Service Dogs at the Symphony
Han Solo and Anakin went to the symphony.
Bet you never thought you would hear that! These two young lab mixes are both in training to be mobility dogs through Service Dogs, Inc. They’ve traveled similar paths to get to where they are—both came from shelters and started their training through our partnership with the Texas Juvenile Justice System’s PAWS program. Once they had their basics down, they came to our training center to polish things up and start working on advanced skills and outings with our training staff.
Outings are a vital part of a service dog’s training, but the symphony is not a usual choice for us—for one thing, they usually happen in the evening, and most of our outings take place during the day. The loud sound of the instruments can also be very challenging for sound sensitive dogs.
Solo and Anakin are both naïve dogs who are still learning about the world, and we chose them for this particular event because they are very willing to trust their trainers, work through new situations, and adjust quickly. They had gone to one rehearsal to make sure they would be okay with loud noises like the bass drums, but it was very different than the real thing, which was in a big auditorium where they were confronted with the new floor texture of the stage at the same time as bright lights and an audience of people staring at them. All in addition to the big distraction of the upbeat march being played by the symphony.
The Starlight Symphony Orchestra invited us to participate because they were playing a piece called the “Service Dog March,” and they wanted our dogs to show off on stage while they played the song. After settling in a hallway near the stage for the first couple of pieces, it was showtime. Solo walked right out, looked in surprise in the audience, and then checked back in with me (his current trainer) and worked right through this new situation like a champ, occasionally sneaking glances at the orchestra or the audience while we worked on heeling, pivoting, hand touches, chin rests, sits, downs and stands. Anakin had a similar reaction, and they both adjusted with lightning speed to a potentially difficult and highly distracting environment that they had never been exposed to before.
After the performance, we went to the front of the stage to allow the audience to say hello and ask questions. Our dogs are trained to do greetings with people since they often try to say hello in public, so this was a great opportunity for us to practice that skill. However, they were used to saying hello to one approaching person at a time, so being surrounded by a group of interested people was another challenge that they both worked through beautifully, keeping their attention on their trainers as they were petted and adored by the crowd.
Our staff and dogs really enjoyed the performance, and it was a great training opportunity for these two lovely dogs. It gave us a chance to see just how resilient and focused they could be in the face of new environments and distractions, and they rose to the occasion in a way that made us very proud. Solo and Anakin loved experiencing the music and getting so much attention, and we hope to have an opportunity to work with this wonderful orchestra again in the future.
By Sarah Bond, Trainer- Service Dogs, Inc.