Skip to main content

Military Health System

Facility Dogs Play a Vital Role in Recovery for Patients Across the MHS

Image of Luke is a German Shephard facility dog. Luke, a German Shepherd facility dog at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, stays with wounded warrior Heath T. Calhoun at the Military Advanced Treatment Center facility while Calhoun undergoes rehab therapy. Luke is officially a Navy Hospital Corpsman Third Class.

Recommended Content:

Our History | Health Readiness & Combat Support

The Defense Department's first facility dog program began back in 2005, when then-Army Sgt. Harvey Naranjo saw the positive impact that man's best friend can have on troubled soldiers.

Naranjo was working with injured Special Forces warfighters in a therapeutic horse riding program. He was struck by how the wounded warriors interacted with the stable dogs.

"These tough guys, who have gone through traumatic injuries, amputations, and had been shot – all of a sudden I see them rolling around on the floor, baby talking to the dogs, and I saw them put their guard down," Naranjo recalled.

He could see a "true personality emerge from the very reserved service members for the first time."

"I thought of how much more I could do for them if I had a dog," said Naranjo, who now runs the adaptive sports program for the Occupational Therapy Department at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

At the time, Naranjo mentioned this observation to a hospital volunteer, who soon sent him a chocolate Lab named Deuce.

"And before I knew it, there was a dog in the clinic," Naranjo said.

Since then, the facility dog program at Walter Reed has grown and the concept has spread to other military medical treatment facilities.

Facility dogs can help patients with stress, depression, and anxiety. They provide distraction, unconditional love, and comfort, helping patients to recover or better cope with health problems. And they help to decompress staffs and patient families.

There are currently seven facility dogs at Walter Reed. All are highly trained by outside organizations and include Golden Retrievers, Labradors and one German Shepherd.

They are typically very busy.

Handlers say that for every hour the dogs work, they have a positive impact on 12 patients and their families. On average, these dogs work over 200 hours per month, collectively, and have contact with 2,500 people.

Before COVID-19, five to seven inpatients specifically requested a facility dog (therapy support dog) visit every day. Currently, the dogs are supporting staff, patients, and families in outpatient settings. (Handlers ensure the individual dogs' workdays are limited and that each canine gets plenty of rest.)

The dogs often fill an important role in the care of injured or ill service members or other patients who may have a long path of recovery, Naranjo said. "Our service members are missing their homes, and they're missing their families and their pets. This is like an extension of their pets," Naranjo said.

Walter Reed's Facility Dog Program

Today, the Facility Dog Program at WRNMMC includes Sully, a yellow Lab who was former President George H.W. Bush's service dog.

Each dog has his or her own rank, service, and uniform and is inducted in an enlistment or commissioning ceremony.

Each dog initially undergoes traditional service dog training with an accredited outside organization, which prepares them to be paired with a disabled service member or veteran to provide assistance with tasks and companionship. After that, the dogs at WRNMMC undergo additional training to become a "facility dog" who works in a clinical setting like a hospital.

Amy O'Connor and Patty Barry oversee the facility dog program at Walter Reed, and Naranjo is the program service dog patient Education & Referral liaison.

"I've had the privilege to be part of this program for over 15 years and have a wonderful group of handlers that are primarily active duty service members who do the handling of the dogs as a collateral duty. This program is truly nobody's job; we all give a little bit of ourselves to make it work," O'Connor said

"We try to switch them up in their daily duties," said Navy Hospital Corpsman Skylor Cervantes, the lead handler. "Different dogs can go to different areas, and different people can meet the different dogs, have different interactions with them because they all have their own unique personalities. Some of the dogs do work in specific locations, but they also get to visit other locations."

For example, children who have cancer tend to be at the medical center for a long time. "These dogs become part of their treatment plan, they become part of their family," O'Connor noted.

One area the dogs visit every day is the Military Advanced Treatment Center, where wounded warriors rehabilitate, O'Connor explained. Truman, a chocolate Lab with the rank of Army master sergeant, is the resident MATC dog, Naranjo said.

Additionally, the dogs work as part of community reintegration, Naranjo said, adding that some service members may develop anxiety about traveling after losing a limb.

"Having the dog with them plays a huge role in deflecting some of the stares that they may get from people or just their anxiety in general from accessing community again in a new body," Naranjo explained.

How Are Therapy Dogs Trained?

All the WRNMMC dogs are "purpose-bred and -trained to be service dogs for our wounded warriors. And in that process, they are trained for 18 to 24 months," O'Connor said.

"We don't stop learning and working to get better," O'Connor said. Each Walter Reed therapy dog handler goes through a training program, the Personnel Qualification Standard, to ensure confidence, consistency, and solid handling skills. It generally takes about six weeks of training with two to three hours a week of practice, she said.

At the end of the day, all facility dogs go home with their owner-handler, so it's a full-time commitment.

Program Growth

WRNMMC's therapy dogs program has been such a success that other military hospitals and clinics are following suit. These include

  • Naval Medical Center San Diego's LC and Cork, a golden Lab and black Lab, respectively
  • Brooke Army Medical Center-Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. It is getting a facility dog named Budd. A yellow Lab, Budd will be commissioned on June 6 as an Army major.
  • Madigan Army Medical Center has a new facility dog named Earl. The black Lab just started his mission with the Peer Support Program on May 16
  • The California Air National Guard's 144th Fighter Wing also has a facility therapy dog named Paige.

