Nose work dog

Using Dogs to Sniff Out COVID-19

In Animal Health, Dog Behavior, Dog Jobs, dog training, Dogs, Pandemic, pet care professional, Pet Industry, Pet Rescues, Service Animals, Uncategorized by Cara Armour

I absolutely love canine scent work detection sports. I recently got into it with two of my Boxers and started to enter competitions. I have worked diligently to train my dogs to learn what they are searching for, in my case, it’s three different types of plant oils. My dogs can go into a room and source multiple hides with multiple oils. They figure out scent cones, air flow etc. all to pinpoint where exactly the smell they are trained to find is placed.

The trainability and raw ability to pinpoint the exact source of a smell that dogs have is turning out to help save lives from the current coronavirus pandemic. We can train them not to just locate where a plant odor is, but the odor of a disease.

Dogs Can Sniff Out Lots of Things

Dogs have been sniffing out diseased plants, drugs, cadavers, and cancer for years, I wrote about some ways dog’s olfactory sense has been used to protect us in this post. With a nose 10,000 times better than ours, dogs have been put to work and loving it. Sniffing out coronavirus, or possibly the infection that is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus has opened up more job opportunities for our canine counterparts.

Exactly What Are They Sniffing?

nose work dog

Devo, a multiple champion and grand champion dog showing off his skills in scent detection

There is still more research needed before canine coronavirus sniffers become commonplace but for now, they’re beating out antigen testing in both accuracy and speed. The University of Pennsylvania used eight dogs to train to sniff out the virus, they did this with odor imprinting, a process by which the dogs are exposed to the smell of known positive COVID-19 saliva or urine tests and trained to recognize it. They have to learn what the smell they are searching for smells like first, then they determine if it is present.

How exactly they determine its presence is still being studied. Some studies are showing they can do so from armpits, while others are exploring socks, all less invasive than a saliva or urine sample. Plus, if proving that the dogs can smell the virus without getting in your mouth or pants, this would imply that dogs could be present in places like airports, bus stations or events that draw crowds to help sniff out those carrying the virus. This could have a huge impact on finding asymptomatic carriers, thus helping us humans with the less-developed olfactory sense help prevent the spread of the virus any further. If we don’t know that we have it but a dog does, we can reduce our contact with others and further help stop the spread.

Your Friend on the Couch Could Save Lives

It’s fun to think that my dogs could learn to sniff out and with other canine companions, essentially snuff out this virus. With the vaccine roll-out underway, we finally seem to have some hope and a plan of attack. The vaccine will stop its spread and in the meantime, sniffing it out faster than a rapid test with better accuracy, can and certainly will help speed up the process of squashing this global pandemic.

I am not currently training my dogs to do this monumental job, they enjoy looking for clove, anise, or birch oils at the moment but if my nose work instructor mentioned a program for us to join in helping combat coronavirus, I would be super interested. For now, I applaud and will promote this work. It’s fun for the dogs, rewarding for the human handlers and a step in the right direction to finding and preventing further viral spread.

For more information about what is going on with dogs sniffing out coronavirus, check out this Time magazine article, In the meantime, while many dogs are stepping up to sniff out the global pandemic, we still owe it to these canine companions to keep them safe. Check and make certain you remember how to provide first aid or know when they need to go to the veterinarian by taking this online course,