Service Dogs Give Two Paws Up To Billy Elliot

Attending the show is a part of their training
By Karen B. London PhD, August 2019, Updated June 2021

The theater is for everyone, full stop. In order to make that ideal a reality for people with service dogs, the dogs must be trained to handle the specific challenges of attending a live performance. That’s why a group of dogs and their handlers from K-9 Country Inn Service Dogs went to see Billy Elliot The Musical.

The outing allowed the dogs to gain experience navigating the narrow spaces in a theater and staying in the same spot for long periods of time both before and after intermission. They also benefited from exposure to the loud noises, bright lights and all the movement associated with a live show.

The performance the dogs attended was a “relaxed performance”, which means that there is more tolerance than usual for movement within the theater or noises that audience members might make. Additionally, the lights and sounds of the performance may be toned down just a bit. Relaxed performances are perfect for young children, for those on the autism spectrum, for anyone who struggles to sit still and remain quiet for extended periods and for dogs—whether they are still in training or not.

This photo of the dogs in the theater at the Stratford Festival west of Toronto has gone viral, with people all over the world charmed by the sight of canine audience members peeking through the seats. Who joins me in dreaming of attending a musical performance where service dogs are present, thereby allowing the human members of their teams the opportunity to enjoy the show?

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life