We’ve all had the misfortune of suffering through some inconsiderate audience members while enjoying ourselves at a theater. There’s that one person that has to spoil main plot twists or the ever-annoying social media addict that’s glued to their phones with screens blasting on a 100% brightness. But have you ever met a dog in the audience?

The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada recently hosted a very special kind of audience, a group of adorable service dogs. On August 15,  the Stratford Festival shared a gallery of photos on their Twitter account with the caption, “We had some pawsitivly adorable audience members from K-9 Country Inn Service Dogs during last week’s Relaxed Performance of #sfBillyElliot”.

More info: k-9countryinnservicedogs.com | stratfordfestival.ca | Facebook

These dogs are not here to marvel at the musical performance of “Billy Elliot”, they’re here for training

Image credits: stratfest

Image credits: k9countryinnservicedogs

The team of canines were from K-9 Country Inn Service Dogs, a Service Dog Training Program that specializes “in programs for first responders, front line workers, and victims of trauma with PTSD”. The service dogs probably enjoyed the music and pretty sights, but they were actually on a mission. They were brought to the Relaxed Performance of “Billy Elliot the Musical” to learn proper theater behavior which involved a lot of sitting, quietly.

Image credits: stratfest

Bored Panda has reached out and interviewed the woman behind K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, Laura MacKenzie who revealed she’s been training dogs for over 35 years. ” I made the move to training service dogs years ago because I wanted to give back to society and found a great need within the service dog industry,” she revealed. MacKenzie previously trained police dogs, personal protection dogs, herding dogs, etc.

Image credits: k9countryinnservicedogs

The performance that the pups were observing was also special and as the theater calls it, relaxed. Their site describes the relaxed performances like this:
“Relaxed 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. Babes in arms are also welcome to our relaxed performances. ”

Image credits: stratfest

“The theatre allows us to work the dogs through various stimuli such as lights, movement, loud noises and crowds,” MacKenzie explained their collaboration with the Stratford Festival theatre. According to the dog trainer, a service dog must know how to act in such an environment and “be able to ignore the presence of other audience members and the environment while paying attention to their handler’s needs”. They basically need to learn to work harmoniously with their surroundings, no matter how unusual or chaotic they might be.

Image credits: stratfest

Image credits: k9countryinnservicedogs

“All the dogs behaved wonderfully at the Stratford Festival” MacKenzie added. She also revealed that most of the dogs were simply taking a nap by their owners’ feet. “Throughout the performance, some of the dogs would peek through the cracks of the seats to watch the show!” the handler recalled.

Image credits: k9countryinnservicedogs

After the photos of the dogs were posted on social media, people flocked to comment on how nice the entire ordeal was. “The positive reaction has been both shocking and amazing! We did not expect the reaction to be as big as it has been!” MacKenzie exclaimed. The dog handler also hopes that the post reaching so many people over the internet “will be a good opportunity to educate the public about service dogs and accommodating people with disabilities”.

Image credits: k9countryinnservicedogs

Here’s how people (and Mark Hamill!) reacted to the images shared on social media

Image credits: HamillHimself

Image credits: thejewel4

Image credits: GEgoville

Image credits: christinatraven

Image credits: StagekissPDX