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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!

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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