The Rucksack


As I learn more about the use of scent-trained dogs in detecting disease, I’ve been tucking away the most helpful articles and links for future reference. This is a virtual rucksack (backpack), if you will, that I’m toting on my journey. You might find it helpful too, so I’m sharing it.

You can use the links in the list below to jump quickly to a section of interest.

I can’t possibly maintain a comprehensive listing, so please share with me your tips for helpful resources.

News Links

Here you will find links to news articles that have informed my understanding of the science and application of scent-trained dogs to detect illness. Note that some articles are behind paywalls.

“Meet the police dogs sniffing out COVID-19 at Massachusetts schools”, Tori B. Powell, CBS News, 6 January 2022

The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts trained law enforcement K9 dogs on Covid detection. the dogs are used in 15 different schools and other public buildings to detect areas that have Covid odors, so that the buildings can be cleaned properly. They are not being used to screen for infections in students or staff. The Sheriff’s office worked with Florida International University (see section below) on this program.

“Is the Coronavirus in Your Backyard?” Emily Anthes and Sabrina Imbler, The New York Times, 7 February 2022

A deeper look into the spread of Coronavirus to deer populations, this article explores how deer populations might have become reservoirs of the virus and the potential impacts for all of us. Currently scientists can only speculate how up to 60% of a deer population can be infected, since although deer share land use with humans, close and sustained contact isn’t likely. Once a deer is infected, however, the opportunities for spreading through the deer population are rampant. No masks, no distancing, and they share saliva (think salt licks) and can easily ingest each other’s waste.

“Animals that infect humans are scary. It’s worse when we infect them back.” Sonia Shah, The New York Times, 19 January 2022

This article richly explains the concepts of spillover and spillback using as a starting point the Covid contagion on mink farms. Sonia Shah helpfully places these concepts within an historical context and discusses our limited means to break the cycle of disease cross-over. This article was the basis for the post “Inter-Species Travel“.

“‘A protective bubble’: Covid-sniffing dogs help scientists – and Metallica – spot infection”, Adrienne Matei, The Guardian, 12 January 2022

Had you at Metallica, right? This terrific article explains both the research and a recent application using detection dogs to enable backstage bubbles, ensuring performers and crew stay safe on the road.

“CDC’s One Health Office and Georgia Aquarium Work Together to Investigate Otters with SARS-CoV-2”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Updated 29 September 2021

This story explains a recent practical application of the One Health initiative’s efforts to address zoonotic infectious diseases more effectively. This post discusses the article.

Coronavirus : les chiens très efficaces pour détecter le Covid-19, selon une étude française”,France Bleu, 19 Mai 2021″

This article highlights a French research study on the effectiveness of using dogs to detect Covid-19. The article specifically argues for using this method as a supplement to the PCR gold standard of Covid testing, pre-screening those who are likely to be infected.

Finland first in Europe to use dogs to detect Covid-19″, United Nations, 1 December 2020

In a pioneering trial, six dogs working in Finland’s Helsinki-Vantaa airport were screening 100 people a day and over 2000 per month starting September 2020. Accuracy was reported to be “nearly 100% even 5 days before actual symptoms appear.” The article reports that dog scent screening was much cheaper (100,000 euros per month compared to the laboratory cost of 4 million euros) and of course much faster. Passengers embraced it. The dogs received meatball bonuses. Everyone’s a winner.


Since it’s easier to listen than read, podcasts are great for long-form exploration. Those listed here contain insights into animal cognitive abilities, not limited to disease detection. Here are several; I hope to add to the list. You can find these on your podcast platform of choice or start with these links.

Revisionist History, Season 6, Episode 10, “The Dog Will See You Now”

This was my gateway to creating 3rd Sense Health (I wrote about my response to the episode here). I had previously known about scent dogs being used for medical detection, but the way Malcolm Gladwell presented the research gripped me fast. It’s thoroughly enjoyable; I can’t recommend it (and all seasons of Revisionist History) highly enough.

Ideas, Aspen Ideas Festival: The Genius of Various Animals”

The podcast “Ideas” is a production of the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC), featuring Nahlah Ayed. This episode explores animal cognition; chances are you’ll learn something new. I did.

