JoAnna Lou
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Dogs Learning to Fly
Airport movie set doubles as a training ground for jet setting pups

Flying isn't a fun activity for most people, so you can only imagine how an animal feels who has no idea what's going on. After seeing a stressed dog go through airport security, Talaat Captan, owner of Air Hollywood, decided to use his aviation themed movie studio to help dogs become comfortable flying. In addition to film work, Air Hollywood also offers training for people with a fear of flying. Helping dogs seemed like a natural next step.

The sets at Air Hollywood have been used in movies and television shows such as Bridesmaids, Kill Bill, and NCIS. For the K9 Flight School, the scenes are transformed to train dogs. Famous actors are replaced with extras hired to simulate a crowded, chaotic terminal complete with TSA security checkpoints, rolling luggage carts, and loud departure announcements.  

After navigating the terminal, dogs board an airplane set that simulates takeoff, turbulence, and landing motions and noises. Every detail is recreated down to the shutting of overhead luggage bins and the dimming of cabin lights. The class focuses on small pups or service dogs that are allowed in the cabin. Unfortunately for the big dogs, the course doesn't address traveling in cargo.

The curriculum, created by a dog trainer, was tested on 60 puppies from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Rick Wilcox, who oversees puppy-training in Southern California, said the simulations were so realistic that some of the handlers who don't like to fly became nervous.

The only way I know about acclimating animals to planes is by training dogs to jump in a kennel resting on inflatable exercise discs (to simulate movement) while playing an airplane sounds CD. Air Hollywood's K9 Flight School is an amazing way to introduce a dog to flying. Los Angeles is lucky to have an aviation themed movie set that can be used for this purpose. I don't think I'll be seeing this kind of class in New York any time soon!

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
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Submitted by Carolyn | September 14 2013 |

Interesting idea. My dog flew for many years, internationally, as an in-cabin pet. Right from the start, she was a calm dog which helped me feel this wold work for her (we also left the country for a month plus at a time). I got her very comfortable in her carrier for car travel and then did all I could to keep her comfortable during flight and pre- and post-flight. When we took off or landed, I made sure she was between my feet and calves (in the soft sided carrier) in a soft sort of "hug." She was fantastic and I never detected any nervousness. That said, I never subject a dog to cargo unless it was absolutely the last resort and no other options were available.

Submitted by Lauren Jonczak | September 25 2013 |

I flew to Texas last week and the lady that was next to me had a small dog on her lap. I didn't even know that you could have a dog on a plane. I thought they had to go where they keep the luggage. She was telling me that since her dog had dog training in Baltimore and that it was under 20 pounds that it was allowed to keep the dog with her. The dog was even trained to go to the bathroom in a toilet which I find odd but I guess it works for her especially if she travels a lot. I think this training is a great idea. Get the dog used to flying and you wont have any problems. Thanks for sharing.

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