Dogged by Differences In Canine Cultural Life

The other weekend at the dacha, Vita came face to face with the particularly nasty dog who lives next door and is trained to snarl at every passing creature -- including little children.

How to treat dogs is a matter of some confusion for Vita. She was born in England, where among her very first friends were her English grandparents' lovely border collies, Argus and Zoe, who stood guard at the foot of her cot. The next summer these kindly old dogs let her practice her early steps clinging to their coats.

But back in our local park in Moscow, we had to do a complete about-face: Suddenly it was no longer "nice dog," but "keep away from the dogs" -- most of which seem to be pit bull terriers, strictly controlled in England after a number of maulings of young children. Since one snapped at her, she has been so terrified that she won't even play with our neighbor's kindly family pet.

I used to ridicule Miranda for coming from a soppy, pet-loving nation which has a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but only a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. But as I look at what is happening to Russian dogs, I'm doing a little less teasing. In the "good old" Soviet days, we primped and preened our pets and paraded them in parks at weekends, where they would win medals which hung, Brezhnev-like, across the champions' chests.

Today in our local park, instead of dog shows there is a training circuit where a selection of snarling brutes practice sinking their teeth into dummies, egged on by equally snarling, shell-suited owners.

This is first of all a massive abuse of the dogs themselves: A vicious dog, as we know, is only the product of its training, and those owners who have recently been maimed by their pets have only themselves to blame.

But what are we telling our children about animals? When Miranda went to report on an illegal and very bloody dog-fight, she said the audience was packed with children.

I believe a nation protects its children only as much as it protects its animals. As Vita I practice our farmyard noises, the message I want her to understand is that pets are reliable friends so long as you treat them as humans, not animals. Likewise if you treat your fellow humans as animals, you can't expect your pets to be friendly.

Now we are again off to England, where Argus and Zoe will be overjoyed to see us. Will Vita remember that they are "nice dogs"? It is confusing, yes, but I guess it's just an early lesson in life: As with people there are the nice and the nasty.