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How can a dog smell COVID-19?

The next weapon in the fight against the spread of COVID-19 at public events is -- dogs.

PHOENIX — Man’s best friend has proven useful as a pet and partner of the centuries of humans and K9s coexisting, and humans can once again turn to dogs for help with COVID-19.

The Miami Heat made news in January by becoming the first pro sports team in the United States to use COVID-sniffing dogs. This allowed the team to welcome fans into American Airlines Arena while many other pro sports teams continue to play in front of empty crowds.

COVID-sniffing dog training is not currently happening in Arizona, but professional K9 trainer Jessie Keller believes it is possible. 

Keller is a technical sergeant and trains K9s at Luke Air Force Base and for local police departments. 

She says dogs are commonly trained to sniff for explosives and drugs, but they can also be trained to find humans, living or dead, and to detect fruit, counterfeit money, and more. 

Dogs can even determine if a person with diabetes is hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic based on the scent of that person’s saliva.

“If there is a strong odor that we can detect with COVID, I’m pretty sure it’s very simple,” Keller said. “All we need is the training aid. Everything else is pretty much the same.”

For COVID-19, trainers are using masks won by people who have tested positive for the virus.

Keller says dogs have about 50 times as many smell receptors as humans, so they can smell in greater detail than humans can.

“As humans you get a hamburger, and you smell just the hamburger. You’re like, ‘Oh man I’m hungry.’ But a dog can smell each and every point of that hamburger,” Keller said. “They can smell the bun, the lettuce, the tomato, the burger, the cheese, they can pinpoint everything.”

The Arizona Coyotes considered turning to dogs to allow fans into Gila River Arena, but eventually turned to technology that relies on fans to upload information. The Suns, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks also opted to go with different methods to keep fans safe. But if any of these organizations did choose to use dogs, Keller said the training process would take two to three months.

“I haven’t done any of that training but just hearing that if it does produce an odor, then it would definitely be something that a dog would be able to find,” Keller said.