The Science Pawdcast!, Season 3, Episode 41, Smoke and Ozone, Pet Preparedness, and Blair Braverman on Mushing

This is a really fun and wholesome podcast hosted by Jason Zackowski of the Bunsen Berner: The Science Dog website. Jason is a science teacher and self-styled ‘dogdad’ to Bunsen (a Berner) and Beaker (a Golden), who seeks to make science fun and accessible to all. In this episode, he interviews Blair Braverman. Her descriptions of her dogs’ problem-solving skills are fascinating.

Scent Training DIY

One fun way to participate is to scent-train with your own dog. Even if your dog (like my dear Ellie) isn’t a candidate for medical detection, it’s likely she or he will find the game of scent detection irresistible. You can find all kinds of videos online to help you with this. These are a few videos to get you started. Get your clicker ready!

Hannah Malloy, Pawfect Dog Sense
Training Positive
Cold Nose College

Dog Stuff

Dog training, nutrition, and just anything about these phenomenal animals that helps us understand them and our relationships with them.

“It’s never too late to train your dog. These 6 tips can help you get started”, Samantha Balaban and Janet W. Lee, NPR, 25 January 2022

You can listen to this NPR piece and/or read it. Samantha Balaban starts with the problem she faced with her dog, Winnie, barking at the front door. This was on topic for us, since we’re working with Ellie to redirect her emotional response when people come to the front door (or a delivery truck stops in front of our house). Balaban’s tips address any kind of behavioral training, and she helpfully provides a list of resources for helping you take action.

“Dog Nutrition: An In-depth Dive into Dog Nutritional Requirements”, Krystn Janisse, Homes Alive Pets, 27 February 2021

I found this blog post to be exceptionally informative on dog nutrition. It doesn’t promote one kind of food over another; it’s just informative. If you live with a dog, you can make an informed decision on what the dog eats for optimal health and a long life.

Personal note: Once we switched Ellie’s diet from kibble to fresh food prepared at home, we could see just how much difference it makes to the dog’s health and well-being (mentally and physically) to have a well balanced diet. OK, so that sounds pretty obvious, since we know this to be true of our own bodies. I also know that most humans crave variety in diets, and had often wondered why dogs didn’t. Silly me. Anyway, there’s no one food that meets every dog’s needs, so it’s good to be informed when you make choices for yours.

“A New Origin Story for Dogs”, Ed Yong, The Atlantic, 2 June 2016

Research has helped us understand that not only have we domesticated dogs, but they domesticated us. It’s always a treat to read Ed Yong’s work (his book I Contain Multitudes was life-changing for us), and this article is no exception. More than a survey of the evolutionary research, the article creates a story about the research, with Yong’s impeccable style easing the way to understand a complex subject. It’s a long read, but well worth your time.

Scientific Research

Research on canine detection for cancers and infectious diseases isn’t new, and yet it’s a rapidly growing field of study. I’ve found Google Scholar to be enormously helpful. Since scientific research is necessarily redundant, I’m reading for novel studies and linking what I found useful here.

Using trained dogs and organic semi-conducting sensors to identify asymptomatic and mild SARS-CoV-2 infections”, Claire Guest, Sarah Y Dewhirst et al

This paper is discussed in my post here. I especially appreciated the rigor that this study applied and its review of other relevant studies. The conclusions compellingly imagine a means of deploying dogs to detect the Covid infection odor.

“Evaluation of canine detection of Covid19 infected individuals under controlled settings”, Anne-Lise Chaber, Susan Hazel, Brett Matthews, Alexander Withers, Guillaume Alvergnat, Dominique Grandjean, Charles Caraguel, 9 May 2021

This study employed 15 dogs in two centres in Australia to sniff sweat samples from multiple locations to detect Covid. Interestingly, the study used a mix of dogs who were experienced, previously experienced in explosives detection, and inexperienced dogs, all of whom were trained to detect Covid for the study. The findings may surprise you.

Florida International University

Florida International University has extensive experience in dog detection research. Dr. Kenneth G. Furton, FIU provost, executive Vice President and chemistry professor, began researching canine detection in 1993. Visit FIU’s website to learn more. See below for an article and video from the website.