In the end, "facility dogs must be suited for the complex environment of a hospital with multiple interactions," O'Connor said.

"Facility dogs can interact with 100 people a day, and that's not suitable for all dogs. Some of these dogs wouldn't be happy with one wounded warrior. They seek the multiple interactions and have the energy for that."

You also may be interested in...

Training Marines as Combat Life Savers

Article Around MHS
10/7/2022
Military medical personnel practice lifesaving procedures

U.S. Navy Corpsman from Expeditionary Operations Training Group (EOTG), I Marine Expeditionary Force, hosted the second iteration of Marines training on life saving fundamentals and casualty care.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

Dedicated Korean War Navy Medic Worked “Feverishly” to Save Lives

Article
9/22/2022
Profile photo of a sailor

U.S. Navy Hospitalman Francis Hammond was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor for selflessly saving lives and risking his own during the Korean War.

Recommended Content:

Our History

Mental Health Office Helps AUAB Members Maintain Readiness

Article Around MHS
8/30/2022
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Melissa Leonardo smiles for photo

Comprehensive Airman Fitness is comprised of physical, social, spiritual and mental fitness. Being physically fit to fight and maintaining a war fighter spirit are crucial to completing the mission.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Spiritual Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Depression | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Anxiety | Stress | Mental Health: Seeking Care with TRICARE | Mental Health is Health Care

Bulgarian Armed Forces Demonstrate Combat Medical Advancements

Article
8/22/2022
Two medics tend to a dummy in a simulated emergency.

Bulgarian Armed Forces showed off their combat lifesaving training to a U.S. delegation Aug. 10.

Recommended Content:

Education & Training | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Global Health Engagement

From a Small Twig Comes 75 Years of Medical Readiness

Article Around MHS
8/15/2022
Military personnel celebrating MSC milestone

For 75 years, the Navy Medical Service Corps has long been regarded as the most diverse corps, comprised of health care administrators, clinicians, and scientists.

Recommended Content:

Our History

Corpsman Care during Atlantic Ocean ops on MSC ship

Article Around MHS
8/4/2022
Military medical personnel performing emergency surgery

There’s a reason why U.S. Navy independent duty corpsmen are found assigned on isolated platforms from the wide expanse of the Indo-Pacific Theater to the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Global Health Engagement

Wellness Fair Showcases Ample Resources at Naval Hospital Bremerton

Article Around MHS
8/2/2022
Military personnel demonstrating a grip therapy

Naval Hospital Bremerton hosted a holistic Wellness Fair in late July 2022.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Total Body Preventive Health - Dental, Medical & Mental | Nutritional Fitness | Health Readiness Support

Soldiers Not Immune to Damage of Sun's Rays

Article Around MHS
7/28/2022
Soldiers not immune to damage of sun’s rays

Some soldiers have a greater risk for developing skin cancer than others. For July’s UV Safety Awareness month, soldiers should be aware of their risks and how to reduce their chances of skin cancer.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Summer Safety

Mind-Body Mental Fitness

Article Around MHS
7/27/2022
Mountain view

The lifestyle of active duty service members and their families comes with unique stressors that can often be compounded by living overseas. What most people don’t realize is that stress is a normal part of life. The feelings of stress are just indicators that something in our life needs attention, and even presents a possibility for positive change and growth.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Physical Fitness | Psychological Fitness | Stress | Mental Health is Health Care

Teddy Roosevelt, Navy Medicine, and the Birth of Physical Readiness

Article Around MHS
7/25/2022
Military personnel in exercise drill on deck of Navy ship

Today’s U.S. Navy espouses a “culture of fitness,” and “physical readiness,” but this was not always the case. In the early 1900s, many including the president himself, Theodore Roosevelt, were appalled by the lack of physical conditioning in the Navy.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Physical Fitness

Family Care Plan Sustains Unit Readiness

Article Around MHS
7/20/2022
Military personnel hugs family member

A Family Care Plan (FCP) is a method by which the Army ensures a Soldier’s Family is taken care of when the Soldier is absent due to military requirements.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support

DHA Program Supports Training Education of Future Medical Providers

Article
7/20/2022
Military personnel looking at display

The Clinical Investigations Program combines research and training to teach and develop the future clinicians of the Military Health System.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Health Care Technology | Health Readiness & Combat Support

Power Plate: Eat to Fuel Your Performance

Article Around MHS
7/19/2022
Infographic for Power Plate

Food is our secret weapon. When planned and executed well food can supply everything our bodies need to thrive, whether we’re running a marathon or taking a rest day.

Recommended Content:

Performance Nutrition: Fuel Your Body and Mind | Health Readiness & Combat Support | Nutritional Fitness

The Need for Speed Requires Intense Training

Article
7/18/2022
 Military personnel conducts routine ops in US 3rd Fleet

Tom Cruise has nothing on real military pilots and their training.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Education & Training | Physical Fitness

Medical Airmen Crew Ambulance, Keep Mission Ready

Article Around MHS
7/18/2022
Military personnel inspect an ambulance

Airmen with the 75th Medical Group here are staying mission ready by crewing Hill AFB’s ambulance service alongside firefighters from the 775th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Fire and Emergency Services Flight.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness & Combat Support | Emergency Preparedness and Response
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 40
Refine your search
Last Updated: May 27, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery