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Q & A with Medical Detection Dogs

Home » Q & A with Medical Detection Dogs

The success of Medical Detection Dogs (MDD) was one of the best pieces of news covered in the last 12 months. The globe became confined to working from home and Zoom meetings and quizzes. At the same time, the team at MDD were transferring their vast knowledge on the sent of other diseases into detecting COVID. They have proven in recent years that their dogs can detect even slight changes in a person’s temperature or smell. The changes can be so acute that one of their dogs can detect them before conventional testing may register a change. The founder of MDD is Claire Guest, began this when her own dog Daisy detected an aggressive and deep lying cancer of her own. This instilled a strong belief that the power of a dogs nose could be used to help more people.

Since then, the work of MDD has diversified and has worked on assisting diseases including Cancer, COVID, Parkinson’s and others. Detecting diseases early gives patients earlier access to treatment and in cases like cancer improves the chances of remission.

At The Shoot App, we’ve seen a demonstration of the power of the dogs nose. At the start of 2020, we donated two cocker spaniels to help their ongoing work. We love the work MDD do so thought this was the perfect time to have a catchup and Q&A with the team.

Medical Detection Dog puppies Dixie and Dotty
Dotty to the left and Dixie to the right

How did the COVID-19 virus change the way Medical Detection Dogs work and operate

On the Bio Detection side of the charity, we very quickly started a project looking at whether dogs can detect the odour of the virus. Results will be out soon and we hope to start deploying dogs into public places soon too. Overall, like most charities, we found the pandemic a huge challenge not only in terms of fundraising but also in carrying out some of the work we do, especially the training of Medical Alert Assistance Dogs.

How have Dotty and Dixie got on during a year in lockdown?

Luckily, after some adjustments, we were able to continue with much of our training, and after being socialised and learning the basic cues and behaviour, Dixie and Dotty both moved to the early stages of their training to be Bio Detection Dogs. Dotty has just started on our COVID19 detection dogs project and we are currently looking at which project would best suit Dixie’s nose.

While Dotty and Dixie are sisters, how do they differ in temperament

They may be siblings but D&D are very different! Not only do they look different but Dotty is very independent and confident whereas Dixie prefers being around her people. Dixie loves a good game of tuggy and Dotty loves to chase a squeaker ball! They’re best friends though!

How often do you take on new puppies

Medical Detection Dogs take on new dogs monthly. This is a brilliant opportunity to understand each dog and find them a task they’d suit best.

Do you have a preferred breed at Medical Detection Dogs

We have a variety of dogs in training at MDD from Labradors and Spaniels to Labradoodles and a Dachshund. Any dog with a high hunt drive and desire to work could become a Medical Detection Dog but naturally this is often the gundog breeds.

What is the time frame from receiving a puppy to fully fledged detection dog

From the time we get a dog to them being ready to detect reliably is around 2 years. We need to make sure the dogs are comfortable detecting false negatives and can deal with different environments. After 2 years of practice and training these dogs are often ready to work.

Medical Detection Dogs labrador

While COVID is a hot topic at the moment, how is the progress doing with the other diseases you’re working on

While COVID has been a new challenge for us we have been working on our other projects at the same time. We were very excited to recently announce the results of prostate cancer project, all details can be found at Prostate cancer detection – Medical Detection Dogs

We saw that you took on some guide dogs in October, how are they getting on

Maple, Ivan and Spencer joined us from GD last year as they showed much more desire to use their noses than their eyes. All 3 dogs are doing really well with their training to become COVID-19 detection dogs and are real characters at our centre.

What is the most rewarding part of training detection dogs

When a dog clearly recognises the odour of a disease and you get to reward them – it is a proud moment for the trainer and a happy moment for the dog as they get their beloved ball/cuddle/treat! While they might not understand the importance of their work, the potential that dog has to help others is enormous.

Medical Detection Dogs spaniel detecting disease

Are there any training techniques that you use that people could try at home

The main element of our training is that it is reward based and very positive. If the dog is enjoying what they are doing, and knows they get rewarded for doing it right, of course you are going to get the best out of them. Our dogs vary in their reward of choice – some adore a tennis ball, some a tuggy and some a treat – we work with their preferences!

If anyone reading this could do one thing to help what would that be

As a charity, we need support to train even more lifesaving noses. By sponsoring one of our puppies’ training, which you can do from £5 month, you get regular pupdates and get to see their progress from fluffy bundle of fur to fully fledged super sniffer. These donations go a long way in supporting our work and helping us get these dogs to those who need them.

In a similar way to guide dogs, what age do your detection dogs retire

It really does differ for each dog, for a Bio Detection Dog it could be when their project comes to an end and for a Medical Alert Assistance Dog it would likely be when they are around 10 years old.

Dogs in training playing

Before you go

For those who haven’t seen the power of MDD dogs then please watch the video below. What you see here is the same demonstration we saw but in this case, for COVID-19. Scents can be accurately detected to a dilution equivalent to 2 drops of blood in an Olympic sized swimming pool. This non-invasive testing could be paramount to detecting any ailment these dogs turn their nose to. In transit areas, these dogs have the potential to test people on their way in or out of train stations or airports. In the context of COVID, this really could be a return to the new normal. Only yesterday (24/05/2021) the dogs from MDD were accredited as being 94% accurate. Which is remarkable compared to the lateral flow test and considering 250 tests can be done in an hour. Before you go it would be fantastic if you could look at MDD and their work. For those in a position to do so, donating can go a long way in training more of these brilliant dogs.

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