A photo taken last week of a group of service dogs sitting in a Canadian theatre went viral over social media networks recently, and a dog trainer has explained the behavioural science behind the seemingly bizarre event.
In the photos, a group of poodles and golden retrievers are seen calmly watching “Billy Elliot” the musical, sitting in front-row seats.
London, Ontario, at the Stratford Festival: service dogs in training took in a performance of "Billy Elliot" & charmed audience & staff. The pups are being trained to sit quietly in a theater.— John Allon (@JohnAllon) August 18, 2019
Comment by perceptive friend of mine: the ultimate test would be watching a dog movie. pic.twitter.com/1IWruh9UvM
According to Laura Mackenzie, owner of the K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs firm, this part of the training involves exposure to various stimuli, including light, sound and tight quarters. The dogs must be able to withstand it all and still be able to perform their guide duties without succumbing to the highly stressful environment.
"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", Stratford Festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager said in an interview. "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".