BY PAMELA FAYERMAN

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinarian Medicine made headlines in May when it announced a training program using labrador retriever dogs to sniff out COVID-19. U Penn is a highly respected leader in dog service training.

It was a small pilot research study involving only eight dogs. But the results are caught up in the peer-review process since researchers want to have their findings published in a journal.

Martin Hackett, communications director of the U. Penn school of veterinary medicine, told me this week that the manuscript outlining the findings from the first phase of the study are going through journal review.

“We may have additional updates to share at a later time,” he added.

While positive results from U. Penn could have propelled the U.S. to being first in the world to use dogs to reduce COVID-19 contagion, Finland and the United Arab Emirates are believed to be the first nations to deploy working dogs for such purposes.

In the Helsinki airport trial, 10 specially-trained sniffer dogs are deployed to screen passengers. The dogs have been trained by Wise Nose, which claims the dogs can detect the coronavirus with an almost perfect record.

In July, German military researchers published a pilot study on dogs trained to detect COVID-19 with 94% accuracy.

“We think that this works because the metabolic processes in the body of a diseased patient are completely changed,” said Maren von Koeckritz-Blickwede, a professor at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, in a video posted to YouTube.

The British are also involved in such work. Medical Detection Dogs has received government funding for COVID-19 scent detection. But Finland and UAE are believed to be the first nations to put working dogs in the field.

“We are among the pioneers. As far as we know no other airport has attempted to use canine scent detection on such a large scale against COVID-19,” Finnish airport operator Finavia said in a statement.

“Dogs need to rest from time to time,” said Susanna Paavilainen of WiseNose which trained the dogs and is running the trial. “While two dogs are working, the other two are on a break. The service is mainly intended for passengers arriving from outside the country.”

Dogs have tested positive for COVID-19 in various places around the world but it does not appear to affect their health or to pose risks to other animals and humans.

The Helsinki pilot program will run for four months. Other countries exploring the same approach include Saudi ArabiaFrance, Chile, Australia and Brazil.

Read my previous article here to learn what B.C.’s leading dog trainer/handler Teresa Zurberg has to say about the challenges of using dogs to detect COVID-19 scent signatures. And watch a video of dogs at the airport in Dubai sniffing out the coronavirus.