Is There A “Dog-tor” In The House?

Therapy dogs demonstrate medical procedures to kids
By Karen B. London PhD, October 2019, Updated June 2021

Therapy dogs at Southampton Children’s Hospital in the UK are using their canine charms to ease the fear and anxiety many kids have about undergoing medical procedures. These eight Golden Retrievers are therapy dogs who visit the hospital weekly to bring cheer to the kids there. In addition to visiting for some loving and some cuddling, they show the kids what to expect during their treatments.

By demonstrating being the subject of everything from echocardiograms to X-rays, these dogs help kids cope with the many challenges of being diagnosed and treated for serious illnesses. Often, when the dogs do what the kids will need to do for a specific procedure, the children change from wide-eyed fear and trepidation to amusement and even laughter. The dogs don’t actually undergo the procedures, but they go through X-ray machines or lie on their back to expose their belly for examinations.

The first dog at this hospital to make medical experiences less scary was simply asked to poke his nose in a surgical mask to help a particular child be more willing to wear one. Following that success, the dogs were asked to model the behavior required of kids in a variety of medical situations. The dogs have been photographed and videotaped so that if a dog is not on hand to demonstrate something, kids can still see a dog doing it before they have to.

These “dog-tors” are really making a difference by improving the experiences of kids who deserve every break they can get. Bless their hearts.

photo courtesy of Southampton Children’s Hospital AAI team

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life