COVID ‘Detector Dogs’ to be trained to sniff for inflammation on travellers to Canada

COVID ‘Detector Dogs’ to be trained to sniff for inflammation on travellers to Canada

Health Canada is looking for potential bidders to provide training aids for COVID-sniffing dogs. There's just one catch: Health Canada admits that SARS-CoV-2 doesn't have a unique smell, so detector dogs must be trained to nose for inflammation.

With a total budget of $225,000, Heath Canada may reward up to three contracts valued at $75,000 each in the search for potential bidders who can come up with a “safe training aid” which may be “used in a pilot program to train detector dogs [DDs]... to assist in screening of incoming travellers for COVID-19 testing.”

Recent studies show that dogs may be able to detect COVID through armpit sweat.

Dogs Will Train To Sniff COVID-related Inflammation, Not COVID Itself

According to the Request for Information posted on the Government of Canada's procurement website, COVID-19 does not have a signature scent per se so detector dogs must be trained to detect the signature scent of the inflammation that is "directly or indirectly" associated with the disease. 

In the case of SARS-CoV-2, it is assumed that the virus itself will not be the training aid as there is no current evidence to suggest that the virus will have a unique volatile organic compound (VOC) signature. Therefore, the expected focus will be the VOC signature directly or indirectly related to the host inflammatory response induced by SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Objective One: Identify Signature Scent of COVID-related Inflammation

At this time, it is unclear if the “inflammatory response induced by SARS-CoV-2 infection” has a unique scent.

So, prospective bidders are first tasked with identifying if, and what, COVID inflammation smells like:

Objective 1: Identification of a signature VOC induced by SARS-CoV-2 infection that would be able to be detected by DDs to assist in screening for COVID-19. The signature VOC should be developed to maximize the chances of detecting incoming passengers with SARS-CoV-2 infection. The findings related to the VOC signature will be provided to Health Canada to inform the pilot COVID-19 DD training program.

Objective Two: Develop Training Aid Safe For Dogs, Handlers

A second objective for potential bidders is to provide a synthetic training aid based on findings from the first objective:

Objective 2: The development of a pilot training aid to inform detector dog training for COVID19; accounting for the safety of both the DD, the handler, and those involved in the training process. This training aid will be provided to Health Canada to inform the pilot COVID-19 DD training program.

Training Aids Due By Spring

Since “The total time anticipated to provide the training package that will meet both objectives is four (4) months after contract award,” and since submissions are due by November 23, 2020, it can be assumed that the earlier date for training to begin with the successful sniffer dog aids will be in March 2021.

COVID sniffing dogs have already been deployed in voluntary pilot programs at Helsinki Airport.