Sydney International Airport launches emBark airport assistance dogs program

image :9news

More than 43 million people pass through the thresholds of Sydney’s International Airport each year, the gateway from Australia leading to over 100 destinations in the world.

And undoubtedly, more than a few million would be nervous: maybe they’re first time flyers, or running late for boarding, or trying to wrangle check in with a couple of kids.

But from today, and for two days each week in its initial stage, passengers will be able to salve their travel angst at the check in for American Airlines, after a cuddle with an Assistance Dog.

Called emBark, the initiative is a first for an Australian airport, and quite possibly the world.

image 9news

The specifically-trained assistance dogs waiting at check-in will offer a tipped head for rubbing, or a waiting chassis for a big hug.

The dogs are generally trained to help people with physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress, and autism, but their value at has also been realised at the airport during a two month pilot program.

The dogs are trained to recognise the tension that is visible to them in anxious people.

They’ll gently move in and nudge their target with the nose, or raise a paw in an attempt to generate a response.

image: 9news

image : 9news

If they still fail to garner a reaction, they’ll nudge again, or rest their head on a waiting lap, or even issue the smallest of barks to draw attention.

Airport and American Airlines officials say there is a noticeable lowering of tension when the dogs are about.

Customers at the counter are more relaxed and at ease when they check in, and even those who work behind the counter say the dogs create a better working environment.

Given that check-in staff are an airline’s front-line troops, they are generally the first to experience passenger angst, so their nod of approval is a significant tick to the effectiveness of the assistance dogs.

The program is good for the dogs as well.

It will become the final test before the dogs are placed with those who need them permanently, and their trainers see the airport environment as a socialisation opportunity where they will learn to meet lots of people, to travel up escalators, to go down lifts – all useful skills in dealing with the modern world.

And going from the response at the airport today, as the scheme became a regular fixture next to American Airlines check in, one was hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t like the idea of a nuzzle before hitting the boarding gate.

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