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Durham University

Durham University News


Volunteers needed for Covid-19 detection dog trial

(6 August 2020)

Our researchers who are investigating whether specially trained dogs can sniff out Covid-19 in humans are asking people in England for help with the trial.

The trial will determine whether dogs could be used as a new rapid, non-invasive diagnostic tool for the virus.

Before the dogs can be put through their paces, the research team need samples for these super sniffers to carry out their work, and that’s where members of the public can help out.


We are aiming to recruit thousands of people in England, who have mild Covid-19 symptoms and are due to have a swab test, or have had a swab test conducted in the previous 24 hours.

The volunteers will provide samples of breath and body odour by wearing a mask for three hours, and nylon socks and a t-shirt for twelve hours.

Around 325 positive and 675 negative samples need to be collected in order to confidently ascertain if these dogs can accurately detect the disease.

Dog training

The project is a collaboration between the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Medical Detection Dogs and Durham University. The first phase of the trial is funded by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Once the samples have been collected, they are taken to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine for analysis to identify compounds in odour that signify when someone is infected with Covid-19.

The samples are then sent to the Medical Detection Dogs’ training centre in Milton Keynes where six dogs will undergo training to identify the virus from the samples.

Samples from volunteer NHS staff and members of their households, who are due to be tested for Covid-19, are also being collected.

Should the trial be successful, these dogs could be deployed to airports in the UK within six months to assist with the rapid screening on people travelling from abroad – with the potential of screening of up to 250 people per hour.

How to take part

If you are interested in volunteering, have mild Covid-19 symptoms and are due to take a swab test for the virus (or have in the last 24 hours), please call the research team on 0207 927 2777 when you will be checked for eligibility, or send an email to If accepted to participate in this trial, you will be sent a sample collection pack.

Find out more

Picture credit: Medical Detection Dogs/Neil Pollock