+44 (0) 1296 655888 operations@medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk Dogs saving lives
Dogs saving lives

Why our work is so important

The UK has one of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe – because of late diagnosis. At Medical Detection Dogs we believe our research will help early diagnosis improve in the future.

Cancer and Bio Detection Dogs

Medical Detection Dogs uses the amazing power of the dogs’ nose to detect human diseases. Our research is based on the dogs’ ability to detect minute odour traces created by diseases.

Because dogs are able to detect tiny odour concentrations, around one part per trillion (the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools), we are potentially able to detect diseases, such as cancer, much earlier than is currently possible. Our pioneering work could help to speed up the diagnosis process and impact on thousands of lives.

We are very excited and proud to be carrying out an NHS ethically approved study into the dogs’ ability to detect urological cancers using their sense of smell. Alongside the urological study we are running the first NHS ethically approved proof-of-principle trial exploring the ability of dogs to detect breast cancer and have interest from many in the medical profession on the potential to detect other cancers such as lung and colorectal cancers. Our cancer work has two main aims:


  • To assist scientists through our research into the development of electronic systems (E noses) that will assist in the early detection of cancer through cheap non-invasive tests.
  • In the short term, our cancer dogs could provide additional testing for cancers that are currently difficult to diagnose reliably, such as prostate cancer.

Bio-detection research areas

Urological cancers

  • Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men.
  • Over 42,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year – that’s more than 110 men every day.
  • Every hour one man dies from prostate cancer – that’s more than 10,500 men every year.
  • 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime.
  • Over 330,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer

Early diagnosis of prostate cancer is one of the most effective ways of tackling the disease, but current tests are less than ideal often requiring unnecessary biopsies to confirm a diagnosis. Our very exciting research is demonstrating that dogs can detect urological cancer VOCs earlier, and with greater accuracy, than current test methods. More information

Breast Cancer

  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK.
  • Breast cancer is the name given to cancers that have first developed in breast tissue, but there are many different types.
  • Around 50,000 women are still diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
  • More than 80% of women with breast cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis
  • Around 12,000 women die of the disease each year.

We are currently carrying out the first ever proof of principle study that breast cancer can be detected on a breath sample. Whatever the outcome of our study, the research will be invaluable in helping inform future testing and research into breast cancer. More information

Other diseases

In addition to urological cancers and breast cancer, we are currently exploring the possibilities that the dogs can detect a number of other cancers and diseases, these include:

  • Lung cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Animal cancers
  • Parkinson’s Disease

We are also carrying out research, alongside our Medical Assistance Alert Dogs, into other diseases that dogs might be able to detect from scent.

Frequently asked questions

Do you use specific breeds of dogs for cancer detection? All dogs and breeds have the capability to detect cancer and crisis situations in humans. However because our dogs screen samples on a carousel we select working breeds with a high hunt drive. Our dogs are a mixture of breeds including Labradors and working spaniels and are chosen according to their ability. It is important that they have good noses and love searching and hunting for toys.

How often do the Cancer Detection Dogs work? Cancer Detection Dogs work 2 to 4 times a week for short periods of about 20 minutes in our training centre at Great Horwood with lots of opportunity for rest and playtime.  The dogs view their work as a great game that they love playing.

Where do they live? All of our Cancer Detection Dogs live in homes as part of a caring family and lead normal happy lives as pet dogs.

Do you offer a screening service? We do not currently offer a cancer screening service. The dogs work on samples in the bio detection room at the training centre and are not trained to detect the odour on a person.

What are the dogs detecting? With their incredible sense of smell dogs can detect the minute odours now understood to be associated with many cancers. Cancer Detection Dogs are trained to detect the odour of volatiles associated with cancer cells present in urine or breath samples.

What type of training do you use? Our fundamental training method is reward based and we use clicker training for all our bio-detection work. Dogs are rewarded with a food treat or tennis ball play when they make an accurate assessment of the samples they are working on.

What is your aim? The Cancer Detection Dogs have the capacity to provide second line diagnostic support for cancers that are currently difficult to diagnose reliably, such as prostate cancer. Our research will also enable the development of more electronic systems using the information that the dogs have told us.

Medical Alert Assistance Dogs questions

How long is the waiting list for a Medical Alert Assistance Dog? The waiting list for a Medical Alert Assistance Dog is dependent on individual requirements and the severity of the medical condition. Once the completed application is received the waiting list is between 18 months and 3 years.

How many Medical Alert Assistance Dogs do you have? We have placed over 75 registered Medical Alert Assistance dogs throughout the country.

Which conditions do you train Medical Alert Assistance Dogs for? We currently train dogs to assist people living with Type 1 diabetes, Addison’s, severe nut allergy, and POT’s. We will also consider individuals with other life threatening conditions.

