Over the past two months, three mixed-breed dogs, Tulip, Jacob and Harry, have been taught to drive a Volkswagen Amarok by the animal welfare charity. Amazingly the dogs, which were trained at the Southridge RSPCA centre in Hertfordshire, have learned to control the brakes, gears and even the steering wheel.
The dogs, who sit upright on their haunches, were initially taught to steer using a wooden trolley pulled along with string. Mock car controls were then introduced before the dogs were trained to wear specially adapted safety harnesses and put behind the wheel of a 180PS four-wheel-drive Volkswagen Amarok.
The animals then spent hours practising their driving skills while sitting alongside a human instructor with access to dual controls. To allow the dogs to drive the real Amarok pick-up, their front paws rest on the steering wheel and the gearstick while their rear paws rest on purpose-built extension levers which are then attached to the accelerator and brake pedals.
Understandably the speed of the rugged workhorse, known for its practical load space, smooth ride and off-road prowess has been limited for safety reasons.
Incredibly, this isn’t even the first time dogs have been taught to drive. Back in 2012 an animal trainer taught two dogs very similar skills in his native New Zealand.
People wanting to see, or steer clear of the dog-driven pick-up should look out for a Reflex Silver Amarok with the number plate FR5T APR.
Anna White, manager at the Southridge RSPCA centre, said: “We wanted to demonstrate how intelligent rescue animals can be.
“All we have essentially done here is to train the dogs to execute ten sequential behaviours, albeit fairly complicated behaviours! The past few months have been a lot of fun, but there is a serious reason behind the training.
“There is a real shortage of volunteer drivers to take rescue animals to centres with space to accommodate them. We wanted to find a novel way that would encourage more volunteers to help drive rescue animals around the country.”