Must See: New Zealand SPCA teaching dogs how to drive

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CBS/TV3 New Zealand) -- When it comes to animal welfare, you can't fault the SPCA. They rescue animals in trouble, provide medical care, love and shelter, and prosecute people who harm animals and educate people who want to look after them. But the SPCA's biggest challenge is constantly finding good homes for all the animals they find or rescue.

And it's for this reason they've also become experts at marketing themselves. This story is based on one of those campaigns; a campaign so original and so striking it can't be ignored.
This is a story about the extraordinary intelligence of human kind's closest friend. It begins two months ago at the SPCA in South Auckland. The man doing the introductions is master animal trainer Mark Vette.

He's worked with everything from pukeko, to deer, and has even trained rats. His current assignment involves dogs. It sounds simple until you hear what he's going to get them to do. He says, "No animal has ever driven before."

Yes, mark and his team are going to teach three dogs how to drive a car. But first things first, the future dog drivers have to be chosen from a seven strong short list of candidates.
In the end, three very different dogs are chosen. There's Monty, an 18-month-old giant schnauzer who was given to the SPCA by an owner who was unable to control him. The second dog is Ginny, a one year old whippet cross who was rescued from abusive owners. The final dog is Porter, a 10-month-old beardie cross found roaming the streets; an abandoned stray.

The life of these three dogs is about to radically change. Instead of the walled enclosures of the SPCA, there'll be bush, paddocks, rivers, and cars.

Seven days later, the dogs' training is progressing well. At this early stage, lessons revolve around putting paws on targets and getting used to sitting in a mock up car rig.

It's a slow process requiring huge patience, but out of the chaos order gradually appears.

Two weeks of intensive training late, the dogs are beginning to master the basics of driving a car. Porter's gear changes are a thing of beauty and check out his paw position.
Ginny's starting to steer left and right while Monty is working on both his gear changes and acceleration.
By week five the training rig has been given a major overhaul. A starter button has been added and the accelerator, brake and gear stick have all been strengthened and repositioned.
But the biggest change is underneath the rig. Vette says, "So we're starting to simulate the movement of the car and the dogs being able to deal with driving the car effectively."

Despite this being the first time on wheels, the dogs cope remarkably well. Vette says, "when we chain behaviors together in this case 10 behaviors that we putting together each trained behavior and then in sequence so it's a lot to do for the dog to actually start to get an idea of what actually is happening takes quite a long time."

With the doggie driving lessons advancing well, the pressure is on a bunch of skilled engineers on the other side of town. Their job is to modify a real car so it can be driven by a four legged canine.

Two weeks later the car is ready. This is a big moment, it's the first time the dogs have trained away from the farm and it's the first time in a real car.

Incredibly Monty jumps in like it's the most natural thing in the world. And when the order to comes to put it in gear, he knows exactly what to do.

Once Marie gives the signal for accelerator command, he's off. It's a truly remarkable sight, but inside the dogs are getting a helping hand.

How they'll fare, driving alone and unassisted on a narrow track, is still a nerve-wracking proposition.

Two months of daily training will be sorely tested and it'll be done on live TV with no edits, no trickery, and no monkey business.


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