A look at service dog training at Harrisburg International Airport


MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) – Harrisburg International Airport was full of puppies Saturday. Service dogs in training practiced everything involved in taking a flight, including boarding a plane.

The airport, Susquehanna Service Dogs of Grantville and Allegiant teamed up for the training.

“You’ll see about 80 dogs in training and their handlers,” said Hilarie Grey, an Allegiant spokesperson. “Helping people go on vacation that wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

“There’s a lot of distractions of people coming and going, small children, the roller bags,” said Lauren Holtz, the Susquehanna Service Dogs puppy development coordinator. “All of these things could be distracting for a dog but we don’t want our dogs to be distracted by.”

Treats motivate the dogs to succeed in their journeys, from the shuttle, to check-in, bag drop, through security, and onto the plane.

“They’ve never been asked to go into a tight, tight space, just like an airline,” said Holtz.

It’s all new, but they learn quickly.

“They practice very specific behaviors for getting under the seat in front of them and looking back at their handler,” said Grey.

Flight staff gets some practice interacting with the animals too.

One pup, named Allegiant, is especially popular.

“All of our 4,000 employees have been following Allegiant on Facebook. He’s got his own page,” said Grey.

Fun aside, the dogs already take their jobs seriously, as they fulfill the important purpose of guiding their owners.

“This might be the first and last time that they get to practice being in this environment and boarding a flight,” said Holtz. ‘That’s something that’s really special that Allegiant allows us to do before they do the real-life thing when they go to their partner as a service dog.”

All of the dogs were between 6 months and 2 years old.

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