Sniffer dogs can smell coronavirus with 92% accuracy - here’s how they are trained

By Alex Nelson
Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 11:41 am
Updated Wednesday, 15th July 2020, 11:41 am
'Freya' correctly detects a sample from a row of sample pots at the 'Medical Detection Dogs' charity headquarters in Milton Keynes (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
'Freya' correctly detects a sample from a row of sample pots at the 'Medical Detection Dogs' charity headquarters in Milton Keynes (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Police sniffer dogs have been found to be able to correctly identify coronavirus with nearly perfect accuracy.

That's according to the UAE Ministry of Interior, which said dogs were successful in identifying the virus in 92 per cent of cases during a recent trial.

The tests - undertaken safely at field hospitals to protect the dogs and their trainers - were aimed at enhancing precautionary measures during the pandemic.

Samples were taken from the armpits of suspected Covid-19 sufferers. These were then sniffed out by the dogs, without the need for them to come into contact with the people from which the samples were taken.

In theory, the accuracy of the dogs means coronavirus 'tests' could be carried out on the spot.

"Trained detection dogs are known for their extraordinary capabilities and skills that outdo other dogs, especially their strong sense of smell," the ministry said.

Have there been other studies?

This isn't the first time such a trial involving sniffer dogs has been proposed.

Closer to home, Durham University was involved in similar trials in May, in the hopes that special "Covid dogs" would be able to detect symptoms of coronavirus before they appear. The dogs (already used to sniff out diseases such as cancer, malaria and Parkinson's disease) were given intensive training to spot Covid-19 before symptoms materialised.

Professor Steve Lindsay, from the Department of Biosciences at Durham University, said, “If we can show that our trained dogs can identify people carrying the virus, but who are not sick, it will be a game changer.

"We will then be able to scale-up the use of dogs at ports of entry to identify travellers entering the country with the virus. This will be important to prevent a second wave of the epidemic.”

How are the dogs being trained?

Research has previously shown that dogs can detect the odour of disease at the equivalent dilution of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools of water.

Earlier in July, the charity Medical Detection Dogs in Milton Keynes began training six dogs to sniff out the disease. Claire Guest, the charity's co-founder and chief executive, said the dogs were already showing signs that they would be able to sniff out the virus.

"The study is moving forwards very well and the signs are all really positive," commented Dr Guest.

Norman, Digby, Storm, Star, Jasper, and Asher are being trained to smell the virus on sterilised socks, stockings and face masks worn by NHS staff in London.