Shepherd Center facility dogs sitting in the Secret Garden.

Facility Dog Program

Dog-assisted therapy can play an important part in the rehabilitation process for patients with spinal cord injury or acquired brain injury. Shepherd Center “employs” multiple therapy dogs who bring joy to patients and help with therapeutic exercises. These animals take part in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, recreational therapy, and psychology in a fun and unique way.

We have eight facility dogs working at Shepherd Center, which are made possible through donor support. They come to us fully trained from Canine Companions and are handled by highly trained Shepherd Center employees. Facility dogs work with a professional in a visitation, education, or healthcare setting and do not have community access unless they are with a patient and their handler.

A facility door greets a patient in the gym.

How Facility Dogs Participate in a Therapy Session

Our dogs know up to 40 commands that help facilitate independence for our patients. Facility dogs may help people with mobility impairments, balance deficits, or psychiatric disorders.  For users of manual or power wheelchairs, facility dogs can help with tasks such as retrieving items, opening things, switch use, transfer assistance, and barking for notification.

Below are some skills we can work on during a therapy session: 

  • Leash management from power chair, manual chair, walker, and ambulation with no device
  • Cognition/speech: verbalizing commands, memory puzzles
  • Strengthening/UE work: brushing/grooming, petting tasks
  • Core: edge of mat balance while playing fetch or tugging
  • Education on Service Dogs and what they can offer
  • Cuddles while stretching
  • Help with engagement in sessions for patients with behavior concerns or motivation difficulties
  • Distraction during painful/uncomfortable activities, such as stretching, casting, etc
  • Bathing the dogs if that's a goal for the patient at home
  • Fine motor activity: making a tug strap

Furry Friends with a Purpose

Facility dogs help motivate patients to reach their therapy goals through support and companionship. Learn more about our facility dog team and how they make a difference in our patients' lives. 

Facility dog helping patient push the push button switch for an automatic door.

Becoming Facility Dogs

Shepherd Center facility dogs graduate from Southeast - Canine Companions, a nationally accredited non-profit organization that partners trained service dogs with professionals in healthcare settings. Click the "Learn More" button to read about our facility dogs' journey to Shepherd Center. 

Facility dogs lying by the pool.

Meet Our Facility Dogs

Beta, Barboza, Colin, Derek, Errol, Lanza, Poet, and Tex make up the facility dog crew. Accompanied by their handlers, they bring comfort and smiles to everyone they meet. Click the "Learn More" button to read about our fantastic team of canines and handlers. 

Facility dog with his handler in a courtyard.

Request a Session or Visit with a Facility Dog

The Facility Dog Program promotes patient autonomy by facilitating the independence that Shepherd Center patients work toward. Talk to your therapy team today about making a referral on your behalf for a session or visit with a Shepherd Facility dog.