On Thursday, audiences watching the first official trailer for Wes Anderson’s upcoming film Isle of Dogs heard a curious amount of sneezing. The pups in the film, the narrator posits, might be sick with the dog flu. But, if Anderson is as familiar with wild dog biology as he is with the rules of symmetry, the sneezing puppers might also be participating in a democratic vote.
Recent research in Proceedings of the Royal Society B has suggested that sneezing, among some wild dogs, is a form of vote-casting, which is then tallied up by the group to determine whether they will move or not. This process might well be at play in Isle of Dogs, set 20 years in the future, in which Japan has too many dogs and our five protagonist pups must make difficult decisions to help a 12-year-old boy searching for his pet.
The trailer shows a dire situation. “Canine saturation has reached epidemic proportions,” says the narrator. “An outbreak of dog flu rips through the city of Megasaki. Mayor Kobayashi issues emergency orders calling for a hasty quarantine. Trash Island becomes an exile colony: The Isle of Dogs.”
As the boy makes it to the Isle of Dogs, searching for his lost pet, a group of self-appointed leaders forms in order to help the boy. These include the alpha dogs Rex, King, Duke, Boss, and Chief. In the trailer, Chief gives his crew a pep talk … and then sneezes.
Watching the alpha dogs work together is not unlike watching actual African wild dogs exercising their voters’ rights. In a previous article, Inverse described what that looks like in real life:
The scientists found that the spirit of democracy was strong among the dogs, even when their leaders were around. When the dominant male and female of the pack were present during a social rally, the rest of the pack would exchange only a few sneezes before moving. But if the dominant pair wasn’t there, then they would sneeze up to ten times before leaving. This indicated to the scientists that “the ‘will of the group’ may override dominant preferences when the consensus of subordinates is sufficiently great.”
This seems to play out in Isle of Dogs, where the group of sneezing puppers are all after the same social rank: alpha dog.
In the final scene of the trailer, as the dogs debate their risky plan, their conversation is peppered with sneezes. Could they actually just be casting their votes? For fans familiar with Anderson’s love of the fantastical, the idea is not entirely far fetched.
Of course, as dog flu (a real thing) constitutes a major plot point in the film, they could simply be ill. But perhaps the characters are expressing traits similar to what we see in Anderson’s first animated animal film, The Fantastic Mister Fox: Animals don’t always act like animals — but sometimes, they do.
If you liked this article, check out this video of robodog, a robot that runs just like a real dog.