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Canine Olfactory Thresholds to Amyl Acetate in a Biomedical Detection Scenario

By Astrid R. Concha, Claire M. Guest, Rob Harris, Thomas W. Pike, Alexandre Feugier, Helen Zulch, Daniel S. Mills

Category Journal Articles

Dogs’ abilities to respond to concentrations of odorant molecules are generally deemed superior to electronic sensors. This sensitivity has been used traditionally in many areas; but is a more recent innovation within the medical field. As a bio-detection sensor for human diseases such as cancer and infections, dogs often need to detect volatile organic compounds in bodily fluids such as urine and blood. Although the limits of olfactory sensitivity in dogs have been studied since the 1960s, there is a gap in our knowledge concerning these limits in relation to the concentration of odorants presented in a fluid phase. Therefore, the aim of this study was to estimate olfactory detection thresholds to an inert substance, amyl acetate presented in a liquid phase. Ten dogs were trained in a “Go/No go” single scent-detection task using an eight-choice carousel apparatus. They were trained to respond to the presence of solutions of amyl acetate diluted to varying degrees in mineral oil by sitting in front of the positive sample, and not responding to the 7 other control samples. Training and testing took place in an indoor room with the same handler throughout using a food reward. After 30 weeks of training, using a forward chaining technique, dogs were tested for their sensitivity. The handler did not assist the dog during the search and was blind to the concentration of amyl acetate tested and the position of the target in the carousel. The global olfactory threshold trend for each dog was estimated by fitting a least-squares logistic curve to the association between the proportion of true positives and amyl acetate concentration. Results show an olfactory detection threshold for fluid mixtures ranging from 40 parts per billion to 1.5 parts per trillion. There was considerable inter-dog difference in sensitivity, even though all dogs were trained in the same way and worked without the assistance of the handler. This variation highlights factors to be considered in future work assessing olfactory detection performance by dogs.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2018
Publication Title Frontiers in Veterinary Science
Volume 5
Pages 11
DOI 10.3389/fvets.2018.00345
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Canine scent detection
  3. olfaction
  4. open access
  5. peer-reviewed
  6. Pets and companion animals
  7. sensitivity
  1. open access
  2. peer-reviewed