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Japan’s First Hospital Facility Dog Training Program

2019/12/23 16:58 Facility Dog
Shine On! Kids, a Japanese government certified NPO, is launching a puppy training program for Hospital Facility Dogs created in compliance with international Assistance Dog training and program standards.

Over the past 10 years, Shine On! Kids (SOK) has introduced its pioneering Hospital Facility Dog (HFD) Program to three hospitals in Japan. As its latest endeavor, SOK has launched a pilot training program for future Hospital Facility Dogs in FY 2019 in Tokyo. To date, no organization in Japan has raised and trained young puppies specifically to be Hospital Facility Dogs.

Our HFD candidates, Ty (L: Golden Retriever, Male, born 2/23/2019) and Masa (R: Labrador Retriever, Male, born 3/7/2019)

1. About the Shine On! Hospital Facility Dog Program

Shine On! Kids’ HFD Program pairs a “Facility Dog”, who is specially trained to work at a hospital, with a “Clinician Handler”, a medical professional who has also acquired the knowledge and skills for handling the Facility Dog. Together they work in tandem as part of the medical team, every weekday at a single hospital. They take part in medical procedures and support the healing process of pediatric inpatients. Some unique aspects of this program are that all of SOK’s handlers are government-certified nurses and have years of clinical experience. Also, each handler works with their dog full-time at a single hospital after completing Shine On! Kids’ rigorous training program.

Annie, our HFD at work at Kanagawa Children’s Medical Center


The Shine On! HFD Program was launched in collaboration with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii, an internationally recognized leader in Hospital Facility Dog placements. The first HFD was placed at Shizuoka Children’s Hospital (SCH) in 2010, followed by Kanagawa Children’s Medical Center (KCMC) in 2012 and Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Medical Center (TMCMC) in August 2019. The teams have completed over 50,000 patient visits to date, including accompanying patients who are going into surgery or undergoing invasive procedures, such as bone marrow aspirations. Thanks to SOK’s rigorous infection control policies and procedures developed to ensure safe and effective patient outcomes, no cases of infection or allergy-related conditions have occurred.

Mayuko Ohashi, the Handler at TMCMC, thoroughly sanitizes the child’s hands before and after the interactive session with Ivy, the Hospital Facility Dog


After 10 years of safe practice, the number of inquiries for the HFD program is rapidly increasing. Also, Yogi, SOK’s second Hospital Facility Dog, is now 8 years old and nearing his retirement after years of service at SCH. In order to find Yogi’s successor and to address the increasing demand for Hospital Facility Dogs, Shine On! Kids is facing a new challenge – how to sustainably supply the HFDs going forward.

Yogi at SCH just turned 8 in June 2019


When SOK launched its HFD Program, there was no organization in Japan that had experience in raising and training HFDs that complied with international standards. Therefore, SOK partnered with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii (ADH) and acquired trained HFDs, mentorship, as well as oversight for the handler training program. However, as ADH is a US-based charity, it must prioritize providing dogs and services to its local community in Hawaii. Therefore, ADH is not a sustainable solution for the future supply of Shine On! Kids’ HFDs.

Japan’s first HFD Bailey (R). The director of ADH and puppy raisers visited Japan for Bailey’s retirement ceremony in 2018

2. About the Facility Dog Training Project

Shine On! Kids is operating its HFD training program in accordance with the international standards and ethics set by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) – a global organizing body of Assistance Dog organizations. The future HFDs will be trained by a professional in the field of Assistance Dogs and mentored by a senior Assistance Dog Instructor and trainer who are both highly skilled and experienced in training HFDs with organizations accredited by ADI.

Marina Rodriguez Dedicated Assistance Dog Trainer, Occupational Therapist. Ms. Rodriguez has trained Assistance Dogs at internationally accredited organizations – ADH in the US and Bocalan in Argentina. Out of 52 dogs she trained so far, 10 dogs are currently working as HFDs in the US and Japan.

