Friday, December 14, 2012

Stray Dogs Learning to Drive

As shown in the above video clip, New Zealand’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has trained 3 rescued stray dogs to drive a car with the aim of encouraging adoption by proving “how intelligent they are”.

As a publicity stunt it certainly works, being exactly the type of story that the media love (at the time of writing, the clip already had well over 2 million views on YouTube). What saddens me is that the SPCA had to pander to our humanising view of dogs in order to get their point across. There is surely already no lack of evidence to illustrate that dogs have great and useful talents and that being a stray or mongrel in no way diminishes this fact. A careful look at the dogs’ “driving” actually shows just how limited it is and how unsuited the animals are to the task. They are totally reliant on the handler’s repeated commands and use very few actions. Undoubtedly an achievement for both trainer and dog but this is far from the independent driving that some claim and the best that can be said for it is that they keep well within the speed limit.

On the other hand the real world is increasingly full of examples of how dogs (yes, even strays and mongrels!) can perform an amazing variety of helpful tasks from guiding the visually-impaired and somehow being able to predict seizures in people to search-and-rescue to locating truffles and even helping researchers find killer whale faeces! Dogs are ready, able and very willing to be helpful, it just needs the effort to train them and the imagination to realise what they can do.

I like the fact that the SPCA are trying to promote adoption of strays and mongrels, which I see as necessary to counter all the propaganda we have been fed by breed societies over the years, but I do feel a little ashamed for the general public that it has to be done this way.
Learn more about the lives and issue of unowned dogs in my e-book ”A Stray View” available from Bangkok Books (readable as .pdf on any computer)

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