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Covid-sniffing dogs ‘detect virus 94% of the time’

German scientists have released the results of the most positive study yet on whether detection dogs are able to reliably sniff out Covid-19 infection

By IQ on 04 Feb 2021

In the UK, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is undertaking a similar study

image © MDD/BexArts/Nigel Harper

Coronavirus detection dogs of the type being deployed in sports and entertainment venues could detect the presence of Covid-19 in people with 94% accuracy, even if they are asymptomatic, a German study has found.

Filou, a three-year-old Belgian shepherd, and Joe Cocker, an ingeniously named cocker spaniel, were trained by researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover to sniff out an odour that emanates from the cells of people infected with the virus.

First used to detect infection in passengers in a trial at Dubai airport, sniffer dogs have also been deployed in airports in Helsinki and Santiago, Chile, as well as more recently by the Miami Heat basketball team in Florida.

Covid dogs sniff out virus in Helsinki

Holger Volk, head of the clinic which trained the dogs, said the pair could accurately detect Covid-19 94% of the time in more than 1,000 samples.

“So dogs can really sniff out people with infections and without infections, as well as asymptomatic and symptomatic Covid patients,” says Volk, reports Deutsche Welle.

Stephan Weil, premier of the state of Lower Saxony, welcomed the results of the study and said the next step should be test events in the real world. “We now need tests in selected events,” says Weil.

“Dogs can really sniff out … asymptomatic and symptomatic Covid patients”

Miami Heat’s executive vice-president for business strategy, Matthew Jafarian, says the team, based at the 21,000-capacity AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, ran a smaller trial with the dogs before making the decision to welcome fans back to the arena.

“We looked at traditional diagnostic tests, like rapid antigen and PCR tests. And we thought through operationally how we could administer that to hundreds and thousands of people coming into the building,” he says.

Heat fans who are not comfortable being screened by dogs have the option to take a more traditional testing option, which could take up to 45 minutes, Jafarian adds.

In the UK, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is undertaking a similar study to investigate whether dogs can be trained reliably detect the “unique odours” associated with Covid-19 infection.


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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