December 23, 2019

Japan’s First Hospital Facility Dog Training Program

Shine On! Kids (SOK), a Japanese government-certified NPO, is launching a puppy training program for Hospital Facility Dogs (HFD) created in compliance with international Assistance Dog training and program standards.


Our HFD candidates, Ty (left), a male Golden Retriever born 2/23/2019, and Masa, a male Labrador Retriever born 3/7/2019

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

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. 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 SOK’s rigorous training program.

Annie (right), our HFD at work in Kanagawa Children’s Medical Center.

The SOK HFD Program was launched in collaboration with Assistance Dogs of Hawaii, an internationally recognized leader in HFD placements. The first HFD was placed at Shizuoka Children’s Hospital (SCH) in 2010, followed by Kanagawa Children’s Medical Center in 2012 and Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Medical Center in August 2019. The teams have completed more than 50,000 patient visits to date, including accompanying patients who are going into surgery or undergoing invasive procedures, such as bone marrow operations. 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 Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Medical Center, thoroughly sanitizes the child’s hands before and after the interactive session with HFD Ivy.

After 10 years of safe practice, the number of inquiries for the HFD program is rapidly increasing. Also, Yogi, SOK’s second HFD, is now eight years old and nearing his retirement after years of service at Shizuoka Children’s Hospital. To find Yogi’s successor and to address the increasing demand for HFDs, SOK is facing a new challenge—how to sustainably supply the HFDs going forward.

Yogi at Shizuoka Children’s Hospital turned eight 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.

Bailey (right), Japan’s first HFD, with the director of ADH and puppy raisers
who 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.

Shine On! Kids’ Dr. Natsuko Murata, who has a PhD in animal behavior, and Marina Rodriguez, an Assistance Dog trainer, welcome puppies at Haneda Airport in Japan.

Marina Rodriguez: Dedicated Assistance Dog trainer, occupational therapist. Ms. Rodriguez has trained Assistance Dogs at internationally accredited organizations—ADH in the United States and Bocalan in Argentina. Out of 52 dogs she trained so far, 10 are working as HFDs in the United States and Japan.

Catherine Dorr: Assistance Dog instructor and trainer, doctor of occupational therapy, MS in global medicine, occupational therapist licensed / registered. Dr. Dorr is a senior occupational therapist at a top rehabilitation hospital in the United States with more than 13 years of experience as a certified Assistance Dog instructor and trainer. She has trained and placed numerous service dogs and HFDs, and launched and overseen HFD programs at both civilian and military hospitals across the United States.

SOK’s two HFD candidates came from Career Dogs Australia (CDA). The puppies’ temperament and health are evaluated from an early age, and the younger ones 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 that specializes in breeding dogs for Assistance and Service Dog work. CDA is also credited for its skill in assessing each puppy’s potential.

The positive reinforcement training process takes 18-24 months  and is divided into four stages, during which 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, and restaurants, 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 HFD by evaluating their progress throughout the training on the three aforementioned criteria and via a field observation.

Annie (center) initially trained with Dr. Catherine Dorr (right), Assistance Dog training supervisor, when she arrived at Kanagawa Children’s Medical Center.

3. Announcing Our New Advisory Board

SOK created a new advisory board with the launch of its HFD training project. SOK 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)

The first board meeting: (from front left) Dr. Yuko Takayanagi, Dr. Sayaka Kuze-Arata, Dr. Ryohei Nishimura, Dr. Mariko Yamamoto, (from back left) Kimberly Forsythe (SOK president), Yayoi Suzuki (interpreter), Marina Rodriguez (dedicated Assistance Dog trainer), Miho Neely (general manager)

Sayaka Kuze-Arata, DVM, PhD is a lecturer at 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, DVM, PhD is a professor at 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 the Central Environment Council of the Ministry of the Environment.

Tomoko Takayanagi, MD, PhD is a visiting professor at Aichi Medical University and executive director at Japan Service Dog Association

Dr. Takayanagi contributed to the compilation of the 2002 law concerning Assistance Dogs for persons with physical disabilities as a member of the Japanese Health and Labor Sciences Research group.

Mariko Yamamoto, PhD is a lecturer at Teikyo University of Science, Department of Animal Sciences

Dr. Yamamoto has extensive knowledge of working dogs in the United States and Japan through her post-doctoral research at UC Davis.

The HFDs: (from left) Ivy (Tokyo Metropolitan Children’s Medical Center), Yogi (Shizuoka Children’s Hospital), Masa (trainee), Bailey (formerly at Shizuoka Children’s Hospital and Kanagawa Children’s Medical Center, retired in 2018), Ty (trainee), Annie (Kanagawa Children’s Medical Center)


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