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Stray Dogs Master Complex Moscow Subway System (2010) (go.com)
72 points by ColinWright 1423 days ago | hide | past | web | 30 comments | favorite

This raises all kinds of cognitive questions. How do the dogs figure out how to achieve their goals using the subways? Is it trial-and-error, resulting in a step-by-step procedure that is followed by rote? Or do they form some kind of a mental model of the subway system? In the former case, a dog would be completely lost if a train fails to show, but in the latter, they might be able to adapt.

They form a mental model, called a cognitive map [1]. This is classic cognitive science, discovered by Tolman's famous 1940's experiments on rats in mazes [2]. The experimantal setup is simple yet brilliant. He allowed rats to learn a path from a fixed starting location to a fixed endpoint with food. He then changed their starting location, and the rats would immediately adapt their path, showing that they had learned a mental map rather than simple input/output responses.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_map

[2] http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/tolman.htm#T...

That's wonderfully informative stuff; thanks for posting.

BTW, I notice, in the WP article:

> In a review by Bennett[8] it is argued that there are no clear evidence for cognitive maps in non-human animals (i.e. cognitive map according to Tolman's definition). This argument is based on analyses of studies where it has been found that simpler explanations can account for experimental results.

It's possible that some of the dogs were either previously owned by someone who used that route or were following around a friendly stranger. There's a cat in my neighborhood who will follow me around since I give her food occasionally, and I imagine stray dogs might behave similarly.

Once they've used the subway a few times, they probably learn to distinguish the sounds and smells of the stops they're interested in. Even if they can't read or understand spoken announcements, most dogs seem to figure out what vehicles are for without much trouble.

Once one or more dogs have learned this trick, transfer of information kicks in. At the end of the day, the other dogs at the shelter can probably tell who ate well that day, and they're likely to want to go with that dog to see where the food is at. The subway dog may even encourage his friends to come along; most of us have probably seen and understood a dog's "hey come with me and see this thing" signals, and dogs are pack animals.

Perhaps the dogs have already been all over the city, and can differentiate stops by the smells of the micro-localities that they recognize from the past.

Smell fresh meat/produce, get off in Chinatown.

Smell the sea, get off by the river, etc..

Yeah, I wonder if there are any in-depth studies on these dogs.

I've seen this a couple times. Honestly, it's not surprising so much as it's cool.

Subways are fairly predictable and they have a natural rhythm to them, animals can deal to deal with this sort of system.

We should be designing more user experiences that are so natural and predictable, even dogs can take advantage.

"We should be designing more user experiences that are so natural and predictable, even dogs can take advantage."

There's a web startup idea somewhere in that sentence... "it's like MTurk for dogs who want work for earning treats, and web application developers who want to request dogs for user testing."

And dog-workers are such an untapped resource... imagine all the hours they spend at home tearing up furniture that could be used for something productive. All we need to do is figure out an intuitive dog computer interface along with a treat dispensing device, and this startup idea would be bulletproof.

I've never noticed dog riding a train in the moscow subway. I could have pay not enough attention though.

I love the thought of someone so focused on a book, phone, or conversation with a friend that they didn't notice they were sitting opposite a dog on the subway. It could be a comic in The New Yorker.

I've seen a dog riding a bus once. It seemed as if it knew where it goes to.

All anecdotal. Wish they would gps-tag a dog and proof it's commuting between a small set of stations regularly visiting the same stations. I mean, using the train to just get away from where you are would already be cool, but that's not the author's claim.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casper_(cat) Heres a similar ca story thats not anecdotal.

I'm not at all surprised by the story growing up with working dogs on a rural farm. Dogs would constantly surprise you with the understanding of the world around them, often better than people you would work along side. One dog we had knew the locations of buildings by name, and you could tell it the speed to get there and wait for you (I think via the urgency in your voice). You could say "met at the house" and it would turn and head straight back to home, or "go to the kennels", it'd shoot off and wait for there etc.. (Collies BTW, various other breeds we had struggled with simple things like avoiding running head first into barns if you called their name out loud while they ran LOL).

