5 min read


Can Dogs Know How to Drive?



5 min read


Can Dogs Know How to Drive?


Did you read "Go Dog Go" by P.D. Eastman when you were a young child learning to read? This popular and adored book is full of fun pictures of dogs driving cars in all kinds of situations and places. It is amusing to think about dogs driving cars. Our dogs are smart with so much personality. 

We see ourselves in our dogs and celebrate how we are able to share so many experiences in life with our best friend. Many a dog loves to go for rides with their owners. But it's not just fantasy to think that dogs can drive. With the right training, it has been proven that dogs can drive motorized vehicles!


Signs a Dog Can Learn to Drive

Did you ever see a picture or a video of a dog driving a car? They look so confident and happy! They are sitting up and looking ahead. They usually have their mouths open with their tongue out. They actually look like they are smiling!  

Not only do they look happy but they look smart. Their eyes are open and they appear to be gazing about, taking in the scenery. You might even see a wiggling nose. And they seem attentive, but calmly taking it all in. These dogs are on a pleasure ride and we can't help but think of all of these behaviors as signs of a happy dog!

How do you know if your dog is happy? Your dog will appear relaxed. Dogs will blink when they are happy and confident. While driving, they are usually still, but there are an energy and alertness to their body posture and face. With open mouth, the tongue will be relaxed and perhaps hanging as they take in the smells of their journey.

Happy dogs are confident and their bodies are relaxed. People assume that a wagging tail means that a dog is happy but there are many ways for the tail to waggle and the tail can signal many different emotions. If the tail is loose and wiggling with the rest of the body, that is a sign of happiness. Happy dogs will also hop about, be playful, sleep well, eat well and they have a healthy coat.

Body Language

If your dog is happy, you will likely notice the following cues:

  • Alert
  • Wiggling
  • Blinking
  • Tongue Hanging

Other Signs

More signs to watch out for include:

  • Relaxed Ears
  • Smiling, Open And Relaxed Mouth
  • Loose And Wiggling Tail
  • Wrinkle-Free Brow

History of Dogs Driving Cars


The New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been working hard to promote adoptions for the animals they rescue. They decided to make the point that rescue dogs are smart with a demonstration that literally hit the road. 

The organization was concerned that people think that a rescued pet is somehow a "second class" animal, not as smart or trainable as an animal that was raised in a nurturing home. The trainer decided to work with some rescued dogs to prove the point that these dogs can do pretty much anything. 

Three dogs were selected for specialized training. Porter was a 10-month-old Beardie Cross that had been found as a stray. Porter was the first dog to drive a car. There was Monty,  an 18-month-old Giant Schnauzer Cross. The third dog was a one-year-old Whippet cross named Ginny. 

The training was innovative and consisted of practice learning a sequence of ten behaviors. The first skill they taught them was what to touch. For example, touching the steering wheel with the right paw. The training started with the animals learning how to drive a cart. Within seven weeks, the dogs were promoted to practicing their driving skills in a Mini Cooper. 

The dogs sat on their haunches. They were strapped into the driver's seat. The dogs used their paws to start the car, steer it and work the gas and brake, with modifications similar to a car setup for a special-needs driver. The dogs were not trained to drive on the street. It was a demonstration and they drove the cars on a racetrack.  The project was a collaboration between SPCA Auckland, Mr. Vette, MINI New Zealand, and advertising company DraftFCB.

These are not the only dogs to have some notoriety for their driving abilities. Dogs on farms have been known to enjoy driving tractors and lawn mowers, actually helping in the field. Rambo the Golden Retriever lives in County Down, Northern Ireland  Many will travel to the countryside to watch Rambo taking his rides in the field to help his owner. 

Unfortunately, there are also accounts that are not so amusing but truly dangerous. When owners leave their dogs in the car with the engine running, there have been occasions in which the dogs will knock the gear shift and the car will roll through parking lots, onto streets or into buildings. Motorized vehicles and dogs do not mix in unsupervised or careless situations.

The Science of Teaching Dogs to Drive


The driving dogs were trained the complex behavior with a behavior training technique called "chaining". The methods used to train the dogs go back to the works on classical conditioning and behavior training from psychology in the early twentieth century. 

Pavlov's famous studies with dogs demonstrated how the animals could be "conditioned" or trained to respond to the sound of a bell from the association of the sound of the bell with food. These experiments are foundational to how animals are trained today. Trainers work from the principles of association of the food with a signal or command and the behavior the animal is expected to do. 

The behavior is not one trial learning. The behavior is learned after repeated practice. Just as the early studies on classical conditioning have been the basis for understanding how a stimulus and response can be conditioned, the body of research on learning, called behaviorism, went further to study and expand operant conditioning. 

Once the science of psychology discovered the principles of stimulus-response pairings, the sequence of responses were made complex with the technique known as chaining. Just as a chain is built by attaching one link to another, in behavioral chaining, the behaviors that are taught are linked together.

Trainers commonly use chaining with dogs. For example, you might teach your dog to put toys away or to retrieve birds in the field. To teach chaining, the trainer must break down the behavior into the steps or components. In some instances, the trainer will start with the last behavior and work backward. 

In other situations, the trainer will teach each step and then work with the dog to complete them in the correct order. There requires a regard for the dog's instincts and the complexity of the behavior when identifying the specific behaviors to be trained in the chain. It's simple conditioning that is built with positive reinforcement, consistency and practice.

Training Your Dog to Go in the Car


The future may bring us driverless cars. Whether it is the human, the dog, or the computer driving the car, it is still important that we take the time to work with our dogs to be good passengers in the car. Dogs on the go need to be safe and need support from you to know how to be a safe rider. 

Some dogs get motion sickness. Some dogs are afraid of cars. A good place to start is by taking your dog on car rides as a pup. Do not give your dog food and water immediately before the car ride as this can contribute to an upset stomach. Use a crate to keep your dog safe and from roaming around in the car. Take your dog with your for rides to different places so that the dog has pleasant associations with riding in the car on trips with you. 

If you are traveling, plan fun stops in parks and places where the dog can get some exercise and have quality time with you. Bring supplies for your dog when you are going out on the road. Bring paper towels, a water bowl, food, a food bowl, cleaner for accidents, a leash, and, if you are staying overnight, a mat or dog bed. If your dog is not restrained, teach your dog to lie down and stay calm.

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Car Safety with Your Dog:

  1. Do not let your dog put their head out the window.
  2. Never leave your dog in the car on a warm day - even for a "few minutes".
  3. Never leave your dog in the car with the motor running.
  4. Place your dog in the back seat.
  5. Do not let your dog ride in the back of open trucks.
  6. Use a crate or restraints with your dog.

By a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel lover Pat Drake

Published: 03/26/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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