WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Dogs in New Zealand, rather than chasing cars, are being taught how to drive them - steering, pedals brakes, the lot.
PAYING FULL ATTENTION: Porter takes the wheel - there's a rare intelligence in this driver's eyes. Image: AFP
It's a heart-warming project to increase pet adoptions from animal shelters.
Animal trainer Mark Vette has spent two months training three cross-breed rescued dogs from the Auckland SPCA to drive a modified Mini to show that even unwanted canines can be taught to perform complex tasks.
Motoring mutts Porter, Monty and Ginny each take turns in the driving seat, belted in with a safety harness, and use their paws to operate specially modified dashboard-height pedals for the accelerator and brakes at Vette's command.
The car's steering wheel has been fitted with handles, allowing the dogs to turn it, while the "starter key" is a dashboard-mounted button that the dogs press to get the engine running.
"There are about 10 behaviours involved, so we had to break them down into each behaviour - using the accelerator, feet on the wheel, turn the key on, feet on the brake, the gear(stick) and so on," Vette said."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 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 TV on Monday.
OLD DOGS, NEW TRICKS
Video Footage of the old dogs being taught new tricks has attracted more than 300 000 views on YouTube and proved a trending hit on Twitter.
Vette said training a dog to drive a car on its own initially seemed unbelievable but his canine charges rose to the challenge.
"(They've) taken to training really well, it really does prove that intelligent creatures adapt to the situation they're in," he said. "It's really remarkable."
The dogs all had difficult backgrounds: Ginny was neglected, Monty dumped at the shelter because he was "a handful" and Porter was a nervous stray, according to the Auckland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The society's chief executive, Christine Kalin, said."Animals this smart deserve a home. The dogs have achieved amazing things in eight weeks of training, which really shows that, in the right environment, just how much potential all dogs from the SPCA have as family pets."
The idea came from Auckland-based advertising agency DraftFCB, which was commissioned by Mini and had worked with the SPCA previously, to come up with a campaign to pre-conceptions about shelter dogs.
"It's just taken off, the interest has been enormous," DraftFCB spokeswoman Eloise Hay said. "The good thing is, it really seems to be getting the message across too."
Watch video here