If you’ve ever owned a dog, you know firsthand how beneficial their company can be when you’re feeling down. They are so calming and comforting that they are known for their ability at reducing blood pressure in humans. The expression “man’s best friend” didn’t get coined for nothing.
Now, a study, undertaken at the Shizuoka Children’s Hospital in Japan, investigating the use of facility dogs as one of the best ways to help children in hospital settings has come to the same conclusion.
Dogs & Kids
“The dog’s ability to be a ‘friend’ to the children is a great strength,” Dr. Natsuko Murata-Kobayashi of the non-profit children’s care organization Shine On! Kids, Japan told BBC Science Focus. “It is easy to say that the loving and empathetic nature of a dog makes them good at this work, which is absolutely true, but there is a great deal of training and experience behind the scenes that ultimately determines the power and success of their work.”
Hospital dogs are trained animals, working full-time in hospital settings with a number of duties. They include visiting young patients at their bedside, escorting children to surgery, and cuddling with distressed kids to help them fall asleep.
Hospital Facility Dogs
Led by Murata-Kobayashi, alongside scientists at Japan’s Kansai University, the study — published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, surveyed 431 full-time medical staff at Shizuoka. The results found that 73 percent of staff reported the dogs as helping improve patient co-operation during procedures and examinations. More than half of the respondents had worked directly with the dogs.
The study also showed that the same number of staff (73 percent) believed that the dogs improved palliative care by comforting children with terminal illnesses.
The majority of the respondents also credited the animals for improving staff workloads. Hospital canines help bridge the gap between staff and patients, and children were more expressive and communicative after their canine cuddling visits.
Ultimately, the study authors concluded that this type of dog service is effective in supporting patients in children’s hospitals. While further research is still needed to understand and improve specific duties the doggos can deliver, the gist is that dogs are an invaluable resource for working with children.
Depending on where they reside, hospital facility dogs undergo professional career training for between one-and-a-half to two years and are often cared for by medical staff. They’ve been using them in Japan since 2010.
“Not just any dog is suited to this kind of deeply meaningful work,” Murata-Kobayashi explained.
To date, the breeds employed at the Shizuoka Children’s Hospital are golden retrievers, Labs, or a mixture of the two. According to Murata-Kobayashi, these breeds “love to please their handlers and patients” and everyone loves the work they do.
“Furthermore, their handlers are also carefully selected, trained, and matched with each dog to ensure an optimal working team,” they added.
The authors state that “through accumulating evidence from research, we aim to contribute to the broader adoption of facility dogs in children’s hospitals, both domestically and internationally.”