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Zen and the art of dog training

Animal expert Mark Vette, right, with his dog Reggie, Paper Plus owner Warwick Delmonte, and fans John Murphy and Possum, a nine-week-old Jack Russell. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

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Mark Vette has proved that you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks.
And not only has he taught dogs to drive cars and fly planes, he’s taught three-year-old Reggie to use Snapchat.
Reggie, a German shepherd labrador cross, donned his Snapchat glasses at Masterton Paper Plus on Tuesday as his famous owner signed books for fans.
Mr Vette is a renowned animal expert and trainer, who has stared in multiple television series and worked behind the scenes with animals featuring in blockbuster films.
He was also the man behind training the dog in the classic Toyota Hilux ‘bugger’ television advert, and the multiple dogs which played Rolly in the Purex toilet paper commercials.
It was during the filming of the first Rolly commercial in 1992 when he met Paper Plus owner Warwick Delmonte, who was an advertising executive in his past life.
The pair caught up during the launch of Mr Vette’s latest book, Dog Zen, in which he sheds light on some common myths around dog training and shows how to get the best out of man’s best friend.
Released a month ago, the book is on its third reprint.
The book draws on his 40-year career with animals, which included working on tv show Pound Pups to Dog Stars that is now screened in 160 countries.
Another tv show, Dogs Might Fly, stared Reggie as one of three canines taught to fly a plane.
Reggie was the first dog in the world to pilot an aircraft, and while he was not allowed to take off or land, he completed figure eights in the sky among other moves.
Mr Vette said one of the main things he and his team were known for was teaching dogs to drive cars around a racetrack.
“They literally turned the car on, put it into gear, drove off, turned the corners, steered it and stopped with the brakes.
“They did it all by themselves . . . that was pretty crazy stuff.”
Lord of the Rings and Narnia are just two of the many films Mr Vette has worked on.
After studying zoology and psychology, he worked with wolves in America to understand more about dog behaviour.
He then became an animal psychologist, with his main focus being the treatment of behavioural problems in cats and dogs.
Most behavioural problems in dogs originated in the first two to four months of life, Mr Vette said.
Socialising young pups with all sorts of species and people, including of different races and ages, was vital to eliminating aggression in dogs.
The most amazing thing about dogs was that they had co-evolved with humans for thousands of years longer than any other species.
“They started with us when we were hunter gathers . . . they used to scavenge around our settlements, and slowly they adapted to human living,” Mr Vette said.
“The dog is the longest collaboration in nature with humans, and because of that they focus on humans, they look to us for direction, they understand our gestures, they watch our reactions and they read us like a book. That’s a pretty amazing relationship, and of course that’s why we call them man and woman’s best friend.”

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