Puppies train at Oakland airport so they can be cleared for takeoff as guide dogs

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge will open May 31, 2019, at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif., and August 29, 2019, at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Guests can become part of the story as they sample galactic food and beverages, explore an intriguing collection of merchant shops and take the controls of the most famous ship in the galaxy aboard Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.

Slide 1 of 12: Niagara lies down in a row aboard an airplane during a training session for guide dog puppies at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 2 of 12: Tia, a guide dog in training, sits in a row aboard an airplane with Kacie Kunz at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 3 of 12: Guide dog puppies in training (from bottom to top) Fox, Throne and Drake settle in between the legs of their trainers aboard an airplane at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 4 of 12: Camille (center) waits with other aspiring guide dogs for a training session to begin at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 5 of 12: Guide dogs in training proceed through a security checkpoint at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 6 of 12: Guide dogs in training proceed through a security checkpoint at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 7 of 12: Trainers lead their canine pupils to a security checkpoint before boarding an airplane at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 8 of 12: Puppies wait for a guide dog training session to begin at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 9 of 12: Aspiring guide dog puppies and their human trainers wait at Gate 10 to board a mock flight at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 10 of 12: Heidi Carman boards an airplane with Kerith during a training session for aspiring guide dogs at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 11 of 12: Puppies training to become guide dogs take a well deserved refreshment break after the training session at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Slide 12 of 12: Aspiring guide dog Halle looks out from an airplane window with trainer Nora Salet at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Niagara lies down in a row aboard an airplane during a training session for guide dog puppies at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Tia, a guide dog in training, sits in a row aboard an airplane with Kacie Kunz at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Guide dog puppies in training (from bottom to top) Fox, Throne and Drake settle in between the legs of their trainers aboard an airplane at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Camille (center) waits with other aspiring guide dogs for a training session to begin at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Guide dogs in training proceed through a security checkpoint at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Guide dogs in training proceed through a security checkpoint at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Trainers lead their canine pupils to a security checkpoint before boarding an airplane at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Puppies wait for a guide dog training session to begin at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Aspiring guide dog puppies and their human trainers wait at Gate 10 to board a mock flight at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Heidi Carman boards an airplane with Kerith during a training session for aspiring guide dogs at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Puppies training to become guide dogs take a well deserved refreshment break after the training session at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Aspiring guide dog Halle looks out from an airplane window with trainer Nora Salet at Oakland International Airport in Oakland, Calif. on Saturday, May 11, 2019. About 70 puppies training to become guide dogs practiced going through TSA security lines, boarding airplanes and waiting at baggage claim under a partnership between Alaska Airlines and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Seventy puppies didn’t get to go to Hawaii this weekend, but being professionals, they took it lying down.

That’s what a well-trained guide dog puppy does on an airplane, even one that never leaves the boarding gate.

The puppies, all part of the Guide Dogs for the Blind empire, came to Oakland International Airport on Saturday for a group training exercise. The idea was to expose the young dogs to the sights and sounds of an airport to give them a better chance of not flunking out of guide dog training school, the ultimate rejection for any Labrador retriever.

“Dogs misbehave when they’re scared and stressed,” said Christine Benninger, the head of the foundation, based in San Rafael. “We’re trying to prevent that. These dogs are at a very impressionable age.”

Whatever makes airports stressful for mankind, it turns out, doesn’t bother their best friend. Long lines, lost luggage and late planes matter not a bit to dogs. But the noises, crowds and smells can be stressful.

Marybeth Hearn has raised 54 puppies for the foundation and now trains other volunteers how to train puppies. The key, she said, is for the human to be calm, even at a busy, crowded, behind-schedule airport.

“If a person is nervous or upset,” Hearn said, “those feelings go right down the leash and get felt at the other end.”

To help relieve anxiety, the 70 dogs got acquainted with each other the way dogs do, by sniffing a particular part of each others’ anatomy. With 70 dogs, it came to about 4,830 such sniffs, an apparent record for Oakland International Airport.

After the mutual sniffing, it was time for the puppies to head to the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint for security screening. Each puppy made the metal detector beep. It wasn’t the puppies’ fault. The collars all had metal rings.

For a retriever named Heathrow, it was her first time setting off an airport metal detector. That meant she had to be patted down by a TSA agent. Most guide dogs don’t get to be petted when they’re on the job, but this particular petting was required by federal law.

“Heathrow liked that part,” said her trainer, Ellen Aguirre of Pleasanton. “Myself, I don’t like getting patted down, unless it’s by someone I know.”

Next it was off to Gate 8, where an Alaska Airlines jet bound for Hawaii was waiting. The puppies were led down the ramp and onto the plane. The trainers took their seats, and the dogs took the space under the seats. Economy class is no picnic for man or beast.

Tia, a yellow Labrador, tried to lie down under seat 9F but kept sticking over into seat 9E’s space. When people do things like that on a plane, it’s a problem. But most dogs are better behaved than most people.

“I’ll just move her over,” said her trainer, Abby Kunz of Danville, shoving Tia’s butt where it belonged. “See? She’s happy any place. This dog knows how to contain her energy.”

The flight attendants made their endless boarding and safety announcements and many of the puppies promptly fell asleep at their trainers’ feet, proving once again that dogs have things figured out better than whoever is holding the leash.

After 20 minutes, with the plane still parked at the gate, it was time to get off so the next round of puppies could have a turn not going to Hawaii.

Sarah Webster said her dog, Taft, didn’t mind that he was still in Oakland and not on a tropical beach.

“Dogs don’t care where they’re going,” she said. “Their focus is to please us. They don’t know that this plane didn’t go anywhere.”

What they did care about, however, was that by now it had been many hours since most of them had been outdoors to take care of business. Fortunately, Oakland International Airport is a forward-looking facility with a sparkling patch of fake grass just outside the north terminal, with a nonfunctioning fire hydrant installed in the middle. Being well trained, the 70 puppies knew that the hydrant was the humans’ idea of a joke. Most of them avoided it and took care of business elsewhere on the turf. One of them was a retriever named Throne.

“Throne did great,” said his trainer, Bill Buffington of Manteca. “I’d have a hard time waiting that long, but this is an exceptional dog.”

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @SteveRubeSF

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