Meet Sonic, Montreal Airport’s cutest and hairiest security specialist in training

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Montreal –

Like other major international travel hubs, Montreal Trudeau Airport relies on a wide array of technology to guard against any potential threat, much of which is strategically installed out of sight.

But there is one decidedly low-tech security method that they keep out in the open for everyone to see.

He’s a four-legged, fuzzy, squirming German Shepherd puppy – pretty much the most adorable future security system ever.

“When Sonic is an adult… he will be an explosives detection dog and for that we will have Transport Canada certification,” said Marie-Noëlle Côté, Sonic’s dog handler and member of the airport’s canine unit.

Four-month-old Sonic still has time to improve before taking the exam in Ottawa, but until then he won’t be able to rely on his cuteness alone.

The puppy has a lot to learn and assimilate, especially in a year or so, when he will be more mature and the more formal part of his training will begin.

BUT FIRST – PLAYTIME!

The most important first step for Sonic is to develop a relationship with his master and familiarize himself with his future workplace.

It means satisfying his puppy personality by allowing him to explore and play.

“We do familiarization at the airport, so he has to learn how to be good with people and to be good at the airport, he can go in the elevator, on the floor, different surfaces, [and meet] people in wheelchairs,” Côté said.

Côté instructs him to jump onto benches and baggage platforms and teaches him how to back up on surfaces of varying heights so that he will eventually be nimble in all airport and aerospace spaces.

Unsurprisingly, he draws a lot of attention from passengers as he circles the terminal.

“They want a picture and they’re happy and they say it’s like pet therapy when they see the dog, the stress goes down,” Côté said.

The rest of the time, Sonic and Cote play, play, and play — mostly ‘fetch’ games, with a squeaky purple ball and plenty of goodies handed out as rewards.

Everything is in preparation for the future.

“During the training period, we learn detection with the toy. So the dogs have to search for the explosives and he is rewarded with the toy,” she said.

Cote refuses to reveal too many details about how explosives detection training works, saying only the dog needs to learn to “detect a scent” of various chemicals.

“We hide an odor and the dogs have to smell it and show us when sitting, lying down or freezing and we reward the dogs,” Cote explained.

The canine team receives an average of three requests a week for their dogs to sniff out something suspicious, for example, luggage that has been left unattended.

“Dogs learn by repetition and exposure and we have to train in many situations, in airplanes, vehicles, indoors, outdoors,” Côté said.

WHY GERMAN SHEPHERDS?

Côté, who has owned and loved dogs all her life, said she believes any breed of dog can be trained to do this kind of work.

“We have the German Shepherd because it’s like a police dog,” she said, a breed that passengers recognize and associate with public safety.

“If I have a Chihuahua…it’s not the same picture,” she said.

Sonic, the miniature, fluffy tactician-in-training that he is, of course, won’t be giving those serious German Shepherd signals for the next eight months or so.

Right now, he’s just a bouncy little pup who’s been a blast to raise and train, Côté said.

“For me, it’s a passion. It’s not a job for me, it’s recreation, always.”

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