Austrian army dogs join growing global pack of COVID-sniffers

Fantasy, a sniffer dog trained to detect the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), sits next to a trainer during a news conference in Vienna, Austria November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA Austria’s army has successfully trained two dogs to sniff out COVID-19, it said on Tuesday, adding to a mass of evidence that dogs can be deployed to identify carriers of the virus.

Trials across the world from Thailand to Britain have found dogs can use their powerful sense of smell to detect the coronavirus with a high degree of accuracy, suggesting they could be regularly deployed as an additional line of safety at large events and border entry points.

Airports in Finland began deploying dogs to screen arrivals for COVID-19 last year.

Austrian authorities have now fully trained two dogs, a Belgian Shepherd and a Rottweiler, to detect the scent of COVID-19 after sniffing more than 3,000 samples including from used face masks, with a success rate “far above 80%,” Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner said.

“We have long known that our service dogs can sniff out various materials… But what we have achieved here is something very special,” she told a news conference.

It takes a dog with previous sniffer experience for other materials around two weeks to be able to tell which samples have COVID-19, and a further three months to fully train it, the head of the army’s dog-training center, Colonel Otto Koppitsch, told the news conference.

Austria has no specific plans to deploy dogs trained to detect COVID-19, but will help train people in other countries how to teach dogs this skill, Tanner said.

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