Trained dogs can effectively sniff out COVID-19, group says

COVID-19 dog
Posted at 2:07 PM, May 24, 2021

A group in the United Kingdom says it has discovered more evidence that dogs are able to detect COVID-19 in humans.

According to Medical Detection Dogs, after between six and eight weeks of training, it was able to train several of its "bio-detection dogs" to pick up a distinct scent given off by people who had contracted COVID-19.

The group says that the best-performing dogs were "giving a sensitivity of up to 94.3% and specificity of up to 92%," meaning that they were reliably predicting when a person does or does not have the disease.

To train the dogs, the group had them sniff COVID-19 from samples donated to them by more than 3,750 people across the U.K. The samples included everything from socks, shirts and masks worn by people who had contracted the virus.

The dogs were presented with samples, and if they sniffed the virus, they were told to sit, nudge or stare at the sample. If the dogs didn't detect the virus, they were told to move on.

Every time a dog made a correct decision, they were rewarded with food or a toy.

Medical Detection Dogs says combined with rapid testing dogs may be a viable way for large gatherings to pick out those who may be infected with COVID-19.

"To correctly identify the odor over 94% of the time and know when there was no disease present in over 90% of cases is remarkable," said Claire Guest, Medical Detection Dogs' chief scientific officer said. "It proves the positive impact dogs, with their rapid turn-around time, could have for mass screening alongside a confirmatory PCR test as we continue to battle the pandemic. We believe that their noses could provide a strong line of defense against future pandemics."

Some organizations in the U.S. have already begun using dogs to detect the virus. The Miami Heat employed COVID-19-sniffing dogs when they opened their arena to fans earlier this year, and Doctors Hospital in Sarasota, Florida, is also using dogs to screen guests.