Prefer an adorable dog licking your face over an invasive swab up the nose? That’s a research-driven option now in testing for the coronavirus.
Trained dogs have shown signs of being more effective at detecting COVID-19 than the nasal swab PCR tests, a new study discovered.
The peer-reviewed study, published Wednesday in the journal, Plos One, determined that adequately trained canines are so equipped to detect COVID-19 that PCR tests come in second place behind them. That’s largely as a result of dogs’ ability to sense COVID-19 in symptomatic and asymptomatic people.
The study found that specially trained canines had an accuracy rate of detecting 97% of symptomatic cases and then an impressive 100% of asymptomatic cases in a sample of 335 adults. Some of the research even revealed that dogs could pick up asymptomatic cases 48 hours before someone tests positive via PCR test.
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“The dog doesn’t lie,” study author Dominique Grandjean, a professor at the Alfort National Veterinary School in France told Science News.
Researchers said the canines were so successful because they’re able to identify COVID-19 from sweat samples as a byproduct of their natural smelling abilities.
How are the dogs trained? In the study, dogs from French fire stations and from the Ministry of the Interior of the United Arab Emirates were recruited. Then they were trained in coronavirus detection by rewarding them with toys – most often tennis balls. The training can take from three to six weeks.
The dogs sniffed samples of human sweat in an olfaction cone. If a canine detected COVID-19, the animal sat down in front of the cone.
Cynthia Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania who is not affiliated with the study, said using dogs to detect COVID-19 on a larger scale could be challenging.
“The study is a strong study but they’re all based on samples so the question becomes, ‘can we translate this to be an efficient operation?’ Can it be similar to TSA dogs at airports? It’s complicated and we still have a lot to learn. But it’s absolutely an achievable goal.
A similar 2021 study in Florida found that trained dogs had a 73% to 93% accuracy rate at detecting COVID-19. And a UK study this past May found that trained dogs could detect with an 82% to 94% accuracy rate.