What costs are covered by the charity? We do not make any charge for our dogs and during the training period we pay for the dog’s insurance, veterinary fees, medical supplies, equipment, toys, training and food. Once the dog is placed, the client takes over the financial support of their Medical Alert Assistance Dog.

What help does the charity need? To continue our ground breaking work we require donations as we receive no government support, and volunteers to support the ground breaking work we do.  You can help by sponsoring one of our puppies or raising funds to name a puppy or by helping pay towards the training of a Medical Alert Assistance Dog. We also have lots of supporters who raise money through challenge events, details of which can be found on the website. Additionally we need; Volunteer socialisers, for puppies and dogs to begin the socialising process. Volunteer families that are happy to look after one of our ‘bio-detection dogs’ on a full time basis. Volunteer fosterers who will look after our dogs on a temporary basis. We could not continue without our fantastic volunteers who help with fundraising, give talks, do administration (at our training centre and home based) and help with events. To join them do contact volunteering@medicaldetectiondogs.org.uk

Does the charity receive any funding? The charity is wholly reliant on donations and receives no government funding.

Does the charity cover the whole of the UK? We cover the whole of England, Wales and Scotland, and have applications for dogs from all areas.

Where do you get the dogs from? Dogs can be donated by members of the public, breeders, other assistance dog charities and rescue centres. The temperament of the dog is very important (Medical Alert Assistance Dogs should be very “people orientated”), and must have a good sense of smell.

Can Medical Detection Dogs train family owned dogs? Sometimes people approach us with a pet dog that is showing signs of alerting to their particular condition. If the circumstances are right we will provide support to the client to train their dog and help the dog to become a qualified assistance dog.

How are dogs trained? Dogs are trained using scent and breath samples collected from the client when they are experiencing an episode. The dogs are trained to identify the unique odours.

At what age are dogs trained? Dogs are usually ready for advanced training and placement with their new owner at around 18 months old, but this depends on the dog and breed as they have to be mature enough to begin the process.

How do the dogs alert their owners? Dog alerts need to be clear and persistent, as our clients often have no awareness of an imminent “episode”. The dogs are with their owners 24/7 and alert both during the day and night. Dogs are trained to alert by either jumping up and/or licking strongly. The type of alert will vary depending on the needs of the client.

How do you ensure the Medical Alert Assistance Dogs are able to get enough sleep when, as part of their role, they often wake at night to alert their owner? Most dogs will sleep between 12- 18 hours a day.  Active assistance dogs will sleep less than sedentary pets as it is thought that dogs have a tendency to sleep when nothing stimulating is happening.  Dogs also have a much easier time of scheduling their sleep as they are able to simply shift their sleeping time to whatever time is available.

Dogs have sleep cycles in which they experience periods of quiet, restful sleep, interspaced with periods of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.  Dogs’ cycle through the various stages very quickly (15 minutes) compared to humans (90 minutes).  This means that they are well suited to interrupted sleep patterns.

For example If you are at home in bed and at 3am in the morning someone tries to break in to your house you would expect your dog to react. The dog has not been waiting for someone to break in but has reacted to the event. In the same way the Medical Alert Assistance Dogs react when they smell the change in odour associated with their owner medical condition.

How much does it cost to train a dog? The total cost of training a Medical Alert Assistance Dog is £11,200. The total cost of training a Cancer Detection Dog is £7,200 with an ongoing monthly cost of £600.

How accurate are Medical Alert Assistance Dogs? We regularly monitor the performance of all our Medical Alert Assistance Dogs, collating data of the alerting behaviour exhibited by the dog and calculating true alerts and false positives.  The partnership does not qualify until alerting accuracy reaches 90% or above, with a false positive rate of 10% or less. At Medical Detection Dogs we ensure all our dogs, are closely monitored for alerting performance, behaviour and their effect on the individual’s health and wellbeing. Our stringent criteria means every client regularly tests their blood and the dog becomes an additional aid alongside continuous careful management of their condition.

Which associations do Medical Detection Dogs belong to? Medical Detection Dogs is a member of Assistance Dogs (AD) International, AD Europe and AD UK and all our dogs are fully accredited assistance dogs.

Are there any other organisations that provide Medical Alert Assistance Dogs in the UK? Medical Detection Dogs is the only organisation in the UK that is a full member of AD International, and the only organisation which trains fully accredited diabetes alert assistance dogs.

What is Medical Detection Dogs’ view on non-accredited diabetic assistance dogs? Medical Detection Dogs is very concerned about untrained non-accredited dogs being supplied to alert to low and high blood sugars for people with type 1 diabetes. It has been bought to our attention that at least one organisation has been training and selling these dogs for profit but not providing an aftercare monitoring or follow up service. How do you know a dog is accredited? All Medical Detection Dogs’ coats carry the ADUK logo and all clients carry the ADUK passport or an official “in training” letter prior to qualification. Non accredited dogs can be identified by the absence of this logo.