Service dogs-in-training take flight to nowhere at MSP Airport

- Roughly a dozen future service dogs are now a little better prepared for their roles after a day of training at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. 

The training, put on by Can-Do-Canines and Delta, provides these puppies the opportunity to take in the chaos and commotion of the airport before they become certified.

Can Do Canines founder Alan Peters said it is best to expose the dogs when they are young so days like Saturday become their new normal. 

“Staying focused, when they have their cape on they know they’re on duty, but staying focused without the distractions," Peters said. "There are so many things going on in an airport; carts and noises, so getting through this and learning that it is just part of everyday life is the important thing." 

The dogs were walked through the airport by their volunteers, like Patrick Heffernan, who raise the puppies and prepare them for their upcoming specialized training. 

“Most of what we’re doing as puppy raisers is working on obedience and good manners, to get dogs used to behaving well in public settings," Heffernan said. "So they go out as much as they can whenever they can with us, so that wherever they go when they’re working they think it’s a normal experience." 

Heffernan has been a volunteer for 20 years. He and the others at the airport have helped raise Can Do Canines for people like Bob Reynolds. 

Reynolds is hearing impaired, and his dog, Sofia just graduated from Can Do Canines as a hearing-assistance dog. They were the only pair at the airport Saturday that were working. The two are preparing for an upcoming trip. 

“I don’t want to leave her behind. I’ve become so accustomed to her being with me everywhere we go," Reynolds said. "I’ve traveled once since graduating from Can Do Canines, and it was miserable." 

He said he never wants to do that again.

The dogs came from outside the terminal, into the elevators, through security, into the tram, and onto the “Happy Tails” mock airplane designed specifically for this training. Once on the plane, the dogs nestled under their handlers’ seats to get a taste of what it will be like when they have to do it in the future. 

After this day of training, the volunteers were instructed to make sure they gave the pups the rest of the day off. 

“It’s a very stressful day for them, but its excellent training because it gives them a chance to see things they wouldn’t see otherwise,” Heffernan said. 

Peters says since the organizations inception 30 years ago, they have given away 630 service dogs. They plan to graduate 50 this year. Peters says the dogs are all given away for free. 

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