[...] It has become a symbol for the 35,000 stray dogs that roam Russia’s capital – about 84 dogs per square mile. You see them everywhere. They lie around in the courtyards of apartment complexes, wander near markets and kiosks, and sleep inside metro stations and pedestrian passageways. You can hear them barking and howling at night. And the strays on Moscow’s streets do not look anything like the purebreds preferred by status-conscious Muscovites. They look like a breed apart.
I moved to Moscow with my family last year and was startled to see so many stray dogs. Watching them over time, I realised that, despite some variation in colour – some were black, others yellowish white or russet – they all shared a certain look. They were medium-sized with thick fur, wedge-shaped heads and almond eyes. Their tails were long and their ears erect.
I think it would be premature to just assume that this look has developed as an or due to an adaptation. (I.e., you need to back up such a claim.) But it is definitely an area one would want to research.
There’s some evidence to suggest that when dogs go feral, they tend to eventually look like the (Australian) dingo. (For example, the Carolina dog looks similar to a dingo.) But I’d imagine that this might not be the only phenotype for feral dogs; as different environments may lead to different feral dog phenotypes.
They also acted differently. Every so often, you would see one waiting on a metro platform. When the train pulled up, the dog would step in, scramble up to lie on a seat or sit on the floor if the carriage was crowded, and then exit a few stops later. There is even a website dedicated to the metro stray (www.metrodog.ru) on which passengers post photos and video clips taken with their mobile phones, documenting the savviest of the pack using the public transport system like any other Muscovite.
Quite interesting as well.
Where did these animals come from? It’s a question Andrei Poyarkov, 56, a biologist specialising in wolves, has dedicated himself to answering. His research focuses on how different environments affect dogs’ behaviour and social organisation. About 30 years ago, he began studying Moscow’s stray dogs. Poyarkov contends that their appearance and behaviour have changed over the decades as they have continuously adapted to the changing face of Russia’s capital. Virtually all the city’s strays were born that way: dumping a pet dog on the streets of Moscow amounts to a near-certain death sentence. Poyarkov reckons fewer than 3 per cent survive.
[O]n average, [they] are much less aggressive and a good deal more tolerant of one another [than wolves],” says Poyarkov. 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.
I think this would definitely warrant some kind of dog intelligence testing. (Especially a test that doesn’t rely on obedience.)