Thursday, September 29, 2011
It's one thing for stray dogs to hang around a local butcher shop or search for food in dumpsters and trash cans, but for dogs living in Russia it's just a matter of catching the subway into Moscow, where they can find plenty of opportunities to fill their tummies. What's amazing about these subway riding canines is that they have riding the tube down to a fine art, and scientists have been learning some interesting things about how man's best friend has learned to adapt to their environment.
In the days when Russia was still the USSR, there were no dogs allowed in subways and even if they had been welcomed, dogs had no reason to go into the city. There were no street vendors or restaurants in the downtown area of Moscow, just industrial buildings. The stray dogs living on the outskirts of town found food digging through garbage dumps and trash cans. When the old USSR fell in the 1990s, everything changed for the people and the stray dogs. Restaurants, street vendors and fast food joints sprang up in Moscow, and the only challenge for the dogs was how to get from the suburbs into the downtown area where all of that easy food could be found.
Dogs are opportunistic and intelligent, and when they figured out they were no longer chased away from the subway stations, they began hopping trains for a lift into the city. The Moscow subway system is a maze that can be confusing for people, but the dogs appear to have learned the system. Scientists have been studying the train-hopping dogs to learn how they know which train to catch and when to get off. Researchers believe the dogs know their stop because of their ability to judge how long they've been on the train. It appears some of the dogs recognize the names of stations from the announcement over the loudspeaker or can sense the different smells of each station. It's possible that it's a combination of knowledge the dogs have learned. Some may even recognize certain people who exit at a specific station each day and simply follow them when they get off.
Once in the city, the dogs have their own special ways of getting food. Some position themselves outside butcher shops and wait for dog lovers coming out of the shop to toss them a bone. Others have refined a technique of sneaking up behind people who are eating food and surprising them with a loud bark which hopefully scares the person into dropping whatever they're eating. If the dog is successful in getting the person to drop their food, he grabs his prize and runs. A Middle Eastern food that's a favorite in Moscow is called Shawarma. It's sort of like a taco or burrito and sold by street vendors throughout the city. Stuffed inside a steamed pita or flatbread is hummus, tahini, pickles, vegetables, thinly sliced meat and sometimes French fries. Sort of makes your mouth water; doesn't it? Even if it doesn't tempt your taste buds, it does for the stray dogs of Moscow.
Packs of stray dogs are led not by the strongest or most dominant member, but by the most intelligent dog in the pack. The dogs understand living among people in a large city requires brains and not muscle to survive. Researchers have observed dog packs selecting pack members that are smaller and cuter than the other ones who are then sent out to beg for food.
What's interesting is the dogs have learned these different techniques they use on their own by observing how people react to them, and they are able to determine which technique is most likely to work best on different people. The dogs have even learned how to safely cross streets by walking with pedestrians. And they purportedly observe traffic lights not by the color of the light, but according to the pictures on the lights.
The dogs also don't leave messes laying around where someone can step in them, and they relieve themselves in out of the way spots away from the main traffic areas. The subway riding stray dogs of Moscow have essentially learned how to interact with people and move among them in order to survive. If you ever decide to visit Moscow, it might be a good idea to carry a supply of CANIDAE TidNips™ treats in your pocket. That way you can make sure the stray dogs can have a snack while you keep yours safely in your hand!
Moscow may be a dog friendly city for stray dogs, but we have our own dog friendly cities in the U.S. that would love to have you visit them for your next vacation. It's never too early to start planning for your next trip with your dog.
Read more articles by Linda Cole