Acts Like Metallica, Eric Church and Tool Are Using COVID-Sniffing Dogs on Tour

Specially trained pups can sniff out traces of the virus on the members of touring crews

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Jan 7, 2022

In this increasingly precarious era for touring, a team of detection dogs trained to sniff out the COVID-19 virus are helping to keep acts like Metallica, Eric Church and Tool on the road.

While many artists have had to postpone their concerts or cancel them outright, a few high-profile touring parties have recruited some German Shepherd, Labrador Retriever and Belgian Malinois pups to detect traces of the virus on the musicians and their touring crews, including family members and backstage guests.

The dogs were used on country star Church's US tour last fall and are back on the road with him for the next leg, which begins today in Lincoln, NB. Likewise, another pooch posse will join Tool on their 2022 tour (which is now skipping Canada entirely), starting next week in Eugene, OR. Pups were also hired for Metallica's fall shows, as well their 40th anniversary performances in San Francisco last month.

"So far, knock on wood, the dogs have been knocking it out of the park," John Peets of Q Prime, the management company that represents both Church and Metallica, told Rolling Stone. "We haven't had a dog miss anybody. Dogs are more accurate than the tests."

It's fair to have a healthy dose of skepticism about the comparative accuracy, but Jerry Johnson — president of the Ohio-based Bio-Detection K9 company and Air Force vet — sees the logic in using canine detection for COVID. 

"If you understand the instincts of a dog's behaviour, it makes a lot of sense," Johnson explained to Rolling Stone. "Dogs sniff each other to see if that other dog has a virus. We're training them to look for something they'd be interested in anyway." If the dogs catch a whiff of COVID, they're trained to sit down.

Whether or not this screening method is more accurate, employing the dogs is reportedly cheaper than increasingly-scarce antigen testing: Johnson claims that a four-legged screening costs only about $2 USD per person.

The sniff tests tend to be limited to 200 people per hour, with the protocol being to conduct the screenings at the venue several times throughout the day leading up to a show, from early in the morning through to the band's soundcheck.

In light of the highly contagious Omicron variant, the dogs on Church's tour are now sniffing people's masks instead of their hands and feet. 

"It localizes in the bronchial passageways," Johnson explained of the virus' latest mutation, "so the dogs weren't nearly as accurate the way we had been searching. We had to change it up."

Bio-Detection K9 currently has 12 dogs in rotation, with an additional seven or eight in training — a process that takes about six weeks.

Their wet little sniffers are certainly are a lot cuter than ours when we get swabbed.

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