Guide dogs retrained to join elite coronavirus detection team

Ivan and Spencer, both Labrador-golden retriever crosses, and Maple, a black Labradoodle, who have joined the Medical Detection Dogs’ elite team of Covid-19 detection dogs.
Dogs could become a key first line of defence against coronavirus (Picture: Neil Pollock/Guide Dogs)

Three guide dogs who proved unsuitable for helping people with sight loss have been given an exciting new career opportunity.

If their training is successful, the trio will be enlisted to an elite canine team and deployed to public places as part of a trial to see if detection dogs could screen for coronavirus in a fast and non-invasive way.

It is hoped the dogs will be able to identify the odour of Covid-19, even among people displaying no symptoms, making them a valuable first line of defence against the bug.

Ivan, Maple and Spencer, all aged two, were bred and raised by the charity Guide Dogs but proved unsuitable for life aiding blind and partially sighted people. Visit our live blog for the latest updates Coronavirus news live

Instead their high energy and love of sniffing things out made them the perfect candidates for a change in career.

Ivan and Spencer, both Labrador-golden retriever crosses, and Maple, a black Labradoodle, will join Medical Detection Dogs’ elite team of Covid-19 detection dogs.

Once your dog has removed all of the fabric from the ball, you can stuff the scraps right back in!

The charity has already trained dogs to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections, by sniffing samples in the training more.
Labrador-golden retriever cross, Ivan, who was withdrawn as a guide dog but has been enlisted onto Medical Detection Dog's team of elite Covid-19 detection dogs
Meet Ivan, one of Medical Detection Dog’s new recruits (Picture: Neil Pollock)

Several dogs are now being taught how to spot coronavirus in the same way.

Following this stage of training, dogs like Ivan, Maple and Spencer will learn to detect the odour on individuals.

They passed their initial four-week trials with the charity, showing enthusiasm and stamina in scent detection games, and started official training on Thursday.

Medical Detection Dogs’ Dog Supply and Training Manager Chris Allen is training them at the charity’s head office near Milton Keynes.

He said: ‘We’re incredibly grateful to Guide Dogs for giving us these three fantastic dogs.

‘Growing up as guide dog puppies, they’ve already had lots of experience being out and about in busy public places and meeting lots of different people – a huge benefit for us.

Labradoodle Maple, who was withdrawn as a guide dog but has been enlisted onto Medical Detection Dog's team of elite Covid-19 detection dogs
Maple is ‘ball obsessed’ and is proving very enthusiastic during her training (Picture: Lenscraft Photography)
Labrador-golden retriever cross, Spencer, who was withdrawn as a guide dog but has been enlisted onto Medical Detection Dog's team of elite Covid-19 detection dogs
Life as a guide dog didn’t work out for Spencer, but now he is retraining to detect Covid-19 instead (Picture: Guide Dogs)

No, it’s not just to make themselves look adorable. Dogs curl up in a ball when they sleep due to an age-old instinct to keep themselves warm and protect their abdomen and vital organs from predators.

Ivan and Spencer, both Labrador-golden retriever crosses, and Maple, a black Labradoodle, who have joined the Medical Detection Dogs’ elite team of Covid-19 detection dogs.
It is hoped the elite canine team will be able to pick up coronavirus in a fast and non-invasive way (Picture: Guide Dogs)

‘The dogs thoroughly enjoy working – it’s a big game. We’re using their willingness to please, their drive, their wanting to use their nose, and shaping and redirecting it in a positive way.’

Director of Canine Affairs at Guide Dogs Tim Stafford said his charity was ‘delighted’ to be able to collaborate with Medical Detection Dogs and help it with its ‘ground-breaking’ work. He added: ‘Although Ivan, Maple and Spencer were originally bred to be guide dogs, we always closely monitor the development and individual personalities of our dogs to ensure they are on the path in life that is right for them.

“Medical Detection Dogs has given these dogs a new career that suits their high energy and search drive, and everyone at Guide Dogs is excited to watch them go on to do amazing things.”

The Covid-19 detection dogs project is a collaboration between Medical Detection Dogs, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Durham University.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at[email protected] .

For more stories like this,check our news page .

Sign Up for News Updates

Get your need-to-know latest news, feel-good stories, analysis and more

Not convinced? Find out more »

Get Educated. The first step to being an outstanding pet owner, according to Dr. Becker, is taking responsibility. “Nobody ever says ‘I was a lousy pet owner.’ It’s always the pet’s fault.” Learn the peculiarities of your pet’s breed such as how much exercise they need, how gregarious they are, how much maintenance their coat requires, how often they need to go outside, and about new technologies, products, and nutrition that might help you care for your pet. Knowing the basics about your pet’s upkeep ensures you won’t be caught off guard by troubling behavior.