Catherine Dorr Assistance Dog Instructor and Trainer, OTD, MSGM, OTR/L. Dr. Dorr is a senior Occupational Therapist at a top Rehabilitation Hospital in the US with over 13 years of experience as a certified Assistance Dog Instructor and Trainer. She has trained and placed numerous Service and HFDs, and launched and overseen HFD programs at both civilian and military hospitals across the US.

Shine On! Kids’ two HFD candidates came from Career Dogs Australia (CDA). The puppies’ temperament and health are evaluated from an early age, and the young puppies are carefully selected for indications of talent and competency necessary to become HFDs. Because of the crucial importance of this task, SOK chose CDA, a globally recognized organization, which specializes in breeding dogs for Assistance and Service Dog work. CDA is also credited for its skill in assessing each puppy’s potential.

SOK’s Dr. Natsuko Murata (Ph.D. in Animal Behavior) and Marina Rodriguez, dedicated Assistance Dog Trainer, upon puppies’ arrival to Haneda Airport, Japan


The positive reinforcement training process takes between 1.5 – 2 years and is divided into four stages. During this time, the dogs will learn up to 100 commands. Simultaneously, the puppies undergo a socialization process following a curriculum including field trips to places such as shopping malls, hospitals, schools, restaurants, etc., and exposure to people of different ages as well as to a variety of physical stimuli. At the end of each stage, the dogs are evaluated based on three criteria: temperament, skills and obedience, and reaction to various stimuli. Finally, the Assistance Dog Trainer and Supervisor will conduct a final assessment to determine their suitability for working as Hospital Facility Dogs by evaluating their progress throughout the training on the three aforementioned criteria and via a field observation.

With Dr. Catherine Dorr, Assistance Dog Training Supervisor upon Annie’s initial training at KCMC

3. Announcing Our New Advisory Board

SOK created a new advisory board with the launch of its Hospital Facility Dog Training project. Shine On! Kids welcomed four specialists in the field to oversee the training process, to help ensure that the future HFDs can work safely at medical facilities and most importantly, to nurture healthy dogs both mentally and physically.

(in alphabetical order)
Sayaka Kuze-Arata, D.V.M., Ph.D. /Lecturer, Azabu University, School of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology Laboratory of Companion Animal Research
Dr. Kuze-Arata is secretary of the Japanese Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and is involved in the mental care of cats and dogs as a certified veterinary behaviorist in Japan.

Ryohei Nishimura, D.V.M., Ph.D. / Professor, The University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences Laboratory of Veterinary Surgery
Dr. Nishimura assisted in revising the Act on Welfare and Management of Animals as a member of Central Environment Council of Ministry of the Environment.

Tomoko Takayanagi, M.D., Ph.D./ Visiting Professor, Aichi Medical University; Executive Director, Japan Service Dog Association
Dr. Takayanagi contributed in the compilation of the 2002 Law concerning Assistance Dogs for Persons with Physical Disabilities as a member of Japanese Health and Labor Sciences Research group.

Mariko Yamamoto, Ph.D. / Lecturer, Teikyo University of Science, Department of Animal Sciences
Dr. Yamamoto has an extensive knowledge in working dogs in both the US and Japan through her post-doctoral research at UC Davis.

The first board meeting.(front L-R) Dr. Yuko Takayanagi, Dr. Sayaka Kuze-Arata, Dr. Ryohei Nishimura, Dr. Mariko Yamamoto, (back L-R) Kimberly Forsythe (president), Yayoi Suzuki (interpreter), Marina Rodriguez (dedicated Assistance Dog trainer), Miho Neely (General Manager)

◆Contact
e-mail:fd_sok@sokids.org
phone:03-6202-7262 (Mon.-Fri. 10:00-17:00)

(L-R) Ivy (TMCMC), Yogi (SCH), Masa (trainee), Bailey (formerly at SCH and KCMC, retired in 2018), Ty (trainee), Annie (KCMC)