Anxiety about Traveling? Try an Airport Therapy Dog


If you fly a lot, you already know that going to the airport can be one of the most stressful experiences of your life. Even if you’re happy about making the trip as well as your destination, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any stress involved when going through the whole process of boarding an airplane. In fact, it can be one of the most stressful experiences of a person’s life. Thankfully, airport therapy dogs may be available to help beat that stress.

Therapy Dogs At The Airport?

It’s true, therapy dogs are now being utilized at a number of commercial airports around the country. These aren’t just your typical dogs that have a fancy name attached to them, either. Instead, they are well trained dogs that have a very specific purpose, to help calm people and ease anxieties at the airport, regardless of what specifically is causing that anxiety. These dogs can often be found at airports around the country. They spend months training with their handlers in order to get certified as Airport Therapy Dogs. In order to pull it off, they have to go through both basic and advanced obedience training and then undergo specialty training that allows them to act as therapy dogs. The goal is for the dog to be calm, even during hectic situations. This requires a lot of training because dogs have a tendency to pick up on human emotions. Since their job is to calm people who are already sad or anxious, they have to go through extensive training in order to ensure that those emotions don’t end up transferring to the dog. It wouldn’t do much good if your therapy dog that was sent to calm your anxieties was full of anxiety himself. Therefore, a lot of effort goes into making sure that that sort of thing doesn’t happen.

How It All Started

This isn’t exactly a new concept. The first official airport therapy dog was named Orion and served at the San Jose International Airport. As it turns out, this was a trained therapy dog that just happened to belong to the airport chaplin. It was immediately after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. As such, people were experiencing a great deal of anxiety about getting on an airplane. It’s understandable why there was so much anxiety involved, considering what had happened. The airport’s chaplain, Kathryn Liebschutz, asked if it would be possible for her to bring her therapy dog to the airport in order to see whether or not doing so would help people who were experiencing a great deal of anxiety. Airport officials obliged and she started bringing the dog on a regular basis. In short order, people were requesting the dog and the airport therapy dog program was unofficially started. Now, 20 years later, the program is an official one that has a number of airports participating across the country. Every one of them has a team of handlers that work exclusively with their therapy dogs. The overwhelming majority of them work on a volunteer basis. In every case, the well-trained dogs are available to help people by calming their anxiety or even washing their sorrows away. People can spend a few minutes with the dogs or they can sit with them for as long as they like. It is all about making sure that an environment of calm is fostered so that people have the opportunity to simply let the dogs do what they do best.

Breed Doesn’t Matter

It’s important to note that the dog’s breed doesn’t matter, nor does his size. Dogs can be purebred or they can be mixed breeds that are adopted from the local shelter. It’s all about the temperament of the dog and how well-trained he is, not what breed he is. In fact, the national program has dogs of all sizes, ranging from lap dogs like Shih Tzus to larger dogs such as German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers. One key factor is the dog’s temperament, as previously mentioned. They have to possess a certain tendency to enjoy being around people. The more outgoing they are, the better. By the same token, it’s essential that they not get stressed out by being in an environment that is bustling with loads of people. They have to be able to handle noise and being in an environment that is constantly changing. Without a doubt, the dog that ends up as an airport therapy dog cannot have an aggressive bone in his body. They also have to be well-trained and listen to their handlers at every command.

As you can see, there aren’t a lot of dogs that would make the cut for an airport therapy dog. In particular sense, it’s not all that different from training a police dog. Out of a litter of puppies, there may only be one dog that actually has the temperament to qualify for such a program. Even with a near-perfect temperament, the dog and the handler still have to prove themselves by being part of The Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a nationally-recognized group. By the same token, both the animals and handlers have to have worked in a similar capacity for at least a year prior to qualifying for this program. In the end, all of this practice helps create airport therapy dogs that are capable of calming some of the most anxious passengers out there. By the same token, they can provide some much-needed company and additional emotional support, depending on the reason that the person is traveling in the first place. At the moment, the only way to find out whether or not they are featured at an airport that you might be traveling to is to contact the airport itself and ask whether or not they have an active program. It’s also worth noting that even when an airport does have an active program, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the dogs are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is especially true in the wake of COVID-19, when virtually everything has been made more challenging. Unfortunately, the therapy dog program is no exception but they are still doing their best to relieve passenger anxiety whenever and however they can.

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