To bark or not to bark? That is the question — but not for one set of patrons, who wouldn't dream of it.
A series of photos went viral recently, showing these precious pups attending a performance of "Billy Elliot the Musical" at the Stratford Festival in Ontario.
The theater performance provides a training environment for service dogs to see how they handle all sorts of noises and distractions.
The service dogs are from K-9 Country Inn Service Dogs in Meaford, Ontario, Canada. This "relaxed" performance was probably just as charming and thrilling for the performers as it was for the canine audience.
"Everybody was so thrilled to see all these dogs at one time in the audience," Stratford Festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager told the CBC. "It's really exciting. And it's thrilling to be part of something that is going to serve theatregoers of the future."
The outing was part of the dogs' training process — to expose them to an environment with different stimuli like bright lights and loud noises.
Being at the theater during a show also allows the service dogs to work on other skills, like navigating their owner safely through crowds and along isles, all without getting distracted.
The Stratford Festival has been offering relaxed performances for several years, providing an opportunity for anyone or any pup a chance to catch their favorite musical.
"All of the dogs were fantastic and remained relaxed throughout the performance. Some even watched through the cracks of the seats," Laura Mackenzie, owner and head trainer with K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, told the CBC. "The dogs loved the show almost as much as their handlers."
The dogs from K-9 Country Inn Service Dogs get custom training suited to their new owners. They also specialize in helping first responders, veterans and civilians with PTSD.
Making cultural experiences more accessible
The Stratford Festival offers similar performances for people who need softer lighting and gentler sounds to enjoy the plays or musicals.
These shows are part of the festival's accessibility initiative, which also includes audio-described performances, ASL performances and open caption performances.
The festival runs for seven months with a dozen or more plays or musicals cycling in and out during that window.
Check out some more photos of the dogs attending the performance below!