The animal in the photo isn’t even related to a raccoon. It’s called–you guessed it–a raccoon dog. It belongs to a species discovered in the cold regions of Asia more than two hundred years ago.
In the 1800s, Chinese trappers realized the economic potential of raccoon dogs. Their lush winter fur made great overcoats. Traders began to hunt and trap the dogs, then export their fur. Soon, Russian entrepreneurs decided to obtain some raccoon dogs from Asia and breed them for the same purpose. Before long, other eastern European countries followed suit.
These wild dogs are about the same size as terriers but their weight fluctuates throughout the year. In the spring, they’re at their lightest. In summer, they start fattening up in preparation for winter—just as bears do. Those still living in the wild spend the coldest months of the year dozing in dens and living off stored fat. Their fur thickens to help them conserve body heat.
Raccoon dogs are the only dogs that hibernate. They don’t sleep as deeply as bears, but they slumber off and on when the snow is deep or the weather is particularly harsh. As the skies clear and temperatures warm up, they leave their dens to hunt for food.
These little dogs are easy-going and seldom fight. When a predator frightens them, they scream or play dead. Occasionally, male raccoon dogs courting the same female get into skirmishes, but they rarely do much damage.
They eat almost anything. The protein in their diet comes from insects, rodents, frogs, birds, and even dead animals. Because they swim well, fish are also on the menu. Raccoon dogs living near water look for water bird eggs and chicks. The dogs like plant foods, too–fruit, pumpkins, tomatoes, nuts, and grain. In Japan they’ve been seen climbing trees with their curved claws and picking fruit. They often raid gardens, vineyards, and grain fields. Click on this link to watch a raccoon dog feeding in the wild. (free dinner).
Although raccoon dogs aren’t allowed in the U.S., many Europeans keep them as pets. They find the dogs easy to live with and safe with children. However, they can’t be trusted around gerbils or other small animals. Feeding them is cheap as they eat almost anything.
When householders are at work, the dogs seldom get into mischief around the house, because they sleep most of the day. However, families who allow the dogs outside must take precautions to make their yards escape-proof. Raccoon dogs are expert diggers and make holes under fences.
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