Traveling by air can be very stressful - the crowds, the noise, the sometimes intrusive security procedures, the airplanes’ closed environment. People can take a course to get over their fear of flying. Service dogs can too.
Service dogs almost never leave their owners, even on public transportation, including airplanes. But a busy airport environment can be disorienting and distressing for dogs, even well-trained ones.
People with disabilities, who rely on their dogs, want to make sure their companions will be able to safely lead them through security checkpoints and stay calm even during occasional turbulence in flight.
They can turn to the Air Hollywood K9 Flight School, where owners and their dogs go through the entire procedure including spending time in a flight simulator, built for filming movie flight scenes.
Dogs experience all the sights, sounds and vibrations of a real flight.
Sandy Alexander, from Newport Beach, California, has a disability that requires his two-year-old Labrador, Doc, to be by his side at all times. Alexander says Doc didn’t like the turbulence.
“When that started he was pretty agitated and looked up at me and wasn't sure what was going on and I think we are going to be prepared the next time it happens,” he said.
Successful training is based on a simple rule: repetition, says trainer Mary Segall, with Canine Companions for Independence, which provides dogs for people with disabilities.
“Dogs need to be exposed gradually and repetitively to stimulation, to the environment, to loud noises, to sounds and other dogs so that when this experience happens to them on a daily basis, they are able to act in a way that they are used to acting and they don't get excitable,” she said.
Stacey Huckeba's nine-month-old Labrador, Striker, is still in training to be a guide dog.
“I don't fly a lot so I don't know a lot, so I don't know a lot of the routine myself," she said. "So with a dog I would have been lost.”
Dog owners who attended the course say they now feel much more comfortable thinking about their flight. Dogs too, look like they have benefited from the training to take to the air.