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JoAnna Lou
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Moscow's Train Riding Dogs
Russian pups adapt to the changing times

Dogs are amazing at adapting alongside humans. It's thought that canines were domesticated after they learned to scavenge for food and became useful companions to people. Today dogs adjust to almost anything we throw their way. I see big pups happily living in tiny Manhattan apartments and herding breeds channeling their energy into activities with no sheep in sight, like agility and obedience.

Dogs in Moscow have impressively adapted to the city's changing culture. During commuting time it's not uncommon to see both two and four legged commuters on the trains--the humans headed to work and the canines in search of food. There are about 30,000 stray dogs wandering the streets of Moscow, many who started taking the train after the Soviet collapse in the 1990s. Scientists believe that this behavior started as people moved industry complexes, which homeless dogs used as shelters, out of the city and into the suburbs. The dogs moved but learned to ride the subway since the city has the best food scavenging opportunities.

Dogs used to be banned on Moscow's trains, but they quickly captured the hearts of riders. Now many commuters give up their seat for tired dogs and even build simple shelters to help the pups manage the cold winters.

The dogs have gotten pretty good at reading people and don't always have to scavenge or even beg for food. Dr. Andrei Poiarkov of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute says that the pups know exactly what they're doing. Sometimes they'll creep up behind someone and bark, scaring a person into dropping their food. Othertimes they'll play to someone's soft side and rest their head on a child's knee.

Andrei says that the dogs often work together to get off at the correct stop, memorizing how long the train ride is.  Sometimes, just like humans, they fall asleep and get off at the wrong stop! The dogs also seem to ride the subway for fun, darting on the train at the last second and dodging the closing doors. These pups are really making the most of the trains in Moscow!

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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