The only thing better than a dog is a service dog. Service dogs embody all the qualities we love most about our pets: They are loyal, caring and wholly devoted to their owners.
So when a photo of service dogs watching “Billy Elliot: The Musical” hit the Internet, it wasn’t long before the adorable image went viral. The photo shows a group of service dogs sitting composedly in a movie theater with peaceful expressions on their furry little faces:
ICYMI: We had some pawsitivly adorable audience members from K-9 Country Inn Service Dogs during last weeks Relaxed Performance of #sfBillyElliot. Our Next Relaxed Performance is #sfNeverending on October 2nd. https://t.co/xaBwx65W8J pic.twitter.com/otyNjm5pUS
— Stratford Festival (@stratfest) August 15, 2019
And, the story behind the image is even cuter. The dogs are part of K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, a Canadian canine facility that offers service dog training for pets and their owners.
As part of their training, these dogs need to be exposed to a variety of sensory experiences so they can adapt and manage these situations while still staying focused on their tasks. So for these pups, going to the Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario, to watch “Billy Elliot” was a training day.
“It’s important to prepare the dogs for any activity the handler may like to attend,” Laura MacKenzie, the owner of K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, told CBC Radio. “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.”
K-9 posted another photo of the dogs watching “Billy Elliot” on Instagram, and it looks like they’re doing a good job!
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We are so happy that everyone loves the photo of our service dog teams at the @stratfest’s Billy Elliot – The Musical! All of these dogs have a very important job to do. Outings like this truly benefit their training and prepare them for many activities and distractions they will face when working with their handlers. – Thank you for all the support! â¤ï¸ – Photo description: A group of dogs of all breeds sit along the seats of a theatre.
The dogs trained at the theater during one of its Relaxed Performances. According to the Stratford Festival, these performances “are specifically designed to welcome patrons who will benefit from a less restricted audience environment. 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.”
For the trainers, it’s helpful that public spaces offer opportunities like this, because training a service dog is serious business. It can take two years or more for a dog to be fully trained in its particular service capacity.
However, it’s not all hard work and no play for them, as this Instagram post from K-9 shows:
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Meet Sawyer – He’s in training to be a Court House Therapy Dog! He’s already stolen the hearts of those around him, he’s such a charmer! – Sawyer is working on doggy-yoga aka trust exercises. We create trust through play and touch exercises, for example playing with their feet, laying them on their back, being picked up while being in a relaxed state. This also helps avoid body sensitivity. A dog needs to have as much trust in their handler as their handler has in them. They’re a TEAM!
A study led by Human Animal Bond Research Institute and Bayer Animal Health found that returning veterans who were given service dogs experienced fewer PTSD symptoms as a result, including improved sleep and better mood. Other research has also shown that service dogs are very beneficial for patients with dementia and children with autism and other developmental differences.
Good luck to the K-9 dogs and their handlers!