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Coronavirus: German military training sniffer dogs

July 8, 2020

Sniffer dogs can detect explosives and drugs, but can they also detect COVID-19? The German military and a veterinary university foundation are working with various breeds of sniffer dogs to find out.

German military sniffer dog
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini

German military sniffer dogs are being trained to detect coronavirus infections in human saliva as part of a joint study between the Bundeswehr, the country's armed forces, and the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, Foundation (TiHo). 

As part of the project, a group of 10 canines made up of sheep dogs, spaniels and retrievers are sniffing samples of infected people.

Read more: Dogs can sniff out COVID-19

Sniffer dogs can detect not only explosives or drugs by their molecular composition, but they can also smell various cancers and the hypoglycaemia of diabetics. This ability is what has motivated veterinary scientists to research the potential ability of sniffer dogs to detect the coronavirus at a German military K9 training center in the western German town of Ulmen.

"With a hit rate of approximately 80%, researchers in Ulmen are well on their way to successfully continuing the project," the dog training center was quoted by the German news agency DPA as saying.

The samples with which the sniffer dogs are being tested have been chemically rendered harmless. The question remains whether the canines can detect active coronavirus cases in human saliva.

"This must take place under very different conditions," TiHo doctoral student Paula Jendrny told DPA. "After all, we have to be sure that no one gets infected by the highly infectious samples."

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