Dogs with Drive
by Scott Broecker
“One big leap for dogs, one small step for dog-kind!”
An innovative project sponsored by the Mini Cooper/BMW car company and the Auckland, New Zealand SPCA has successfully taught three dogs to drive. Mini approached the SPCA with the idea. Both organizations hope this project will help dispel the myth that shelter dogs are second rate and instead bring to the forefront their intelligence and by doing so increase adoption rates at this and other shelters.
The three pioneering canines, Porter, Ginny, and Monty each ended up at the shelter for different reasons. Porter, a 10-month-old Beardie mix was picked up as a stray. Ginny, a one-year-old Whippet mix was seized from an abusive home. And Monty, an 18-month-old Giant Schnauzer mix, was surrendered by his guardians. Each of these dogs has been trained to operate a modified, paw-activated Mini Countryman around a test track. Ironically, one of the biggest hurdles for cleaver canines Ginny and Porter was getting over their motion sickness.
Their small training team, led by renowned animal trainer, Mark Vette, taught the dogs to drive in just eight weeks. “We are absolutely delighted that the public has been able to see first hand just how gifted, talented and intelligent SPCA animals really are. Monty, Ginny and Porter have been outstanding ambassadors for the many animals sitting in SPCA shelters throughout the country and the world waiting to find a home, said Christine Kalin, SPCA Auckland CEO.
“We hope that people will take the ‘driving dogs’ message to heart and that SPCA dog’s will be their first choice, not only because they are smart and intelligent, but because they have been abandoned and deserve a home. We hope to see lots of visitors at the SPCA who can provide ‘homes for life’ for these gorgeous animals.”
And just how do you train a dog to drive? It all starts with mock vehicles in a training room beginning with teaching them to sit facing forward with their paws on a steering wheel.
The actual act of driving was achieved by linking ten different behaviors together. Once their training moved into the actual Mini Countryman, the dogs were safely fastened into the seat with a restraint. The next step is starting the car with the push of a button, pushing the car into gear with a slight forward movement of the paw on the gear shift, then both paws on the wheel, and a lever to accelerate. Another lever is used to brake. The dogs even learned paw over paw over paw to make a sharp turn.
We know that these intelligent celebrities will have a long line of potential adopters vying to bring them home, but their project will not be successful unless we as a society can extrapolate from their experience. Dogs, in general, are highly intelligent, adaptable creatures. Throughout history they have partnered with humans for the good of both species. We are certain the future holds many more surprises with regards to their abilities to meet whatever challenge we dream up.
Just remember, if you are the lucky adopter of one of these pups, don’t leave your car keys lying around!
Caution: Please do not try to teach your dog to drive. Porter, Ginny, and Monty were trained in a safe, controlled environment under the guidance of professionals. All training was conducted with animal safety as a top priority in a specially modified vehicle.