Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cancer Sniffing Dogs

I'm always amazed at the incredible sensitivity of a dog's nose, aren't you? I've heard a Bloodhound's nose is 100 times as keen as a human's nose, and a German Shepherd's 40-50 times. No wonder they save so many lives by tracking missing persons or felons and by sniffing out bombs and drugs. Now in recent years, I've heard about still another use of their great natural talents – cancer detection!

I have heard about bladder, colon, and lung cancers and malignant melanoma being detected by a cancer sniffing dog. The last study I saw about dogs who had undergone intensive training to learn the special odors of some cancers reported an 85% success rate. Unlike machines, dogs can even sift through the BLENDS of odors to detect cancer!

And get this. Some untrained dogs have this keen talent naturally. I heard a story of a woman who had a gentle, mellow Labrador named Buddy. Then one day he suddenly started pushing her intensely in the breast. The more she pushed him away, the more intense and insistent he got. She wouldn't listen to this "bad dog behavior," so he bit hard. At the time it didn't strike her - but the spot he bit was the 4 o'clock position in her breast. When she had a screening less than a week later, they found a little malignant tumor at that precise spot!

So if your dog suddenly acts out of character, he might be trying to tell you something. Before you overreact, check it out!

The use of cancer sniffing dogs is very attractive to me. After all, it's a non-invasive form of screening which might find early-stage, pre-symptomatic cancers. Much safer and more comfortable than some machine-based procedures – as my friend would agree. The connective tissue in one breast was painfully ripped by a machine operated by a snippy technician during routine cancer screening!

How effective are cancer sniffing dogs?

It varies. Obviously, intensive, specialized dog training using the exact right method is key. And you must use certified utility dogs (highest AKC obedience rating) with keen noses who know at least 400 commands by the end of the training. We all know that there's no such thing as total accuracy with any screening method, either. That's why you shouldn't limit yourself to just one.

The greatest problem faced in getting this out to the community is the scarcity of funding for this life-saving research. And for this specialized dog training. There are phenomenal qualification requirements for the dog trainer, too.

So if you know someone who has the ability and interest to fund some cancer research or training and maintenance of cancer sniffing dogs, contact them! And let me know (through the CONTACT page on so I can follow up and get them in touch with the right people.

I thank my friend, Karen Chrisman, for commenting on this issue yet again in Cancer Sniffing Canines, a recent blog post on her website -

For more research highlights and commentary on cancer sniffing dogs, you will want to check out the November 15, 2007 article by freelance writer, Stephanie Fox, Paging Dr. Canine - Minneapolis-St.Paul, Minnesota.

I guess it's obvious that I am very interested in this subject. So if you have a personal story about cancer sniffing dogs to share, or access to research on cancer sniffing dogs, please CONTACT ME!

Rena Murray
Dog Whisper Woman

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Blogger Margham said...

I have heard stories of these cancer sniffing dogs, some of whom have incredible skills and training. With all of the cancer in my family and friends, it would have been really helpful to have had non-invasive "sniffing" done annually that might have detected the cancers much earlier. I, for one, would gladly have a dog sniff me periodically. It could be a more frequent and safer test than the other expensive and uncomfortable diagnostics that are spread quite some time apart, which I would still do anyway. You are right. No one test is foolproof, but then, that's all the more reason to ADD this one!

11:11 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I have heard and read about this and don't need more persuasion that dogs can indeed do this. I want to whether or not this is being offered anywhere in the country, and how one can get into contact with these folks for a "screening." Thanks.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Rena Murray said...

contact the university in Tallahassee FL. They o will tell you how to get in touch with someone. Also try Paws with a cause they may have other places to suggest.

9:41 AM  
Blogger vinluke said...

I believe I have a dog with the skill to sniff cancer. He did so with my 14 year old dog who eventually had his eye removed due to ocular melanoma. My shepherd, Schultz, had been trying to tell us for SIX months that something was wrong with Bruno's right eye. My question is...I live in Roanoke Virginia and would love to get in touch with professional who could make the most of this gift. Ideas anyone? You can reach me at Thanks! Laura

7:33 AM  
Blogger Jay and Bettina said...

My mother had had breast cancer. Before she had surgery, her mutt was in the chair with her, began sniffing in a very particular way, then started digging at that very spot.

I now have lung cancer, I am going to put my German Shepard to the test. If she acts the same way, then I'll repost it here. These dogs are truly amazing.

5:59 PM  

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