Tue, Dec 11, 2012 - Page 1 News List

Pooches in New Zealand pass driving tests

ROAD HOUNDS:The two canines were trained by animal trainers who have worked on ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Last Samurai’ to promote the adoption of stray dogs

AFP, WELLINGTON, New Zealand

A canine rescued by the SPCA drives a Mini Countryman in Auckland, New Zealand, yesterday.

Photo: AFP / Michael Bradley / DraftFCB NZAFFAIR

A pair of highly trained canines guided a modified car along a New Zealand race track yesterday, passing their doggie driving tests with flying collars on live television, despite the odd off-road detour.

In a heartwarming project aimed at increasing pet adoptions from animal shelters, a group of cross-breed rescue dogs from Auckland were taught to drive a car — steering, pedals and all — to show the potential of unwanted canines.

Footage of the motorized mutts learning their skills has proved an Internet sensation, but their ultimate test came yesterday, when the two best performers, Monty and Porter, were put through their paces on national TV.

Monty the giant schnauzer cross was first up, driving the modified Mini down the straight by himself, in what is claimed to be a world first.

“It’s all the dog doing it,” trainer Mark Vette said as Monty cruised along the track looking relaxed with one paw resting on the steering wheel before coming safely to a halt. “He’s started the key, put the paw on the brake to allow it to go into gear, put it into drive, paw on the steering wheel, accelerator on, and off he goes down the track.”

Vette, who has worked with animals on numerous film sets, said he had his doubts when the project was first mooted.

“I must say, this has been the toughest assignment we’ve had,” he said after two months of intensive training.

“We’ve done Lord of the Rings, [The Last] Samurai, many of the big movies, but to actually get a dog in a car with no trainer and it does the whole gig itself, I tell you what, it’s been a real challenge,” Vette said. “No one’s in the car, no tricks, it’s all Monty driving — he loves it.”

He said the car, which has handles fitted on the steering wheel and dashboard-height brake and accelerator pedals, also came with a speed limiter to restrict it to walking pace, although there was a mishap yesterday morning.

“The knob came off this morning and he was off down the road at about 30km an hour and we had to chase after him,” Vette said.

Porter, a bearded collie-cross, then tried the trickier maneuver of steering the car around one of the racetrack’s bends while a TV reporter sat in the passenger seat.

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