The dogs of Moscow

Super article about stray dogs in Moscow (h/t Balko).  There are about 30,000 stray dogs in Moscow and a wolf researcher there has been studying the dogs for a few decades now.  He’s identified some interesting differences from these wild dogs and wolves:

  • Wolves stay strictly within their own pack, even if they share a territory with another. A pack of dogs, however, can hold a dominant position over other packs and their leader will often “patrol” the other packs by moving in and out of them. His observations have led Poyarkov to conclude that this leader is not necessarily the strongest or most dominant dog, but the most intelligent – and is acknowledged as such. The pack depends on him for its survival.

These aren’t dogs that have been discarded.  Abandoning pets on the streets of Moscow (or just about anywhere else) is essentially a death sentence for dogs.  It’s estimated that only 3% of abandoned dogs survive on the street.  Rather, these dogs were born on the street and are described as generally “medium-sized with thick fur, wedge-shaped heads and almond eyes. Their tails were long and their ears erect.”

I once read a book (I think it was this one) that argued that if you look at wild dogs all over the world that exist in close proximity to humans you’ll see they generally fit that description.  Any smaller and they’d have trouble scavenging their next meal, avoid predation, and withstanding the difficulties of living without shelter.  Any larger and humans would probably view them as a threat and kill them off.

Particularly interesting is the emergence of ‘metro dogs’

Neuronov says there are some 500 strays that live in the metro stations, especially during the colder months, but only about 20 have learned how to ride the trains. This happened gradually, first as a way to broaden their territory. Later, it became a way of life. “Why should they go by foot if they can move around by public transport?” he asks.

“They orient themselves in a number of ways,” Neuronov adds. “They figure out where they are by smell, by recognising the name of the station from the recorded announcer’s voice and by time intervals. If, for example, you come every Monday and feed a dog, that dog will know when it’s Monday and the hour to expect you, based on their sense of time intervals from their ­biological clocks.”

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