An experienced trainer shares his insights

In an effort to return to operations, some organizations are considering the use of trained canines to detect SARS-Cov2. This option may be appealing to organizations interested in quickly screening large numbers of people. Highly trained working dog teams have proven effective in detecting weapons, explosives, and narcotics; tracking suspects; and supporting search and rescue missions.

The Miami Heat recently announced that these dogs will be piloted as part of their plans to resume attendance.  The dogs will be deployed to conduct screening operations outside of entryways to the American Airlines Arena.

Matthew R. Dimmick, CPP®, PSP®, CPD, spent 20 years handling and training canines to detect a variety of potential threats. He has worked in emergency readiness for biological weapons, supported public health agencies, and advised companies across the globe on building out entry control screening programs for vehicles, personnel, and cargo, including programs utilizing canines for threat detection.

If you are trying to determine whether COVID-19 detection dogs may be an effective screening option for your company there are some items that Mr. Dimmick believes you should consider.

“Any handler or trainer should clearly understand the threat they are detecting, how it interacts with their partner, the environment, etc. You should be wary of anyone that wants to have a discussion about COVID detection dogs but doesn’t have a good understanding of the most recent research available on the disease.”

Matthew R. Dimmick, CPP®, PSP®, CPD

Understand How Working Dogs Are Trained and Deployed

One of the first things you should attempt to learn is how dogs are trained to detect odors, what factors can impact their success rates, and whether the trainer has considered the complexities of deploying canines in a place of work.

Dogs that are trained utilizing reliable and repeatable processes can accomplish amazing things including the detection of a variety of diseases in clinical settings.  Applying this detection capability in a field environment is a more complex endeavor and organizations should lean on potential providers to determine if their canines are a good fit for the needs of the organization.

Before interviewing organizations about their potential COVID-19 Detection Dog solutions, you should consider conducting research into the use of working dogs, their training, and deployment in security operations.

“A review of  US Army Publication 190-12 and Chapter 1 of the ASIS Protection of Assets manual would be a good place for you to begin your research,” says Dimmick. “After your research you will have a better understanding of canines in general and whether they are the right solution for your organization or tenant.”

Suggested Screening Questions

Mr. Dimmick provided some potential screening  questions organizations should consider asking any private company or trainer offering the services of COVID detection dogs:

  • Are you training on live or dead virus samples or both?  There will be a difference in the decomposition and availability of odor from each.

  • How long has your dog(s) been trained on this odor/virus?

  • How are your samples produced, stored, cleaned to be free of contaminants, handled to prevent cross-contamination, etc.?

  • Do you have an established training facility or facilities, and can I tour one?

  • How often are your dogs retrained on the odor at your training facility?

  • How are your handlers in the field conducting sustainment training?  Are they introducing SARS-CoV2 to your environment to train their dogs?

  • How do masks or other face coverings impact the odor availability from everyone being screened?  What about the viral load that the individual is carrying?

  • Ask them how to explain that their dog will work to source in a lobby of personnel walking in different directions and how the artificial environment of the HVAC will impact performance.

  • Ask specific questions about transmission and spread of the virus.  How is it transmitted from one animal to another?  It is a zoonotic disease; can your canine get it?  Can they pass the infection on to others?

  • Does the trainer use food reward or play reward?  Determine what drives them and if training time might be disruptive to your organization.

You should also ask the provider for an opportunity to interview the handler(s) that will be assigned to your organization.

Consider the Business Impact

“If you are seriously thinking about COVID detection canines, you also need to consider potential impacts on your business,” adds Dimmick. “What is the trainer’s protocol if there is a detection? They may look to transfer this responsibility to you.  In your planning you may have to include guidance and considerations from HIPAA, DOL, OSHA, etc. when developing your protocol.”

In other words, deploying COVID detection canines is not a simple ‘yes or no’ decision, but one that requires a thoughtful consideration of your organization’s needs, culture,  risk tolerance, and other factors. Because of the nature of screening personnel and visitors, your organization’s planning should garner input from a wide variety of stakeholders including legal and human resources teams.  This stakeholder input may help your organization develop options that take into consideration workplace safety, privacy, cultural diversity, and other important factors that will be important to the success of the program.