Nose prints on your airplane window? It’s possible that the last passenger sharing the armrest and leg room at your seat — especially if you are in 1A — was Wylie, a German shepherd guide dog and cross-country commuter. Wylie has racked up hundreds of thousands of miles, reportedly the first “diamond dog” to share Delta Airline’s top-tier frequent-flier status. He rests his nose on the armrest and looks out the window as the plane taxies and takes off.
Being upgraded to First Class is a perk that Wylie and his human partner enjoy often on their long coast-to-coast flights. Even with the extra room and free drinks, though, Wylie has a hard time curling up in the foot space, which means he often ends up making friends with the person in 1B.
Dr. Deni Elliott, Wylie’s partner, explains when asked where she “puts” that dog on the plane, “He lies down on my feet … and on the feet of the person next to me and (in coach) on the feet of the next person, too!”
Elliott, who is legally blind, teaches at the University of South Florida in Saint Petersburg, FL. She also teaches at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park, CA. Until recently, the team also commuted twice monthly to Los Angeles, where Elliott served as the ethics officer for a public agency. Elliott also frequently consults and lectures around the country. In short, long flights are all in a day’s work for Wylie.
For a while, the two flew so regularly on the Tampa to Los Angeles early-morning flight that the attendants all knew Wylie by name, bringing him water and snacks as he settled in.
As a guide dog, Wylie’s biggest challenge comes when they deplane at a new location. He has to find the baggage carousel, identify the correct suitcase, and then find a taxi. But Wylie, like his predecessor Oriel, takes it all in stride.
“I don’t know what she was following, whether it was specific smells, sounds, or both, but early on in her working career, Oriel learned on her own to find the baggage claim area, Elliott reports. “She also learned early to find a restroom and could always easily identify the women’s room.”
When Oriel retired, Wylie took over – and he also learned these unusual tasks right away. “Wylie is also great at finding my hotel room. After we’ve been there once, the dog always takes me back to the correct room. He knows where his dog food is!”
Besides negotiating through airports and strange cities, Wylie alerts Elliott to obstacles, such as curbs or other items in their path. He steers her around low-hanging branches or other overhead obstacles that she could walk into. He’s quite adept at finding a path through a crowd, too, weaving between people and around obstacles as if they are not even there. “Wylie is happy to nudge someone who is standing in his way if he can’t find a way around,” Elliott says, somewhat ruefully.
Both dogs were privately trained because, Elliott says, she wanted to have a close bond with her guide dogs, and she believed that raising them from puppyhood was the best way to build that connection. To strengthen that bond and ensure that she and Wylie have more than just a professional relationship, she regularly participates in fun training classes with him.
Off-duty, Wylie is a stellar athlete. He enjoys flyball and agility, and he recently earned his Rally Novice title. The pair visit dog parks and dog beaches regularly and play ball or flying disc daily. Wylie is also a registered Pet Partner therapy dog, work he enjoys because — unlike when he’s on duty as a guide — he is actually encouraged to meet and interact with new people. When Wylie is guiding, he focuses on the task at paw and is not distracted by people who want to socialize.
After a full day’s work, travel, and play, Wylie likes nothing more than to curl up on a big, soft bed, sigh deeply, and take his well-earned rest.