We were confident that dogs could be trained to detect COVID–19. Medical Detection Dogs has always adopted a rigorous scientific approach to its work and the results of its work have been published in a number of peer reviewed research papers. These results have further supported our shared belief that diseases have their own unique odour that dogs have the ability to detect.
How will our dogs be able to help?
COVID–19 detection dogs would be able to passively screen any individual, including those who are asymptomatic, and indicate to our dog handlers whether they have detected COVID–19. This will then need to be confirmed by a PCR test. The dogs would be fast, effective and non-invasive.
We intend to scale up and deploy COVID-19 detection dogs in public places such as airports, stadia and workplaces. This would help prevent onward transmission of the virus amongst large groups.
How many dogs did you train?
Six bio-detection dogs were trained and tested through a randomised double-blind trial.
How did you train them?
Dogs searching for COVID-19 were trained in the same way as those dogs the charity has already trained to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections – by sniffing odour samples in a training room and indicating when they have identified a positive sample.
Is it safe for the dogs?
We keep in constant contact with scientists and veterinarians to confirm the latest understandings, however it is currently believed that this is completely safe for dogs to perform this duty. Scientists have found that although COVID-19 is a novel virus that originated from animals and was passed on to humans, dogs cannot contract the disease. The dogs were trained on non-infectious samples and did not need to make contact with the samples directly.
Will dogs spread the virus?
No, our dogs were trained on a dead virus and, once deployed, will have no contact with the individuals they are screening. Instead, they will sniff the air around the individual. The dogs are only be permitted to be touched by the handler, and there is only a very low risk of spread of the virus from the dog to their handler.
How did you get samples to train the dogs?
The dogs were trained on samples obtained though the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.