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COVID Canines

Military working dogs training to sniff out coronavirus

by | December 2, 2020

Photo courtesy of CCDC-CBC and Michele Maughan

Dec 2, 2020

The coronavirus (COVID-19) detection canine Poncho indicates a positive sample from multiple items presented on a canine training wheel. The Training Aid Delivery Devices attached to each arm of the wheel allow the dog to detect the substance inside, some of which are the proteins that a person produces in response to the virus.

Sit. Stay. Detect COVID-19.

Working dogs are trained to perform a wide array of tasks and skills. In addition to patrol and combat capabilities, military working dogs are also masters of detection, aiding military, homeland security and law enforcement officials in finding things like explosives and narcotics.

Now, with the help of TADD — the Training Aid Delivery Device — they’re sniffing out coronavirus.

TADD was developed by Michele Maughan, a University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources alumna who now works as a contract research scientist and program manager for the United States Army through Excet, Inc., at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (CCDC-CBC) at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

“We had a project many years ago that required that we train dogs to detect a hazardous material, but we needed to expose the dogs only to the odor, not the particulate,” Maughan said. “After many iterations, I developed the TADD which is a containment vessel that holds the training aid and allows only the odor to escape, keeping the dogs safe. We now have thousands of these in the field that are helping to train dogs to detect explosives, drugs, human remains and are even used in conservation to detect endangered species.”

At the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Maughan and her team saw the demand for rapid virus detection and set out to determine whether military working dogs could be mobilized as an effective screening tool. To launch a coronavirus scent detection study, Maughan reached out to Dr. Cynthia Otto of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) and director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. Otto now serves as principal investigator of the study and collects COVID-19 samples from patients in the University of Pennsylvania Health System. The samples are loaded into TADDs and given to Tactical Directional Canine Systems owner Pat Nolan, a former Department of Defense dog trainer, who trains nine dogs to detect the virus.