Czech border guards train dogs to detect coronavirus in humans

Photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

The Czech Customs Administration is currently training six dogs to assist in detecting people infected with Covid-19. After the training, which should be completed by the end of the year, the dogs could be used at Prague Airport as well in seniors’ homes around the country.

The training of Covid-19 sniffer dogs is taking place at a new hall at Kněževes near Prague, in close proximity to Prague airport.

The dogs, a mix of Alsatians and crossbreeds, are of different ages and sizes, but they have all completed their basic training, explains Petr Muller, the head of the dog breeding department at the Customs Administration:

“All of these dogs have already been trained to detect drugs, narcotics, tobacco, bank notes and fire arms.”

Photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

The hall in Kněževes is equipped with special containers with coronavirus samples. The purpose of the training is to teach the dogs to distinguish the smell of coronavirus molecules from other smells.

The hall is equipped with training equipment, including coronavirus samples, and special air ionizer, used for disinfecting the equipment. Unlike during regular training, the dog handlers are dressed in protective suits and glasses.

One of the people participating in the project is Lenka Dyntarová, who works at the Václav Havel Airport with her two-year-old dog Kessy, who has been trained to sniff out illegal wildlife.

“I give her a new substance and I give her a reward if she recognizes it. I gradually teach her to lie down next to the sample containing the new substance. When I am sure she is able to recognize it, I give her a false sample and I want her to ignore it.”

Photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml

If everything goes according to plan, the dogs could be deployed at Prague Airport in January. The Czech Customs Administration plans to train another two Covid-19 sniffer dogs in spring.

Another independent team training dogs to sniff coronavirus has been established in the Czech Republic in April by cynologist Gustav Hotový from the organization Search and Rescue, who has been training rescue dogs.

By late October, they proved the ability of dogs to detect coronavirus using both positive and negative samples provided by Prague’s Bulovka hospital. The team has already trained two dogs using this method.

In the future, the testing could be undertaken by having people swipe themselves with a piece of tissue at home and place the textile in a sterile container, after which the object would be smelt by a dog.

According to Mr Hotový, the whole testing process could be done in a space of hours and up to 20,000 samples could be tested within one day.

Attempts to use sniffer dogs as a screening method for Covid-19 have also been launched elsewhere in the world. Finland has already deployed Covid-19 sniffer dogs at its main international airport in Helsinki. According to the Finnish scientists, the dogs can identify the virus with nearly 100 percent accuracy.