We have all heard of the countless ways dogs have been trained to use their extraordinary sense of smell to save human lives. However, recent reports tell of another species that is benefiting humankind with its keen sense of smell: rats! Jumbo-sized African rodents are being trained to detect tuberculosis (TB) in a southeastern African nation where approximately 60,000 people were infected with the deadly disease last year.
How do they train the rats for this important work? With a clicker, of course! When rats detect a TB sample and put their noses in the corresponding hole, they get a click followed by food. James Pursey, who is involved in the program, explained to Newsweek, “You let them know when they’re near the scent by giving them a click and they get some food. The sample that isn’t the target sense means they don’t get a click or food. So you introduce lots of smells, reduce the strength of the target smell, and over nine months they are trained to instantly detect the target scent.”
The rats are helping doctors diagnose tuberculosis faster and more accurately than technicians can, proving that rats don’t just spread diseases; in fact, with the help of a clicker, they can actually help prevent it.