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Detector dogs help defend against COVID-19

17 June 2021

Six COVID-19 Detector Dogs began work at the Adelaide Airport today as part of an exciting joint project between SA Pathology, the University of Adelaide and Australian Border Force.

The six Labradors were selected from 18 Labradors and Spaniels who have undergone extensive training over the past six months as part of an international research alliance led out of France and coordinated in Australia by the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences.

The dogs are trained to detect odours which are produced by an infected person even before they develop symptoms, and in COVID-positive patients who are asymptomatic. During the initial trial period, sweat is collected onto a gauze swab placed under the traveller’s armpit which is then put into a funnel for the dogs to smell. Once the dog has identified a COVID-positive sample, it will sit in front of that funnel.

Initially passengers will be voluntarily swabbed as they exit the plane and the sample will then go to a separate area where the dogs are located. It is anticipated that once the initial trials are complete, the program will roll out to enable the identification of COVID-19 positive passengers in real-time.

COVID-19 detector dogs provide an innovative and crucial line of defence against the virus as our borders reopen. They are a reliable, repeatable, cheap, easy and fast way to screen or pre-screen potential cases.


detector dogs at airport

Alex Withers, South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service with detection dog Cuba; Rebecca Lindsay, Department for Agriculture, Water and the Environment with Quake; Lisa Saunders, Australian Border Force with Matilda.

SA Pathology and the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences have worked with Australian Border Force, the Commonwealth Department for Agriculture, Water and the Environment; and the South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service for several months on the study.

The dogs will stay at the ABF dog facility when they’re not on duty with their handlers.


Click to play video: Australian Border Force’s Lisa Saunders and detection dog Matilda run through their paces at the Adelaide Airport.