How d'you stop a dog chasing cars? - put him in the driver's seat.
That's not a joke. New Zealand animal trainer Mark Vette has spent two months training three “pavement specials” from the Auckland SPCA to drive a modified Mini - steering, pedals and all - in a heartwarming project aimed at increasing pet adoptions from animal shelters.
The motorised mutts - Porter, Monty and Ginny - sit in the driver's seat, belted in with a safety harness, using their paws to operate specially designed dashboard-height pedals for the accelerator and brakes at Vette's command.
The car's steering wheel has handles so the dogs can turn it, and the “ignition switch” is a dashboard-mounted button that the dogs press to start the engine.
“DOGGIE DRIVING TEST”
Vette said: “There are about 10 different behaviours involved, so we had to break them down - using the accelerator, paws on the wheel, feet on the brakes, start the engine, the gearstick and so on.
“So every time you get a new element you've got to train them for it and then link it all together, what we call chaining, then getting in the car and doing it.”
The dogs began their driving lessons on a mock-up rig, learning basic commands through clicker training, before graduating to the Mini.
So far, their experience in the modified car has been limited but they will undergo a “doggie driving test” live on New Zealand television on Monday (10 December).
And as soon as we can get our hands on the footage you'll see it here.
Videos of the old dogs being taught new tricks have attracted more than 300 000 views on YouTube and also proved a trending hit on Twitter.
According to the SPCA, the dogs all had difficult backgrounds - Ginny was neglected, Monty dumped at the shelter because he was “a handful” and Porter a nervous stray.
Even without these problems Vette thought training a dog to drive a car by itself would be a bark too far, but he was surprised at how well they took to the training.
“It really does prove that intelligent creatures adapt to the situation they're in,” he said.
“Animals this smart deserve a home.”
SPCA boss Christine Kalin added: “These dogs have achieved amazing things in eight short weeks, which shows just how much potential all dogs from the SPCA have as family pets, in the right environment.”
To put that in perspective, it took one of IOL Motoring's staff longer than eight weeks to learn to drive.
The idea came from Mini's advertising agency - which has linked the brand with the SPCA before - to challenge preconceptions about shelter dogs.
Spokeswoman Eloise Hay said: “It's just taken off, the interest has been enormous.
“The good thing is, it really seems to be getting the message across too.”
While IOL Motoring doesn't recommend sending Fido out in the family car to get the Sunday papers, it's nice to know that, with a few lessons, he could. - IOL & AFP
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