“FIU research makes possible the training of canines to find explosives, sniff out fungus and detect COVID”, Michelle Chernicoff, 7 December 2021

FIU detection dogs in action

Canine olfactory detection and its relevance to medical detection”, Paula Jendrny, Friederike Twele, Sebastian Meller, Albertus Dominicus Marcellinus Erasmus Osterhaus, Esther Schalke and Holger Andreas Volk, BMS Infectious Diseases, 2021

The authors explain the biology of the canine olfactory sense and how this makes medical detection possible. The illustrations are especially helpful in understanding this phenomenal ability of dogs.

“COVID-19 detection by dogs: from physiology to field application—a review article”, Rania Sakr, Cedra Ghsoub, Celine Rbeiz, Vanessa Lattouf, Rachelle Riachy, Chadia Haddad, Marouan Zoghbi, BMJ Journals

This article places dog detection of Covid-19 within the context of balancing economic activity (opening schools, transportation etc) and public health during a pandemic. The paper is informative and easy to read for a lay person.

“Highly sensitive scent-detection of COVID-19 patients in vivo by trained dogs”, Omar Vesga, Maria Agudelo, Andrés F. Valencia-Jaramillo, Alejandro Mira-Montoya, Felipe Ossa-Ospina, Esteban Ocampo, Karl Čiuoderis, Laura Pérez, Andrés Cardona, Yudy Aguilar, Yuli Agudelo, Juan P. Hernández-Ortiz,Jorge E. Osorio, 2021

This is a fascinating paper discussing the effectiveness of dogs sniffing people directly for the presence of Covid-19 (in vivo). Much other research has been based on sniffing samples (breath, sweat, etc) that are shipped to the research facility for screening. This study concluded with trials in the Metro System of Medellin, which transports 1.5 million passengers daily. Read the paper to find out how this turned out, and consider how this makes you think about the application of dog sensing to screen for Covid.

Dog Detection for Health

Organizations around the world work to train dogs for medical detection and deploy them to help save lives. Most of the ones listed below are non-profits; please support their good work if you can.

This impressive Canadian organization has used scent-trained dogs for early detection of cancer since 2011. They work with fire departments internationally to screen their firefighters, who are at higher risk of cancer due to the hazardous work they do. You can volunteer to help them by providing breath samples for training (whether you have cancer or not). Visit the site to learn more.

Medical Detection Dogs

Based in the UK, this organization performs research into canine bio-detection of cancers and other diseases, and also trains dogs to assist people with health issues. Their website is very rich in educational materials and fun info. Even if you’re not in the UK you’ll find much to interest you.

In Situ Foundation, Dogs Detect Cancer

Pioneers in training dogs to detect cancers, the California-based In Situ Foundation performs research, clinical trials, and dog training for detection.

University of Adelaide, Covid-19 Detector Dog Program

This program is leading Australian research and trials using scent-trained dogs to identify Covid-19 for disease prevention. Visit the site to learn more and how to participate in research.

Bio-Detection K9

Specializing in Covid-19 detection for seven years, this is the company providing services (trained dogs and handlers) for live events (NASCAR, Miami Heat, Metallica are some examples). The site has a page called ‘Ask the Scientist’ that has some FAQS, plus a form to submit a question.

Health & Standards Organizations

Many organizations are working to improve health through every means possible. This abbreviated list contains those that I have turned to most often in my research.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

You may have this site bookmarked already to stay aware of Covid advisories. The site has so much more to offer as an educational resource. Check it out.

One Health – CDC

This site explains the fundamentals of the One Health initiative (discussed here). An initiative so broad in its scope can be difficult to wrap your head around; the CDC helps you do that.

National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP)

NCORP enables people living in under-served communities to participate in clinical trials for preventing, controlling, and treating cancer. The NCORP network serves 32 communities and 14 under-served communities. This program has created a contained and diverse healthcare environment that could be a terrific starting point to demonstrate the benefits of low-cost, reliable screening. I advocate for the use of detection dogs to provide that screening here.

National Institute of Standards & Technology’s (NIST) Dogs & Sensors Subcommittee

To scale the use of detection dogs we must have one set of standards. NIST is working to create standards. Visit their site to learn more about this important initiative.