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Abandoned dogs now in driver’s seat in New Zealand

AFP-JIJI

Rather than chasing cars, dogs in New Zealand are being taught to drive them — steering, pedals and all — in a heartwarming project aimed at increasing pet adoptions from animal shelters.

Animal trainer Mark Vette has spent two months training three cross-breed rescue dogs from the Auckland SPCA to drive a modified wagon as a way of proving that even unwanted dogs can be taught to perform complex tasks.

The motorized mutts — Porter, Monty and Ginny — sit in the driver’s seat, strapped in with a safety harness, and use their paws to operate specially designed dashboard-height pedals for the accelerator and brakes at Vette’s command.

The steering wheel of the “car” has been fitted with handles that allow the dogs to turn it, while the “starter key” is a dashboard-mounted button the dogs press to get the motor running.

“There’s about 10 different behaviors involved, so we had to break them down into each behavior — 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 mockup rig, learning basic commands through clicker training, before graduating to the car.

So far, their experience in the modified car has been limited but they will undergo a “doggie driving test” live on New Zealand television Monday.

Footage of the old dogs being taught new tricks has attracted more than 300,000 views on YouTube and also proved a trending hit on Twitter.