Homeless dog navigating a Moscow subway
During my first year of college a stray dog, living across the street in what we called a hobo camp next to the railroad tracks, adopted me. We were told he hopped morning trains into town returning each evening to camp. He avoided humans but hung around the hobo camp and outside our back door waiting for our nightly scraps of food. Then he discovered beer and hard cider leftover from one of our many parties. He spent more and more time in the house searching for beer. He eventually decided he owned our apartment and any food or beverage of his choosing. He stopped hopping trains. Of course, we gave him a name, Khan (fittingly rhymes with Con).
During a college party night, Kahn introduced himself to one of our guests by grasping the guest's arm with a soft bite but just enough to hold him hostage until Kahn got his share of beer. Kahn occasionally would awaken with a hangover, chewing tin cans to shreds.
At the end of the school year, Kahn moved to a farm (happily ever after) and I moved to a dorm that didn't allow pets. What stayed with me through the years was how adept Kahn was at surviving and manipulating his environment. One strategy worked at the camp and another at our house.
To this day, I can't pass up an interesting article about the adaptability of street dogs (aka free-ranging urban dogs). For example, much has been written about street dogs in Moscow. Unlike wild dogs, a pack leader often is not the strongest dog in the pack but is the most intelligent. The leader establishes memes that increase survival rates in the urban environment.
Examples are: the mugger, a dog that sneaks up behind a person about to take a bite of food and sharply barks to startle the person into dropping the food; the pimp, a pack leader will accompany an especially cute dog that attracts attention (and food) from people, the leader, of course, takes his or her cut; and the psychic, a dog that is exceptionally good at reading people and displaying behavior that best manipulates that person. Dogs have been proven to be the only non-primate species that can "read" human faces focusing on the right side of the face which is said to reveal more emotion than the left side.
Another meme is associated with the famous metro dogs. These dogs live in the subways and have learned to catch particular trains or combinations of trains to particular locations of interest (a park, a dog-loving chef, etc.). They return to their sleeping quarters at the end of their urban adventure. To get to a particular destination, it appears that the metro dogs have learned to use some combination of scents at stations, human announcements of station names, habits of regular commuters, and estimates of how long the train has been in motion.
Then there are the dogs of Bucharest. Their survival depends on avoiding automobiles in streets congested with cars and people. Street dogs gather at street intersections waiting with pedestrians until cross-traffic stops before proceeding with the crowd. Even when people are not present some Bucharest dogs have learned to obey traffic lights. Since dogs don't discriminate between red and green well, it is assumed they have learned the position of the brighter light as a cue to cross safely.
So the next time you see a street dog, take time to observe some surprisingly complex adaptive behavior. That's why they're still on the street.