Study: COVID-19 Sniffing Dogs Screen Schools for Infections

Study: COVID-19 Sniffing Dogs Screen Schools for Infections

In an effort to lessen the burden of testing for COVID-19 infections, a group of researchers utilized scent-trained dogs to sniff out COVID-19 infections in K-12 schools in California. The result of the pilot program, which was sponsored by the California Department of Public Health, was recently published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics and covered by CNN.


Dr. Carol Glaser, a California Department of Public Health medical officer and the assistant deputy director in Central Laboratory Services, headed the team that conducted the study. Two yellow Labradors named Rizzo and Scarlet were trained to smell for the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are associated with COVID-19 infections. After their training, the canines conducted more 3,500 screenings. Of these, the dogs ruled out 3,411 cases and alerted their handlers to 85 infections, resulting in an overall accuracy rate of 90 percent. 


The goal of the study was to make rapid, non-invasive, and low-cost screenings for COVID-19 infections more accessible. This is particularly important in schools where antigen tests can only be conducted while following a long process. The COVID-19 sniffing dogs can quickly help rule out potential infections and prompt only those with a positive result to get antigen tests for further confirmation. 


After the pilot program in schools, Glaser’s research team aims to bring the testing program to nursing homes and other public facilities. 


Training Dogs to Perform Specific Tasks


It often takes a lot of time and energy to train dogs to successfully carry out specific tasks. In the case of working dogs Rizzo and Scarlett, they received treats every time they were able to correctly determine if an item presented to them was worn by a person with COVID-19.


You can motivate your own dogs to learn new tricks through positive reinforcement, such as by giving them their favorite wholesale dog toys or other custom dog items. If you’re consistent and patient in your approach, your dog will definitely be able to pick up a few useful tricks from you.


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