A Dog that Hibernates

This text was originally published 04 February, 2015 as part of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s WildView Photo Blog series.

Raccoon dogs are quirky beasts. Despite sharing an uncanny resemblance to the raccoons of North America they are in fact true dogs, and represent the surviving line of an ancient lineage now otherwise extinct. Given this distinctive pedigree, raccoon dogs exhibit behaviors atypical of other, more modern dogs and are unique among canids in their propensity to hibernate in winter. They also climb trees. Raccoon dogs are native to East Asia where they forage under cover of darkness and thicket eating just about anything they can, from berries to birds to fish.

This particular raccoon dog had been found as a small pup; alone and shivering next to the road on the outskirts of the village of Ternei in the southern Russian Far East. She was brought inside, warmed and fed, and over time grew too tame to safely release back into the wild. Rather, she became part of the family. Her love of fish became evident as, instead of hibernating in winter, she would accompany her human foster mother on ice fishing trips to the mouth of the Serebryanka River. Here, the brazen raccoon dog would snap up the flopping smelt pulled one after another from the darkness of an ice hole, while adjacent fishermen huddled on their tackle boxes, jiggled their lines, and stared at the spectacle with mouths agape.

An Acquired Fear


These are Far Eastern laika pups, hunting dogs in the logging village of Amgu in the Russian Far East, watching with some anxiety for their mother to return from a hunt.

While the hunting season is one of shameless joy and freedom for these dogs, a time when they plow breathless through the snow in pursuit of boar and deer, there is a scent in these forests that all dogs fear. Amur tigers are unabashed in their passion for dog meat; these predators go out of their way to stalk a laika should they sense one nearby. In fact, when hunters take stock of their resources before a hunting season, they often assume a dog or two will be lost to these enormous cats and account for that in their planning.

But now these two dogs are still just pups; they have not yet been to the forest to smell the predator. It is a fear they will learn with time.