Sniffing out COVID: How these 2 pups were trained to detect the virus in people


SAN DIEGO – Dogs have been trained to smell explosives, drugs and even to notify their handlers of possible seizures.

But two dogs, Robin and Grommit, are training to sniff out COVID-19, veterinarian Patricia Ungar said.

“These dogs are meant to be public health protectors,” Ungar said. “COVID is the first job.”

Ungar launched Scent Solutions Canine Public Health Protectors to help detect COVID-19 in areas where detection is important. Robin and Grommit have been trained to smell for COVID, using scent samples from people who have tested positive.

According to Ungar, when people contract a disease, they emit a certain odor. COVID-19 has a particular smell, which the dogs now are able to detect.

 “These dogs are coming out with a screening test about 96-98% accurate – really good,” she said. “It’s better than a lot of tests in the market.”

With permission from visitors, the dogs sniffed out several people Thursday in a training exercise held at the San Diego Ice Arena in Mira Mesa. When the dogs detected COVID, they notified the handler by sitting or laying down.

Free PCR tests also were provided for those flagged by the dogs.

“You couldn’t smell it, but they can,” Ungar said, “We have had them sniffing people who have COVID and they show that they know what it smells like. It’s amazing to watch.”

Ungar says she got the inspiration to start the program in San Diego after seeing other countries and cities in the U.S use dogs to detect the virus. She said she wants to stop the spread of COVID in populated areas by identifying the virus in places such as nursing homes.

“Their sense of smell is phenomenal,” she said. “10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours. … Our goal here is these dogs now are sniffing for COVID but they can be repurposed down the road to do other things. They can be used for other public health issues.”

Another training exercise with the dogs is scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday at the arena.

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