The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 7, 2012

Mike Pound: Dogs gain edge in war against squirrels

By Mike Pound

— Squirrels, your days are numbered.

Since the dawn of time squirrels have been the mortal enemy of dogs. In case you’re wondering, the list of dog enemies goes like this:

No. 1: Squirrels.

No. 2: Rabbits.

No. 3: Cats.

No. 4: Mailmen.

No. 5: “Dancing with the Stars.”

The ongoing contest between squirrels and dogs goes like this: Dog sees squirrel. Squirrel sees dog. Dog chases squirrel. Squirrel remains still thereby convincing dog that maybe this time dog will catch squirrel. Then, at the last second, squirrel runs up nearby tree and laughs down at dog. Dog, humiliated and angry, scratches self and forgets the whole thing.

But now some folks in New Zealand are doing something that may tip the scales in the squirrel-dog battle. They are teaching dogs to drive. Think you’re fast, squirrel? Try out running a border collie behind the wheel of a Maserati (of course, a liberal dog will drive a Prius).

Why else would a dog bother to learn to drive if not to chase squirrels?

For the record, the folks in New Zealand who are teaching dogs to drive have not said anything about the canines using their driving skills to chase squirrels. So far, the driving has been limited to a fenced-in field. But the first time one of the driving dogs spots a squirrel in the field, I’m pretty sure havoc will ensue.

I have to admit that when I first read about the driving dogs I was a bit skeptical. But then I dialed up “driving dogs” on Google and checked out the video, and sure enough — to paraphrase the great comic strip B.C. — “dogs got cars.”

What the folks in New Zealand did was, over a period of about eight weeks, teach dogs how to drive specially, modified cars. The dogs first learned how to operate a gear shift, then they learned how to accelerate, brake, steer and parallel park.

OK, they didn’t learn how to parallel park. At least not yet.

All three of the driving dogs — named Monty, Ginny and Porter — were either abandoned by their former owners or abused by former owners, and were taught to drive by trainers with the Auckland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in an effort to show people that rescue dogs are intelligent and make great pets.

I think they proved their point.

The whole idea of driving dogs makes me smile. Years ago I had a border collie by the name of Shadow who I often let ride in my car with me. While I drove, Shadow would stare out the window looking for squirrels. If she saw one I would slow down so Shadow could bark and threaten the squirrel. Sometimes, I would drive around our block several times just so Shadow could hunt for squirrels. At the time, I figured I had the only border collie who hunted from a car. But now, dogs may soon do all of their hunting from cars.

The fact that Monty, Ginny and Porter can drive is pretty amazing, but the more amazing thing to me is the fact that they drive without sticking their heads out of the window.

According to a story on the Time magazine website, the dogs have been accompanied by humans when they drive “just in case they get distracted.”  

I can see that. Our German shepherd Shilo gets distracted yawning.

But next week Porter is going to drive solo for a New Zealand television show. Porter has said his solo drive will be, “One small step for dog, one giant leap for dogkind.”

Squirrels everywhere will weep.