Whats more fascinating to me is this Boing Boing piece on baboons raising pet dogs http://boingboing.net/2013/04/26/baboons-raise-pet-dogs.html

It's not so much that it's anecdotal, it's that article that's poorly written. Financial Times has a better one.

> Neuronov says there are some 500 strays that live in the metro stations, especially during the colder months, but only about 20 have learned how to ride the trains. [...] “They orient themselves in a number of ways,” Neuronov adds. “They figure out where they are by smell, by recognising the name of the station from the recorded announcer’s voice and by time intervals. If, for example, you come every Monday and feed a dog, that dog will know when it’s Monday and the hour to expect you, based on their sense of time intervals from their ­biological clocks.”


Transit police here would run down the dog and taze it for not paying the $2.75 fare, and being ambivalent to their authoritanT

Related, I've seen more than a couple of Bucharest stray-dogs which actually learned how to use the pedestrians' crosswalks, i.e. only crossing the street when the light was green etc. There was even a promo made by our local traffic police that was based on this: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gCQ7qZ1pR...

Later Edit: And the dogs weren't actually mimicking the behavior of the people waiting for the green light to turn on, because even when the light was red there were a couple of people crossing the street but the dog wouldn't follow them.

I have heard some amazing stories about dogs, this one is pretty good.

In my home town, a dog escaped and went 7.5 miles to the Tim Hortons where everyday it was getting a TimBit. I was super impressed, before reading that I didnt think any dog liked timbits...

My brothers doberman is really intelligent. She can figure out how to get any piece of food no matter where you put it. She will move furniture to try and climb up and can be absolutely relentless. She has escaped on the leash a couple of times during walks and always ends up on the front porch no matter where she escapes. Dogs are like humans, driven by motivation.

This sure is a great story, but when is it ever going to die? I've seen this story revolve around and around on the Internet so may times. By now, I'm actually just more surprised that some people haven't read it.

its a big internet

Now I feel quite stupid that I got pretty lost and overwhelmed in the Moscow Subway System when using it the first time. I had a printout of the map, don't speak/read/understand the language and had no internet connection. I think the dogs win this one.

This is 3 years old...

What's your point, that people should not read content that's over a month old?

On a site with "News" in its name, you'd expect articles to be at least somewhat timely. Otherwise, we could all just start posting random wikipedia articles or other things we happen to have just discovered ourselves, regardless of whether they already made the rounds months or years ago.

This was a great article - I read it when it came out - three years ago. Unless there's an update, it's worth noting that this is a three-year-old post.

Otherwise, we could all just start posting random wikipedia articles or other things we happen to have just discovered ourselves, regardless of whether they already made the rounds months or years ago.

This happens often. It's generally a good thing.

See also: https://xkcd.com/1053/

You read it when it came out, but keep in mind that not everyone is exposed to the same content, due to any number of reasons. The site is designed to allow its users to control the visibility of posts - if its interesting to others and you've read it, skip over it.

Yes, but the site has significant flaws when it comes to handling old content regurgitated on other sites. Which is why it's relevant to point out how old a post is - because the site itself doesn't.

In this case, this is essentially a repost of something PG put up three years ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1071429

It's simply not detected because it's in a different publication on a different URL. If the dupe system was more "effective" it wouldn't even show up, as it's exactly the kind of repost that is intended to catch.

No, 3 years old. Geez!

When I first heard it ages ago I was dubious. The fact this is the only story since then makes me pretty sure it is a load of BS.

Seriously "Author Eugene Linden, who has been writing about animal intelligence for 40 years"

Pretty sure Eugene Linden has zero training in animal intelligence and is just a journalist.

Why can't people just be happy with the fact non humans are just that, not humans please stop trying to anthropomorphism them.

"training in animal intelligence" sounds impressive.

I believe this is the guy: http://www.eugenelinden.com/index.html He actually wrote an awful lot of books.

Eugene Linden appears to be a prolific author of books on animal intellect and behavior. It saddens me that you appear unable to operate a search engine and educate yourself.

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