Led by a multi-disciplinary team of medical professionals, dog handlers and infection prevention and control practitioners, Vancouver Coastal Health's (VCH) Canines for Care team is an innovative way to rapidly and non-invasively detect pathogens and reduce infection rates in health-care settings.

VCH was the first health-care organization in the world to operationalize its Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile) detecting canine program to detect and reduce cases of C. difficile in the health-care environment. Since 2016, the canine scent detection teams at VCH have searched thousands of hospital areas for C. difficile. They've also visited more than 30 Canadian health-care facilities to share their expertise. The Canines for Care scent detection program continues to evolve. Building on the strong foundation developed with the C. difficile scent detection program, VCH is now exploring canine scent detection for new and emerging pathogens including COVID-19.

Services and support offered

  • We provide C. difficile canine scent detection services to hospitals in British Columbia and across Canada.
  • Rapid and accurate identification of C. difficile environmental reservoirs
  • Eliminate further contamination and downstream transmission
  • Fosters an ideal environment to partner with key site and unit stakeholders
  • In-the-moment staff education opportunities upon alert
  • Ability to track patterns and trends to move the dial towards a proactive approach that allows the time to be reallocated for patient care
  • Access to professional canine detection teams with hospital experience and knowledge in infection control theory and practices
  • Increased awareness of C. difficile among staff, patients and visitors

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What standards were used to develop the training and validation protocols for the canine detection teams?

    Our training protocols and validation test were developed based on best practices from the Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines (SWGDOG), and the National Detector Dog Manual, created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. VCH has also adapted training protocols and validation tests to reflect the unique challenges canine detection teams will face when detecting C. difficile in hospitals. The validation process includes, but is not limited to, using a double blind testing format (as recommended by SWGDOG) along with the addition of an odour recognition test, and search capable test in the validation test. Additionally, VCH canine detection teams are validated yearly by an independent validator. 

  • How many dogs have you trained?

    We have trained and validated five dogs to detect C. difficile and an additional three dogs to detect COVID-19.  We are always in the process of training more dogs. 

  • Can a dog differentiate between non-toxigenic and toxigenic strains of C. difficile?

    The dogs do not differentiate between strains of C. difficile. Any C.difficile in the environment is undesirable.

  • What type of skills and qualifications do you look for when selecting a canine detection specialist?

    We look for the right personality traits such as great work ethic, integrity, teamwork skills, willingness to learn, and aptitude for working in the health-care environment. All of our canine detection specialist possess a strong knowledge of how odour works, along with a strong understanding of their dog’s communication. Our canine detection specialist also have a minimum of two years of experience working with detection dogs as part of validated canine detection teams. They are also required to take and pass the VCH basic infection control course.

  • What characteristics do you look for when selecting a dog for canine scent detection?

    While all working breeds have proven themselves to be able to do detection, there are some traits in dogs that lend themselves better to this type of detection service in a health care environment:

    • Floppy-eared dogs instead of pointy-eared dogs, as they are less intimidating to staff, patients, and visitors.
    • Medium size dogs so they can fit into tight spaces, such as in between medical equipment and patient beds.
    • Dogs with exceptionally high drive and impeccable temperaments who have been professionally evaluated in a hospital environment
    • Animals that are in good health
    • Dogs that have not been trained to detect other types of odours
  • Can dogs contract C. difficile or COVID-19?

    Similar to humans, dogs are more susceptible to contracting C. difficile from the environment if they are immunocompromised. Our dogs receive regular veterinary check-ups, and are only work in the health-care environment it they receive a clean bill of health.

  • Are there any areas of the hospital that the dog does not search?

    Our canine detection teams do not search surgical suites, food preparation areas, neonatal units, psychiatric units, palliative care units, and offices outside of patient units. We also only search occupied patient rooms if we are accompanied by a staff member, and have permission from the patient. We do not search people, our dogs are not diagnostic tools but rather used to identify environmental contamination.

  • How long does it take to search a patient unit?

    It depends. The amount of time it takes for the canine detection team to search a patient unit is dependent on the size of the unit, extent of contamination, and the amount of in-the-moment education provided upon identification of contamination.‎

  • Are there any volunteer or work opportunities available through your program?

    ‎We occasionally hire new Canine Detection Specialists, and preference is given to those who have previously successfully worked in the canine detection field. We recommend regularly checking the VCH Careers page for opportunities. 

    In terms of volunteering, we don't have any opportunities just yet. Please stay tuned for more information as our program continues to expand.

Learn more

    • Support Canines for Care

      Support Canines for Care and other health care innovations by donating to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation

Meet the team

The Canines for Care team is led by a multi-disciplinary group of medical professionals, canine detection specialists, infection prevention and control practitioners and, of course, canines.

Meet the Canines for Care team

Contact Canines for Care

To inquire about the Canines for Care program, please email canines4care@vch.ca.