COVID-19 Sniffing Dogs May Assist in Stopping the Spread


Alina Fairlie, News Editor

With the winter surge of COVID-19 cases in the US, many schools and events have invested in COVID-19 sniffing dogs to identify cases. Dogs are often used to detect contraband such as bombs in airports, or even certain types of cancer. This process is called bio detection, involving no tests or chemicals. When sick, the human body releases volatile organic compounds that have a unique scent for each illness. Canines are known to have a sense of smell that is at least 10,000 times greater than that of humans, making them perfect for the job.

These bio detection dogs are trained to detect COVID-19 and give signals when they recognize it, resulting in a reward. Some Massachusetts schools have brought dogs to detect COVID-19 in the air or on surfaces. The dogs are brought through the school and through classrooms, often empty. The police will then notify the school, or the parent of the child if the scent can be traced back to a specific person. If the scent is on a chair, the school’s QR code system is used to identify who was sitting there. Often, the student will take a test after the detection, and proceed to quarantine.

Many studies have been done in 2021 that showed about an 90% accuracy in trained dogs ability to sense the disease. This could mean that they are more effective than the rapid antigen tests given at home, but not as effective as PCR tests.

Bands such as Metallica and the Black Keys are using these dogs on recent tours, hiring a company called the Ohio-based Bio detection K-9. This company has trained their dogs to detect diseases prior to COVID-19, and began working with covid in 2020. It is predicted that they can screen up to 200 people in one hour, and about 12 dogs are working in the hired company. There has been some concern regarding how effective this will be in such a large setting, and if it will result in chaos, so for now the dogs will only be screening workers, people with backstage passes, and members of the band. Such a large event would require too many dogs, confuse the public, and overall cause too many complications. The main goal of bringing these dogs to shows is to make sure the band doesn’t shut down their tour unless it is 100% necessary.

The dogs have had to adapt to accurately detect the new Omicron variant, but it is still entirely possible. With the delta variant, the dogs could be brought up to people directly and sniff their hands, where lots of sweat glands are located. The president of the company, Jerry Johnson, says “Omicron more than any other variant has changed the biology of the infection.” Omicron is transferred primarily through the bronchial tube, meaning the dogs are instructed to inspect the variant on masks worn for at least 10 minutes, as opposed to skin.

While bio detection dogs are not being widely used, they could assist in stopping the spread in large, high-risk settings.