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Can Dogs Fly Planes? New Reality Show Wants to Find Out

You might think it ridiculous and even dangerous to put dogs behind the yoke of a plane and let them try to fly it, but that won’t stop some people from trying. Case in point, Dogs Might Fly, a new TV show from the UK that plans to train some dogs to fly a plane.

While the internet has plenty of videos of dogs driving cars, planes are an entirely different matter. The sheer number of things that could go wrong makes it sound like a foolhardy exercise, but it’s a risk the makers of the show are willing to take in a bid to demonstrate that dogs have “distinct personalities and incredible levels of intelligence.”

“People give up on them too easily and this series will show us why we shouldn’t,” presenter Jamie Theakston told The Telegraph. “They are just as deserving and just as intelligent. Even if a dog has been deprived of human contact or has been badly treated, it is just as able and motivated to initiate a new relationship with a human very quickly.”

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Photo: Oxford Scientific Films Ltd

So Dogs Might Fly isn’t a spoof or a joke – each hour-long episode of the reality show will feature a team of experts making a serious effort at canine aviation. Preparations for the program started a year ago, with experts identifying 12 of the smartest dogs among the 100,000-plus strays that were picked up by UK councils in 2014-15. The youngest of the lot were Sox, a boxer-Labrador cross, and Tess, a Belgian shepherd, both 18 months old. Shadow, a Staffordshire bull terrier-collie cross, Poppy, an Australian kelpie-collie cross, and Spike, a Parson-Jack Russell cross, were among the oldest, aged two-and-a-half. Jamie revealed that Shadow was actually 24 hours away from being put down when he was pulled out to be a part of the show.

The 12 chosen dogs were put through an intensive 10-week training session at a secluded mansion in the Sussex countryside. During the training period, animal behavior experts – like Mat Ward, a clinical animal behaviorist, Charlotte Wilde, who trained animals for the Harry Potter films, and Professor Adam Miklóski, author of Dog Behavior, Evolution and Cognition – used various tests to assess the dogs’ memory, reasoning ability, communication, and empathy.

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Photo: Oxford Scientific Films Ltd

But training wasn’t all about work, the dogs apparently also had plenty of fun at the Sussex house. “They all lived there and spent their time and they had such a fun time there and they had lots of room to run around and play and they made loads of new friends and they got up to all kinds of things,” Jamie said. “I’ve worked on shows where celebrities and film stars have been pampered and looked after but nothing like to the extent that these dogs were.”

Post training, the best were selected to attend flight school, which will form the basis of the show. During this period, experts will test the dogs for their response to stimuli and try to acclimatise them to high altitudes. The canines will be sent to the top of a landmark in London in a high-rise lift to test their head for heights. They will also be taken for a spin around the Thames on a speedboat to find out their appetite for adventure.  Towards the final episode, the best performing dog will be chosen to actually take control of a single-engine aircraft.

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Photo: Oxford Scientific Films Ltd

As excited as the experts are at the prospects of one of the dogs actually flying a plane, many others like canine psychology professor Stanley Coren, are against the idea. “Given that we would not expect a human three-year-old to be able to fly a plane, I would not expect that a dog could do so either,” he said, speaking to The Independent. But Carole Hawkins, creative director of Oxford Scientific Films, implied that the “safe and controlled” experiment is a harmless way to find out whether a highly intelligent dog could control an aircraft.

“What can be accomplished is pretty mindblowing,” added Victoria Stilwell, one of the eight dog trainers on the show. “I think you’re going to smile a lot… It’s just a feelgood show.” And here’s the best part – when the series concludes, each of the 12 rescued dogs will be found a new home.  

 

“All the dogs have been on quite a remarkable journey really,” Jamie explained. “It’s something like 120,000 dogs are put into rescue centers each year, which is an extraordinary number and I had no idea it was that many. A lot of these dogs, the owners have given up on them or they’ve been abandoned, and I think this show more than anything else proves that they in no way should be abandoned and they’re all capable of extraordinary things.”

Sources: The Independent, The Telegraph

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