A new study published on 14 April in the journal PLOS ONE has shown that specially trained dogs are capable of detecting positive samples of COVID-19 with 96% accuracy, suggesting the potential of using dogs in large public gathering post-lockdown to actively screen for infection.
The study has demonstrated that even though dogs are, indeed, capable of discerning the virus, it takes careful and extensive training, which is further complicated by the intermingling of different odours in real-life situations.
Since the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine – where the researchers normally work – is currently on lockdown, the team partnered with Pat Nolan, a dog trainer working from a facility in Maryland.
The study enrolled eight Labrador Retrievers and a Belgian Malinois who were not involved in any medical-detection work in the past.
First, the dogs were trained to sniff out a synthetic substance known as the universal detection compound (UDC). Next, the researchers moved on to positive and negative COVID-19 samples that were collected from both adults and children, and deactivated in advance to protect the dogs from infection.
After three weeks of training, the dogs were able to pick up on positive samples with 96% accuracy on average, but were more susceptible to false negatives, which is likely due to the strictness with which the experimental set up categorised what “counts” as accurate.