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Military working dogs training to sniff out coronavirus

COVID CANINES Article by Lauren Bradford Photos courtesy of CCDC-CBC and Michele Maughan December 02, 2020

Military working dogs training to sniff out coronavirus

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.

CANR alumni Michele Maughan developed the TADD, a containment vessel which allows military working dogs to train and detect hazardous substances without coming into contact with the particulate itself. “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.

Each TADD canister is loaded with a target training sample or a distractor like food or tennis balls. Working dogs are currently in training to alert only to positive COVID-19 samples, a skill that could help them detect coronavirus in busy public spaces.

“In the TADD, you have the target, which is the sample from a positive COVID patient and that could be urine, saliva or body odor samples like a t-shirt that has captured sweat,” Maughan said. “You also have a matched sample from a COVID negative patient. Then we add other samples that the dogs have to distinguish between and we call these blanks and distractors. We add all sorts