In one of the cutest photos of pups to go viral, a group of service dogs sit quietly in a theater watching the show.
The crowd of a dozen dogs didn’t even let out a single woof as the cast of a Canadian production of Billy Elliot: The Musical took their final bow on stage at this year’s Ontario’s Stratford Festival. Luckily, the actors didn’t take it personally; the dogs were just doing their job.
Part of the K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, the dogs were in training to be service dogs to those in need of assistance, and part of what they must accomplish is being well-behaved in public settings, including the theater.
“The theatre allows us to work the dogs through various stimuli such as lights, movement, loud noises and crowds.” says Laura MacKenzie, the founder and main trainer. “The canines are trained to lay down under the seat or curl up at their handlers’ feet. The goal is for the dogs to be safely out of the way of other attendees while remaining relaxed and quiet throughout the performance.”
Since many of the Stratford Festival performances are accessible to people with disabilities, they were open and welcomed the dogs to the performance, says Mackenzie. The festival told CNN that many of their patrons do bring their service dogs, so they were “thrilled” to host this year’s service dog group.
The dogs seemed to enjoy the musical as well, MacKenzie told us. “Throughout the performance, some of the dogs would peek through the cracks of the seats to watch the show!”
The dogs are part of a two-year training program that provides “trainer-assisted owner trained service dog and support program,” that not only offers training but offers support from other dog handlers who are experiencing similar situations,” according to K-9 Country Inn’s website.
Besides getting dogs acclimated to various settings and providing a strong network, K-9 Country Inn’s team members are able to instruct service dog handlers about their legal rights. The program provides personal support for the first two years of the training program, whether that is in person, by phone or video.
This program is particularly significant because there is currently no standardized service dog certification or test in Ontario, Canada. K9 Country Inn provides certification after a two-day test that includes obedience, outdoor manners, public access and task work. They observe specific qualities that include teamwork, decision-making and interactions with the public — all of which are crucial to the functionality and well-being of both handler and dog.
“Service dogs must be confident, calm and adaptable in any environment while being able to attend to their handler’s needs,” MacKenzie explains. To achieve that, the dogs are exposed to a variety of places and attractions.
These lucky dogs have visited the Toronto Zoo, Ripley’s Aquarium, and The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
“We have also taken them on steamboats, subways, trains, and to several other attractions and events around the province,” adds Mackenzie. “It’s important to prepare the dogs for any activity the handler may like to attend.”