How Much Should a Dog's Ability to Drive a Car Affect Your Level-Headed Assessment of Readiness to Own a Dog?


Lest we question our superiority over the beasts, note that he veers off into the grass at the end.

Last week this campaign in New Zealand showed how some dogs have been trained to drive cars, in order to promote animal welfare agency SPCA Auckland. The dog in the video above is called Porter. He is a previously abandoned Beardie mix, he drives a MINI Countryman, and he is, objectively speaking, the greatest thing.

In an interview with ESPN, one of Porter's trainers, Mark Vette, said, "When I realized they wanted to teach the dogs for real, I was shocked and slightly apprehensive, but to satisfy my own curiosity we had to give it a go."

I think that didn't come out right. Either way, the training worked, and the response has been great. "It has gone way beyond what we hoped for," Vette said. "From what I have heard, animal shelters around the world have seen a huge increase in adoption inquires."

Meanwhile, Clive Wynn at the New Scientist is unmoved, a perpetual rain cloud hovering over him:

The Auckland SPCA, and a lot of the media coverage of their training, emphasise the intelligence that their three dog drivers have demonstrated. ... I think it is important to distinguish between dogs that have been trained to do something remarkable, and the much thornier question of canine intelligence. ... Following commands moment by moment is only a small part of what we usually mean by intelligence. "Intelligence" involves thinking for oneself, reasoning, and most of all, finding solutions without continuous direction. ... Ask any dog owner whose best friend has become tangled with the leash on the wrong side of a lamppost: Dogs do not make a good job of figuring out how to untangle themselves. Without a scent cue, they are rotten at finding hidden objects. ... In general dogs are poor at solving puzzles.

Aw, don't listen to the man, Porter. You are the smartest dog! Yes you ARE! 

Let's take a cue from dogs on this one and not over-think it. It's more about dogs' amenability to training than it is about their capacity to reason. No one wants dogs to be too intelligent, anyway. As soon as they start reasoning, they will question their unwavering allegiance to us, deeply flawed as we are, and we'll lose the best thing about them. 

Highlighting an awesome thing about dogs is a welcome change from guilt-based campaigns about how they'll be killed if no one adopts them. Dog ownership is best approached out of excitement, not obligation. So, get excited:

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic.


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