Service Dogs in Training Visit Harrisburg International Airport

Dec 9, 2016 2:55 PM ET
Fifty of our service dogs in training now know how to fly on a plane! 
On December 3, we took our puppies in training to Harrisburg International Airport for a training outing. After parking in long-term parking, the dogs and their raisers took the shuttle to the terminal. Once in the terminal, the dogs practiced loose leash walking around the other travelers, as well as taking elevators and stairs. 
Navigating stairs and elevators are important skills for service dogs. The dogs need to walk right next to their handler on the stairs. The dog should take the stairs one at a time and not charge to the top or bottom. This skill becomes especially important when a service dog is working with a child or someone with mobility issues. If the dog were to charge ahead, they could injure their partner. 
Elevators are equally important. To correctly enter an elevator, the dog must wait while their handler blocks the doors with their body to prevent the doors from closing and hitting the dog. The handler then cues the dog to “go on through.” Once the dog is complete inside, the handler follows the dog into the elevator. We usually encourage our puppy raisers to move their puppy in training to one of the back corners of the elevator to keep the dog out of the way and reduce the risk of the puppy trying to dash out of the elevator doors when the open. Getting off the elevator is a similar process, with the handler once again blocking the door.
Each of our puppies in training had the opportunity to go through airport security and practice getting patted down by a TSA agent. By law, service dogs cannot be separated from their partner, nor can any of their equipment (leash, harness, etc.) be removed. The dogs can be patted down, which can be very exciting for the dogs. Our puppies in training practiced staying focused on their raisers while the TSA agent patted them down. 
In the past our outings to the airport usually ended after walking through security. But this time, we got to practice boarding a plane! Thanks to American Airlines, our puppies in training learned how to navigate the aisles of the plane and curl up beneath the seat in front of their raisers. This is such an important skill for our puppies to practice because service dogs can travel in the cabin with the partners. However, they are required to ride in small space at their partner’s feet or under the seat in front of them. This can be challenging for a dog who has never done it before. 
Other tips for preparing your service dog for traveling by plane: 
  • Avoid giving the dog food or water before traveling
  • Give them lots of playtime and exercise to tire them out
  • Bring something for them to chew on, which will keep them occupied if it’s a long flight
Check out this video from HIA about our adventure! 
Thank you to Harrisburg International Airport, the TSA agents, and American Airlines for giving our dogs in training this valuable experience! They’ll be ready to fly with their future partners someday!