The dogs who train to be service dogs at K-9 Country Inn in Ontario take their important roles very seriously. That’s why they collectively made up the most well-behaved theater attendees ever. A photo of their outing to a relaxed performance of Billy Elliot at the Stratford Festival speaks for itself.
The K-9 Country Inn service dog training program includes this little trip to the theater to test the dogs’ learned obedience and socializing skills. They also learn to attend to the needs of their handlers in public.
Laura Mackenzie, owner and head trainer at K-9 Country Inn, told CBC how important it is for their service dogs to be prepared to handle any activity their handlers participate in.
“The theatre gives us the opportunity to expose the dogs to different stimuli such as lights, loud noises and movement of varying degrees. The dogs must remain relaxed in tight quarters for an extended period of time.”
At a theater performance, these dogs would expect to lead their handlers through crowds and support them while ignoring the distracting sounds, lights, and smells.
“Relaxed Performances” At Stratford Festival
The festival’s “relaxed performances” are specifically designed for patrons who benefit from a less restrictive audience environment, according to the festival website. This includes many of the same people K-9 Country Inn service dogs help, like those with autism or PTSD.
“Patrons of all abilities are welcome, including but not limited to those with intellectual or learning disabilities, sensory processing conditions or autism. There is a relaxed attitude to noise and movement within the auditorium, and some minor production changes may be made to reduce the intensity of light, sound and other potentially startling effects.”
Babies and dogs are welcome to these relaxed performances at the theater. And why shouldn’t they be? According to Stratford Festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager these service pups were all perfectly behaved at the show.
“About a dozen dogs came to our relaxed performance, and they were all extremely well-behaved. I was in the lobby when they came in, then they took their seats, then got out of their seats at intermission and went back — all of the things we learn as humans when we start going to the theatre.”
Many people require their service dogs by their sides when they go out, and there should be no reason a person with a service dog can’t attend a live performance, Swerdfager points out.
“It’s wonderful that going to the theatre is considered one of the things that you want to train a service dog for, rather than thinking that theatre is out of reach for people who require a service animal, because it isn’t.”
Plus, the dogs seemed to really enjoy watching the show! Mackenzie plans to bring a new group of trainees back to Stratford Festival.
“All of the dogs were fantastic and remained relaxed throughout the performance. Some even watched through the cracks of the seats. The dogs loved the show almost as much as their handlers.”
I’m so glad someone thought to take a picture of this field trip!