Training Covid-19 Detection Dogs in France

By Susan Tasaki, June 2020, Updated June 2021

Around the world, scientists are working at warp speed to develop ways to identify and treat Covid-19. In the month since we published an article about dogs being trained to detect Covid-19 in humans, more countries are getting into the act.

Along with the UK and U.S. projects, the Nosaïs canine medical detection team at the Alfort School of Veterinary Medicine near Paris has trained eight Belgian Malnois to identify the novel coronavirus in the sweat of infected individuals. The dogs’ success rate is near perfect, averaging 95 percent on all samples; two of the dogs were correct 100 percent of the time.

In this proof-of-concept study, which was conducted at three different sites using identical protocols, the dogs were provided with samples of subjects’ axillary (armpit) sweat. Sweat from this region was used because recent studies indicate that it seems to be most efficient at conveying volatile organic compounds at body temperature. Additionally, the virus does not appear to transmit via sweat. Over a 21-day period, the dogs—all of whom are experienced in explosive and colon-cancer detection—were put through a total of 368 trials.

As noted in the preliminary report, “Detection dogs as a help in the detection of COVID-19 Can the dog alert on COVID-19 positive persons by sniffing axillary sweat samples?” posted on June 5, the researchers concluded that “there is a very high evidence that the armpit sweat odor of Covid-19+ persons is different, and that dogs can detect a person infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Vive les chiens/chiennes!

Susan Tasaki, a freelance editor and writer, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her Husky, who wishes they both got out more.

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