By Their Dogs Shall Ye Know Them

Prague was ridiculously dog-friendly (in all the right ways – like not only being able to take your dog into a restaurant, but the waiters putting down a bowl of water for her before even thinking of taking your order), but there seemed to be a social contract at work. We were amazed by just how well-behaved Czech dogs were, almost to the point of speculating about some Stepford Wives shenanigans at work. Hypnotic suggestion, computer chips, regular beatings. Whatever the reason, Czech – or at least Prague – dogs seemed in the main unflappable, sober, friendly but reserved and above all obedient. And, it be honest, that seemed to be what their owners expected.

For all sorts of reasons, but this one included, Prague is not Moscow. As cities go, it is not that dog-unfriendly, but certainly not especially friendly, either. (Don’t get me started on the strays, too.) The dogs of Moscow appear to be either apartment-sized mini-breeds such as to make Penny look looming or ales at the other extreme, substantial Shepherds, Labs, even Pit Bulls. Nary a middle-range collie or the like to be seen.

But I’m amazed at, to be blunt, just how poorly Russians manage their dogs. I am, I think it’s fair to say, on the more indulgent end of pack-leadership but even so, I know that either you assert your authority or your dog(s) assume they are boss. Russians – based on my limited ethnographic sample to date on walking Penny through the not-so-mean streets of Zamoskvorechie – seem content to let their dog bark and snarl like an OMONovets with a hangover, pull them any which way and generally be the alpha. Sure, they won’t let that aggressive dog actually get close enough to bite, but at best they seem willing to just hold on to the leash and wait until you’re past, perhaps with a few half-hearted imprecations to shut up. Or they will let the over-friendly dog follow you when you are clearly walking away and have said goodbye. I really don’t think it’s just my over-socialised British soul that considers it pretty obvious that when you say goodbye and walk away, pulling your dog with you, you are signaling an end to that particular bottom-sniffing and lead-tangling interaction.

Though parenthetically I’d add that, speaking of over-socialisation, at least as near as my fractured and rusty Russian will allow to tell, at least they don’t fall back on the vapid excuses with which I am familiar. “He’s just being friendly.” Sure, the way a wolf is friendly to a lost lamb. “He’s never done this before.” This walk, anyway. “I don’t know what’ shot into her today.” The same thing as every other day.

Why might Russians be indulgent towards their dogs? I have no idea. If I knew more about Russian child-rearing, I might be able to entertain vague speculations about similarities or comparisons, but I don’t. All I do know, if that Russians – even the kind of horn-hided babushka who would probably slap her shopping bag into you if you seemed likely to try and sidle past her to get onto the metro first, or mutter about your numerous shortcomings if you didn’t give up your seat on said train – turn into pointless lumps when their dogs behave badly.

Come on, Russians. Vladimir Vladimirovich certainly doesn’t let his two-legged dogs bark or snarl out of line, and I’d guess the same is true of his four-legend ones, too. Time to be a little more alpha!


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