Dogs trained to detect cancer

Certified cancer dog trainer Liz Dick with her dog Ecko, left, a chocolate Labrador retriever and the yellow Lab, the daughter Dana.

Richard Froese
Dogs have proven to be more accurate to detect cancer in humans.

Yet, with a lack of dog trainers in the province, a call has been made by a Langdon woman who will soon become a certified trainer.

“Research shows that dogs can detect cancerous cells far sooner than machines,” Dick says in a news release dated Jan. 3.
“A dog is cheaper than a machine, they can detect cancer earlier than a machine, and are much less invasive than a machine.
“This is far superior than any machine out there and early cancer detection is key to saving lives.”

She says no dogs are trained in the north.

“By letting more and more people know that this is available, eventually this form of early detection will become the norm,” Dick says.
“We need far more awareness and many more certified trainers in Canada to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from the earliest possible cancer detection.”

She urges people from northern Alberta and other parts of the province to add to the valuable resource.

To date, canines have been trained successfully to detect the very early stages of prostate, breast, upper thoracic, melanoma, lung, ovarian and bladder cancers, with an accuracy rate of 98 per cent.

“My goal will be to eventually have this form of early cancer detection used in everyday physical exams,” Dick says.
“So, people would submit a breath sample at their local clinic, and that breath sample would then be sent for analysis at a canine cancer detection facility.”

After she completes the certification course in February in California with the In Situ Foundation, Dick will train her Labrador retrievers to detect cancer cells.

“However, in order to ensure a high rate of success, I will select another four to six dogs who will also be specially trained, to form a multi-dog team of cancer-detection sniffers,” Dick says.

Everyone has been affected by cancer in some way, either by battling the disease themselves or by knowing someone else who has.

She has found an opportunity to be part of the solution by using her passion and experience as a dog trainer and to bring awareness of additional arsenal available to combat cancer.

“If through the months of training, and even all the expense the research will incur, if just one person’s life could be saved because I made the effort to train the dogs to specifically detect cancer cells, it will all be worth it,” Dick says.

It wasn’t’ until her mother died from cancer that Dick decided she needed to bring her knowledge of canine scent detection to the next level.

She started to train her dog Ecko in 2015 to detect scent.

“We took a few courses on scent detection with several instructors,” Dick says.
“In no time at all, Ecko understood that she needed to alert to only one specific scent, an essential oil.
“She loved the game and I then started researching different jobs that a dog’s nose could do.”

Dogs are able to smell in parts per trillion, making the dog’s sense of smell 100,000 times more accurate than that of a human.

The dog smells everything in layers.

“As an example, you may smell cookies, but a dog smells eggs, flour, sugar, butter, and each ingredient in the cookies
“They have the ability to layer scent, which is why they can detect your footprints on the floor even though many other people have walked there before.”

For more information, email Dick at liz.dick

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