When dogs fly

Kiwi animal behaviourist Mark Vette, the man behind Sony and FCB’s ‘Octographer’ campaign has risen to new heights. Having already taught dogs how to drive, he figured it was high time he graced them with a captain’s hat and taught them how to fly. 

Three dogs were trained to fly a four seater Cessna 172, handling the aircraft and completing a full figure-eight in the sky. Vette’s achievement, and the dogs, was revealed earlier this week in the final episode of UK Sky 1 television series, aptly named Dogs Might Fly.

The documentary style series, exploring dog cognition, aimed to find out whether canine companions could be trained to fly a plane. The 12 dogs involved in it were chosen from rescue shelters across the UK before being tested for their comfort in flight-like scenarios and slowly acclimatised to the different sensations. Only dogs that responded positively to the training progressed to the final challenge.

Before taking to the skies, they were guided through training exercises designed to simulate different aspects of flight, and practiced the delicate manoeuvers and motor actions involved on several advancing rigs designed specifically by Vette for the project.

Vette and the team built a deep connection with the dogs during training, which he attributes to the feat being achieved.

“The crucial element was communication – we needed to understand the dogs, and the dogs needed to understand us and what we wanted them to do. By building a shared language I call ‘Dog Zen’, we were able to guide the dogs through the flying process,” Vette says.

“Most importantly, this exercise has proven that shelter dogs are not secondhand goods. They are smart dogs that deserve a chance at life. Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about dog welfare and rescue, and I feel that’s the entire point of what we did – to bring attention to the fact that there are thousands of dogs abandoned every year that are good dogs that need to find good homes.” 

Finding good homes for dogs in shelters is something Vette previously achieved with the 2012 ‘Mini driving dogs’ by FCB for the SPCA.

In the campaign he taught three rescue dogs to drive a car, showcasing their intelligence to boost adoption rates.

The campaign achieved global notoriety with over 100 million tweets and 12 million YouTube views as well as winning numerous awards including the grand axis; gold pencil at The One Show; the winner of winner of the 2012 Yahoo New Zealand Digital Strategy Awards and various international accolades.

It also saw visitors to the SPCA dog adoption page rise by over 200 percent and every dog adopted from SPCA Auckland during the campaign.

Vette was also responsible for training an octopus in a campaign by FCB for Sony. ‘Rambo’ the octopus was given a camera and taught how to take photos of visitors to Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium.

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