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K9’s detect COVID-19 with 96% accuracy

Above: Top Tier K9’s Foundation Dog™ is a registered trademark that signifies the higher level of training these dogs receive. They are now being deployed as COVID-19 detection dogs with 96 percent accuracy.

Top Tier K9 CEO/Founder Jeff Minder teaching in classroom setting. -Photo: Top Tier video still

By Tami Stevenson

Madison, Fla., – Each year we are reminded that the cooler weather ushers in cold and flu season. This year, however, we are reminded that the cooler weather also creates a better environment for coronavirus to survive. It was inevitably predicted that those testing positive for the COVID-19 virus would increase in the fall and throughout the winter months, as with the common cold and flu. Testing sites are frequently overwhelmed, with accuracy rates that are less than admirable.

Help is on the way. Along with the hope of a vaccine that could be available by the end of the year, man’s best friend just got ‘friendlier’ as COVID sniffing dogs from Top Tier K9, headquartered in Madison, Florida, are detecting the virus with 96 percent accuracy. This is much better than laboratory test results, which, according to Harvard Health, are only between 50-80 percent accurate.

Scientists say dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in humans. The part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is about 40 times greater than humans. Factoring in these data, they believe a dog’s smell is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than humans.

This might explain why dogs only need 10 molecules of the virus to identify it, according to Top Tier K9 CEO/Founder Jeff Minder, where laboratory tests need approximately 18 million molecules for each test.

Minder and his dog, Uzi, a Belgian Malinois, have been all over the news since April, claiming his dog is the first dog in the world to identify the virus with a provable 96 percent accuracy rate. Since then, the facility has trained other dogs to detect COVID-19 as well. Once Helsinki University in Finland validated Minder’s work, other countries are now investing in having dogs trained to detect the virus.

Minder was introduced to the idea of dogs detecting cancer in humans years ago by one who many consider to be one of the world’s leading dog trainers, Duane Pickel. In an article published in the Suwannee Valley Times in 2018 featuring Top Tier K9 when they first opened in Madison, Pickel was also mentioned.

Pickel trained his Schnauzer, George, to detect melanoma cancer cells on people. A dermatologist who specializes in skin cancer, Dr. Armand Cognetta, also a dog trainer, watched as George circled a patient, sniffing until he came to a suspected cancerous mole.

The dog sniffed hard, then sat down. “Show me,” ordered trainer Duane Pickel. The dog lifted his paw and gently touched the spot. A lab test confirmed it was cancer. George remarkably went on to reach nearly 100 percent accuracy in finding melanoma. Today, Pickel works with Top Tier K9 as an adjunct instructor and conducts seminars on scent detection and advanced training principles.

If a dog can detect cancer cells, why not a virus? Minder said it only takes two to eight weeks to train a Foundation Dog™ to detect COVID-19. Top Tier K9 is the sole owner of the registered trademark for Foundation Dogs™. They are trained on 50 elements that roll up into four specific functions; tracking, scent detection, protection and advanced obedience. The process to train a Foundation Dog™ is taught at Top Tier K9 Academy for dog trainers, which has been rated as one of the top dog trainer schools in the world.

Minder explained that once the dog is trained to this level, it is easy to incorporate new functions. They can be finished as police dogs, military working dogs, service dogs for people with disabilities, executive/family protection and scent detection dogs.

As for the scent detection, he said he makes it into a game for the dogs, whether it’s detecting bombs, drugs or viruses. He just added the virus to their game.

“The hard part was getting the virus. That’s where the magic all came in was getting the virus, because I’m the only private company in the world doing this.” He added the benefit of this type of training is in the future – if another virus/pandemic surfaces, the dogs can be easily and quickly trained to detect it. ”So in the next pandemic we can have a deployable force of dogs at the airports, ports of entry. We can stop the virus as it’s coming in.”

The Foundation Dogs™ are also in demand in places like South America and Malaysia. These dogs are able to detect not only the virus, but can be trained to sniff out anything from alcohol to mineral deposits such as gold and silver. “Every metal has a different odor,” stated Minder.

Locally, in Madison and Tallahassee, he has used the dogs in churches to detect the coronavirus. He explained the process is very efficient. People don’t even see the dogs. They are behind a wall or a barrier of some kind. And because dogs only need 10 molecules to detect the virus, people were simply asked to swab their mouth, eliminating the need to push the swab deep into their nasal cavity. They test six people at a time, which only takes about a minute. If the dog indicates a person has COVID, they will give them a card letting them know and recommend they get tested at a laboratory.

“Basically, anybody who thinks they have COVID can come (to the facility), we do it everyday.” They charge $20 for the service.

In April, Top Tier K9 had seventy (70) Foundation Dogs® that were being finished as special security dogs, while also being trained to find the COVID-19 virus. These finished dogs are being deployed to airports, hotels, restaurants, government buildings, and many other facilities around the world. Their main purpose is to find the presence of the COVID-19 virus and alert the handler to its location so the threat can be addressed.

Minder said they are expecting fifty new dogs to arrive for training next month as they continue to grow the school to train more dogs and dog trainers.

Top Tier K9 still trains pets for homeowners. They not only train the dog, but the owner as well, using live interactive internet classes along with the hands-on approach at the facility. They also offer certification for professional trainers.
A new television series expected to be out in early 2021, called “Unleashed,” is expected to feature Top Tier K9. They were out filming recently at the facility and told Minder their show should air on either their first or second episode. Minder said he likes the tagline that says, “See the dogs your dogs aspire to be.”

Top Tier K9 has three locations. The Madison headquarters, located at 2409 SW CR 360 in Madison, just south of I-10, is a unique 20 acre training facility. Their other two locations are 1355 East Lafayette Street in Tallahassee and 99 Hamm Street in Valdosta, Georgia. Phone: (850) 321-3253. Website: Email address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Above: Dog trainers and dog owners listen during a class taught by Jeff Minder at the Madison facility. -All photos courtesy of Top Tier K9

A demonstration of scent detection.


Although Top Tier trains all breeds of dogs, these Belgian Malinois Foundation Dogs™ may be your next ‘A Team.’

Another day at the office for trainers.

Jeff Minder prefers to begin training the dogs when they are puppies, 6 months to a year old.