New Zealand SPCA has trained three dogs to drive as part of its campaign to encourage people to adopt stray dogs. The campaign hopes to show that stray mongrels rescued by the group are not second-class dogs but that they are highly intelligent.
The second dog, Monty, is an 18-month-old Giant Schnauzer cross. The third dog, Ginnie, is a one-year-old Beardie Whippet Cross.
Todaysthv.com reports the dogs were chosen from a shortlist of seven candidates.
According to the RNZSPCA, the dogs will demonstrate what has been assumed to be a uniquely human skill when they get behind steering wheels in a live online broadcast.
The dogs were trained over eight weeks in specially designed wooden carts they drove around in an indoor lab. After they learned the basic skills, they moved to learning how to drive a modified Mini in which they sit on their haunches at the driver's seat with their paws on the steering wheel, their feet on extension levers attached to the accelerator and the brake, and with the gearstick accessible to a paw, the Daily Mail explains.
Mark Vette, an animal psychologist and trainer and his team from Animals on Q, are training the dogs. He said: "We train the dogs to do different actions, touch is the first thing and then we teach them to touch the different objects with the right paw and left paw."
Vette said the dogs have been tested on the modified Mini and will demonstrate their driving skills online.
The three dogs Porter, Monty, and Ginny, were rescued by the SPCA. According to The Toronto Star, they’ve been trained as part of a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals campaign to prove that stray mutts are, “just as smart as the $1,500 dogs pumped out from puppy mills that are badly bred.”
Monty was dumped at the SPCA by his owners; Porter was found wandering the streets of Auckland, while Ginnie was seized by the authorities from an owner that abused her.
The SPCA hopes the dogs will so impress people with their driving skills that they will be encouraged to adopt them and other stray mongrels.
The New Zealand Herald reports SPCA Auckland Chief executive Christine Kalin, said: "I think sometimes people think because they're getting an animal that's been abandoned that somehow it's a second-class animal. Driving a car actively demonstrates to potential rescue dog adopters that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The dogs have achieved amazing things in eight short weeks of training, which really shows with the right environment just how much potential all dogs from the SPCA have as family pets."
The Toronto Star reports Vette said he had initial doubts. Two of the dogs had car sickness. He said: “We built a rig which is a mock-up of the car. Once we got them learning all the bits and pieces, 20-odd behaviors, then we had to chain them all together. The dog’s got to retain a lot of behaviors.”
All three dogs will demonstrate their driving skills to an international online audience at the wheel of a Mini modified by Ikon Engineering, a company that specializes in refitting vehicles for disabled drivers.
According to The Toronto Star, Mini sponsors the Auckland SPCA and it was the car company’s ad agency Draft FCB, that originated the idea of teaching dogs to drive.
Draft FCB executive creative director Regan Grafton, told the Star by email. “In New Zealand, too many people write off shelter animals as second-rate mutts and mongrels. Our challenge was to change that. The challenge was finding a relevant way of using MINI. So, half jokingly at the time, we said to ourselves, ‘Let’s teach a dog drive.’”
Vette said that initially, they had planned to use movie editing tricks to make dogs appear to drive, but after they started they decided to actually train the dogs to drive.
Vette said that using a procedure that involves food rewards, they thought the dogs to turn the key on, place paws on the wheel, put the brake on, put the car into gear, brake, accelerate, and brake when they hear “stop.”
Vette said:“Then we’re going to push our luck a bit and do a 180-degree turn around the corner."
Vette said other animal welfare groups have not raised any objections to their methods. He said: “They see the welfare message and they can come and have a look at our training methods. I advise and consult other animal welfare groups and I teach animal welfare, too, so they’re unlikely to have a crack at us.”
Vette concluded: “The real message is that these dogs are smart. We want to get more of the dogs adopted out. This is a sad time for rescue organizations because people dump their dogs before Christmas. We need to look after the ones that are thrown out.”