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Teaching Dogs to Drive
New Zealand SPCA takes on the ultimate training challenge

Animal trainer, Mark Vette, set out to train the impossible, all in the name of creating positive buzz for the SPCA in South Auckland. Mark decided to showcase how intelligent shelter pets are by teaching dogs to drive a car.

The pups were chosen from a short list of candidates at the shelter. After seeing how each dog responded to targeting objects through clicker training, Mark chose Monty, a 10-month old Giant Schnauzer deemed uncontrollable, Ginny, a 1-year old Whippet Mix rescued from abuse, and Porter a 10-month old Beardie Mix found roaming the streets.

The three dogs then moved to a farm to begin intensive training. Mark and his team began teaching 10 individual behaviors, from pressing a starter button to shifting gears, that chain together to become driving a car. The vehicle used was custom made by engineers for animal drivers.

Within one week the superstar pups were putting their paws on targets shaped like parts of the car. The next week they learned to hop into the drivers seat and put their paws on the steering wheel. By week five the canine crew began to accelerate and brake on cue.

In just two months, the dogs were driving the modified car with enthusiasm (made possible with clicker training!).

It’s incredible to see all the steps leading up to training such a complex behavior. It also shows how amazing shelter pets are and that there’s no limit to what you can train a dog to do!

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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