It would seem like one of the least natural things in the world are human vehicles. After all, we’re the only species (so far) to invent and use the wheel. Surprisingly, though, if we give wild animals running wheels, they will use them. And in a surprising number of cases, dogs have adapted to our vehicles remarkably well.
Many dog owners have seen firsthand how going for a ride in the car can be one of the most exciting things for their dogs. After all, that magic box can take them all kinds of places with you — and even just the ride can be fun for a dog.
That can be seen in the efforts of Eugene Bostick of Fort Worth, Texas, who built a miniature train to ferry around the homeless dogs that had been dumped in his neighborhood. Watching the video, it’s obvious that the dogs enjoy the ride just for the experience, even though it’s something that would normally be entirely alien to them.
It’s becoming clearer, however, that dogs may not just enjoy riding in our vehicles with us, but that they actually do understand the purpose they serve, whether it’s just a joy ride or a trip to the dog park. The next step, though, comes when dogs skip our help and start using that transportation on their own.
Just one example is the remarkable case of Boss, a Staffordshire terrier in Australia who mistakenly thought his human had left without saying good-bye, so he escaped the yard and wound up getting on the morning train alone, in search of his owner, Chris Stockman. Photos of the dog riding the train went viral, which enabled Chris and Boss to be reunited, but the most remarkable part is that the dog made the association between his human and the train in the first place.
This is reminiscent of the story of Hachikō, whose owner died in 1925. The dog came to the train station every day for nearly a decade to wait for his human’s return and his loyalty resulted in both a feature film made about him and an annual celebration at Shibuya train station in his honor.
Now Boss’s story was a one-off and Hachikō only waited for the train, but there’s another dog who’s figured out public transportation and uses it regularly. That would be Eclipse, the Lab mix in Seattle, who regularly hops the local bus to go to the dog park and does it entirely on her own.
While her owner, Jeff Young, is a frequent companion on the trips, she doesn’t wait if he isn’t ready and, if she happens to get on the bus without him, he catches up later. That seems to be just fine with the various drivers and passengers on the route. Even though the dog is technically violating the leash laws, there have apparently been no complaints. There is no word on whether Eclipse is required to pay full fare or to carry exact change if she does, however.
So far, Hachikō, Boss, and Eclipse may seem to be exceptional dogs — but in another part of the world, wild dogs have learned to use human systems without being trained and without having the incentive of human owners to lure them along.
In Moscow, packs of homeless dogs that spend their nights in the industrial outskirts of the metropolis regularly catch trains into the city center in the morning in order to scavenge food as well as beg from the locals, then return “home” in the evening — and they figured it out entirely on their own.
What makes this even more remarkable is that the Moscow Metro system is enormous and not easy for even humans to get around in. It comprises nearly 250 miles of track and 243 stations, boasts an annual ridership of nearly two and a half billion people, and is undergoing major expansion — and yet these dogs catch the trains and get off in the right place.
Did we mention that this is a subway system, so the dogs have to figure out where to get off while they’re underground?
It’s this latter ability that really highlights how well dogs can adapt to human conveniences. Hachikō only had to go to one station, and Boss didn’t know where he was going. Eclipse does manage to get off where she wants to, but she’s looking out the windows and only goes about three or four stops anyway.
The Moscow Metro dogs have them all beat. How do they do it? Nobody has studied the “how” yet so we’re not sure, but in all likelihood they’re using a combination of their noses and sense of timing to figure it out. And then they double down by showing incredible cunning once they get into the city, obeying traffic lights, and demonstrating some very clever urban hunting skills, like using “cute” members of the pack to beg from people, or using a surprise bark from behind to startle someone and make them drop their lunch and leave it for the taking.
What does this prove? For one thing, that animals are a lot smarter than we might think they are, and they are very adept at figuring out our world and working it to their advantage. And this cleverness isn’t limited to dogs. There’s at least one bus-riding cat, and crows that have learned to use traffic lights to their advantage, and those are just two examples out of many.
So the next time you take your dog for a ride in the car, be careful. She may just be plotting how to get hold of your keys and take off on her own!