Five puppies learning to be assistant dogs had an exciting day Tuesday, with a training exercise at Detroit International Airport.
During the trial, the dogs and their trainers passed through a US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint, climbed onto an elevated walkway and boarded a plane.
It was all part of an effort to acclimate the dogs to one of the many places they might experience later in life. The instruction was led by Paws With a Cause, a nonprofit organization in Wayland, Michigan, that oversees the custom training of puppies to become assistant dogs for people with disabilities. The group pairs the puppies with volunteers who raise and socialize the dogs during their first year of life.
“In the future, when they are with our clients, they might have to fly with them,” explained Liz Hood, who coordinates the foster dog curriculum for the organization. “So if they have this experience now when they are young, it assumes that it won’t be very impactful for them when they are with their clients when they are older.”
Trainers also take puppies to grocery stores, libraries, restaurants and doctor appointments, Hood said. But the airport provides a unique experience due to its characteristic sights and sounds.
The five pups, which included Labradors and golden retrievers, as well as a papillon, strolled through the airport, where they received more than a few glances from passengers. The dogs walked over an elevated walkway to a plane, where they snuggled at the feet of their trainers, who sat and gave the pups treats to keep them still.
“One of the main reasons for doing this kind of training is for our puppies to remain calm and confident in all kinds of different social situations,” Hood said.