COVID testing: Use a Labrador instead of a laboratory

Our four legged friends have great noses. And for years those noses have been put to good use sniffing out illegal goods, or even helping find missing people. But now, they’re being trained to detect COVID-19. And it turns out they’re pretty good at it.

Watch the COVID Sniffer Dog report by Amelia Moseley from Behind The News.


Let's talk about noses.

AMELIA, REPORTER: No, not my nose. His nose.

This is Quake, and he has an amazing schnozz. In fact, it's up to 100 times more sensitive than mine or yours.

DR ANNE-LISE CHABER, COVID DOG DETECTOR PROGRAM: So, dogs are very good because they've got much more cells in their nose to detect scent. You have to understand that we see the world with our eyes and the dogs see the world with their nose.

That's why dogs here at the Adelaide Uni Animal Sciences School are being trained to do a very important job, sniffing out COVID. See it turns out people with certain diseases produce a certain scent and luckily Rona is one of them, and these cuties are the first dogs in Australia learning to pick up on it.

DR ANNE-LISE CHABER: There are 27 countries now in the world that are training dogs to detect COVID and we are collaborating with all of them.

So how does a doggy COVID test work exactly? Let me demonstrate. First you need a nice, smelly sample.

DR ANNE-LISE CHABER: We just take the gauze and take them, and you just put them under your armpit, on bare skin. Just leave it there for two minutes.

AMELIA: So that will collect enough of my scent that the dogs will be able to do my COVID test?


AMELIA: Awesome.

ALEX, COVID DOG DETECTOR PROGRAM: So, what I'm going to get you to do. I'm going to get you to take your samples out and we'll put them into this specimen jar.

AMELIA: Nice sweaty armpit samples, that's not too bad.

ALEX, COVID DEOG DETECTOR PROGRAM: I can't smell anything. Okay Amelia, as I said your scent sample's now going to be put into our lineup. So, I'll just introduce it here into number 4.

Enter detector doggo, Bonnie. She knows to sit if she smells a positive test. Her reward for getting it right? Play time. And luckily it wasn't my sample.

ALEX, COVID DOG DETECTOR PROGRAM: So you're all good, you're in the clear.

AMELIA: Good to know.

Of course, there are no actual COVID samples here today or we wouldn't wanna be here. But the dogs have been fully trained with real samples from people with and without COVID, and researchers say they're around 97 percent accurate at sniffing it out, even if someone doesn't have symptoms yet.

DR ANNE-LISE CHABER: The dogs actually able to detect people, when they're in the incubation phase of the disease, that when you just caught the disease, you're not sick yet, and you are just at the beginning of producing the viruses.

AMELIA: So, Dr Anne-Lise, I guess it's better having a dog like Quake do the test for you rather than sticking a swab up your nose? Much more fun I think?


Researchers reckon dogs' noses won't replace the nose swab test, but they could help to screen big groups of people quickly like at airports or sports games or even in developing countries where people don't have access to labs for testing results.

DR ANNE-LISE CHABER: So, you can actually use a Labrador and not a laboratory.

Quake and the other doggos are now moving into the next phase of training. They're learning to detect the virus on people's bodies using volunteers, like me. But not every dog can do this job, or not every dog wants to.

DR ANNE-LISE CHABER: So, all dogs can do it. But some dogs don't really like to work. So, Labradors are really happy to work. And every day when they come to work, they are overjoyed.

And you know what they say, work hard, play hard.

DR ANNE-LISE CHABER: At night he comes back to my place. He's very playful, really likes to be with kids and a bit cheeky sometimes.

And if they keep up their good work who 'nose' how helpful these talented pooches can be.

Tagged in Research, Engagement and Industry, School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, Animal Science, COVID-19 detector dogs