A Dog’s Nose Knows: The Coronavirus Super Sniffers

Sit.. stay.. down.. roll over.. fetch Coronavirus!

What does a worldwide pandemic smell like exactly? Teams of excited wet-nosed snoop dogs are on the case! Finland were the first to put their dogs to work at Helsinski airport testing arriving passengers while Dominique Grandjean at France’s National Veterinary School of Alfort, is leading one of many other research groups utilising the powerful secrets of the snout! The French team has been training detector dogs to sniff out humans infected with the novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) since March 2020. Other countries like Germany, Australia, U.A.E., Lebanon, Argentina, Britain and Brazil are now following suit and fetching similar promising results.

UAE Police Dogs Detect Covid-19 at Dubai Airport.
Video credit: https://www.thenationalnews.com/lifestyle/travel/watch-uae-police-dogs-detect-covid-19-at-dubai-airport-1.1057176#12

“It’s that olfactory prowess that could make dogs a useful ally in our battle against a virus that’s killed over 1 million people worldwide.”


Two coronavirus sniffer dogs, Valo (L) and ET, await orders at Helsinki airport. Photograph credit to: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images

This eager schnozzle is sure one brilliant work of art. Humans are visually-centered so it is mindblowing to imagine that the olfactory ‘smell processing centre’ of a canine brain is a whopping 40 times bigger than ours (proportionally), with up to 300 million scent receptors (with so many variables it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact figure). Compared to a human’s mere 5-6 million, it is no wonder that dogs live their life through their nose, enjoying and forming their worldly perception via smells. Sniff first, question later!

Good, bad, and completely revolting…  As any lucky (and often embarrassed) dog lover knows, they love to poke their ‘nosiness’, snort, and sniff just about everywhere! The nose knows. You cannot fool a dog’s sense of smell. Not even invisible things such as skin cells or fear and anxiety from adrenaline can hide undetected from a dog’s incredible sniffing skills. Smelling our sadness is no doubt one of their greatest benefits in knowing just when to comfort us.

“Dogs’ smell is so strong they can detect tiny traces of disease odour the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar diluted in two Olympic-sized swimming pools”


Going for walkies?! We might as well be strolling through parallel universes. While we watch the world go by or listen to tunes, our dog is busy catching up on the hottest (stinkiest) neighbourhood goss… writing a lil’ bit of his own along the way!

To add to their nasal delight, hoomans are an amazingly stinky smorgasbord to their intrigued furred friends… who just can’t get enough of it! From a ‘dog-nose-view’, each human has their own distinctive ‘scent fingerprint’. And sweat from disease, like covid-contaminated body odour comes with its own unique ‘odorprint’. With sweat posing no risk for COVID-19 infection, an upside is it comes with a much lower risk for processing (also eliminating the need for that infamously uncomfortable nose swab!)

Testing this way is as quick and easy as a few tail wags taking around one minute per test including dabbing skin, placing in a separate area with other controlled scents and tests (negative and positive), and the all-important sniff test… No sweat! It’s a fun game for these doggy detectives who are rewarded with a treat or toy when identifying accurately. Training only takes between 2-10 weeks so with a vaccine still 1-2 years away, an army of super sniffers is looking like a likely idea to aid with reopening parts of society.

Kössi, a coronavirus sniffer dog, at Helsinki airport in Vantaa, Finland. Photograph credit: Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva/AFP/Getty Images

“Some dogs can learn to sniff out the virus in a very short time. One 8-year-old greyhound mix named Kössi (in Finland) learned to identify the scent of COVID-19 in just seven minutes”


 The majority of covid sniffing canines will get a result of 100% accuracy, even positively identifying infected asymptomatic humans showing zero symptoms. How far this goes is yet to be confirmed. Many of these super sniffers are skilled working dogs having previously worked with firefighters, emergency rescue teams, police, or even doctors to spot diseases like bowel cancer. 

From assisting the blind to see, identifying cancer, Malaria, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, locating illegal drugs, food, missing persons, military explosives, or bed bugs, to tracking koalas like Bear in Australia, the incredible stereoscopic capability of a dog’s nose help protect us in so many incredible ways. Who’s a good boy/girl! Scary nasal swab? No thanks, we’ll take the cute canine sniff test thanks!

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Dr Alex Hynes

Dr Alex Hynes

Veterinarian, Author and Educator with an extraordinary passion for animals, life and veterinary work both as the hospital director of one of Australia’s busiest emergency pet hospitals, Animal Emergency Service in Australia, and as an entrepreneur and media personality.

Dr Alex Hynes

Dr Alex Hynes

Veterinarian, Author and Educator with an extraordinary passion for animals, life and veterinary work both as the hospital director of one of Australia’s busiest emergency pet hospitals, Animal Emergency Service in Australia, and as an entrepreneur and media personality.


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