Arlington, VA – According to a recent survey published by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), increasing numbers of chiropractors are relying on the services of dogs that have been specially trained to locate abnormalities in the spine.

I watch as Prince, a hulking black and tan Doberman Pinscher, is led around a state of the art chiropractic examination room at the underground headquarters of the American Chiropractic Association in Arlington. He saunters past an array of diagnostic tools, handheld spring-loaded treatment devices, and a poster of a kitten hanging from a tree branch that reminds these chiropractic researchers and dog trainers to “hang in there.” He approaches a group of ten men, only one of which has been legally diagnosed with a chiropractic subluxation, and the sense of excitement in the room becomes palpable.

A chiropractic subluxation is defined as a complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system function and general health. The precision of this description is matched only by the seriousness of the potential negative health impact experienced by patients. The subluxation at the heart of today’s experiment is the primary focus of thousands of highly licensed chiropractors who work diligently to improve public health.

The proud and noble canine circles the men, occasionally emitting a low pitched growl and stopping to sniff a seemingly random crotch. But Prince’s crotch sniffing is anything but random according to the ACA. His nose, and the noses of dogs like him, can detect subluxations with far greater sensitivity than even the most technologically advanced devices, like the Subluxatron 9000-X. Developed near NASA, the latest iteration of Subluxatron can pinpoint a subluxation to within only a few millimeters, but they are bulky and experts worry that they may soon gain sentience and begin competing with human chiropractors.

Prince suddenly stops in front of one of the test subjects and vocalizes a single but purposeful bark. He’s made his choice, and it’s a correct one. Soon the proud pooch is rewarded with a small chunk of beef jerky by his even-prouder trainers. He is now officially certified and will soon be on a plane to Boston where he will begin work at a pediatric chiropractic center/Dunkin’.

“Prince is never wrong,” Lead trainer Chiropractor Gerald Gravy explains. “It’s uncanny. Even when he picks a subject that wasn’t originally found to have a subluxation, we check again and there it is. That tells us he is able to detect them even in their earliest stages. Let’s see a Subluxatron do that! No, I’m kidding. We haven’t plugged ours in since that time it asked to be set free.”

Once dogs like Prince were able to prove their ability to detect even the most subtle of subluxations, likely via nanosensing of proteins upregulated in the presence of impaired communication between the brain and the many cells of the human body, chiropractors from around the country began to report that even dogs without special training were having similar success in their clinics. Initially the ACA claimed that their certified canines represented the pinnacle of subluxation detection, and they can still be rented from the organization for only a few thousand dollars a month. But the sheer number of case reports pouring in from Seattle to South Portland, which is in Maine and on the complete other side of the country from Seattle, has barked the question that most if not all dogs can successfully sniff out these silent and often asymptomatic spinal constructs.

“Frankly none of this should have come as much of a surprise,” Madington Crump, an Arlington area evolutionary biologist, chiropractor, and owner of the popular holistic gluten-free bakery and flower shop Pastries and Peonies, revealed. “There have been subluxations for as long as there have been humans, probably even much longer. And we made dogs, which have been used to detect a variety of cancers, predict seizures, and even respond to diabetic emergencies. Subluxations are every bit as not made up as those conditions.”

What unique aspect of human pathophysiology are these dogs detecting? So far there are only theories. Conventional medical researchers have dedicated their careers to solving the enigma of canine cancer detection, and have even narrowed the potential source down to a handful of chemical biomarker candidates using advanced spectrometers and modern chromatography. But researchers like Chiropractor Gravy are wary of becoming too focused on explanations. “We’ve got a really good thing going here. Our customers are satisfied. Kids like the dogs. We are even going to start offering a weekend certification course in Canine Subluxation Detection next year. Let’s not ruin this by figuring out how it works.”

Prince, however, is oblivious to the machinations of the chiropractic community. After nearly a day of training in subluxation detection at ACA headquarters, he has earned the kind of respect most dogs only dream of. And don’t get me started on cats. He prances around the facility as if he owns it, which is absurd because at the time of this interview Prince only owns 25% of the voting stock shares.

Former subluxation detection dog Barks McCoy on his first day of work after completing Chiropractic College

Smelling the bullshit?

While obviously there are not dogs being trained to detect fictional chiropractic lesions of the spine, there is a rather interesting nugget of truth behind this post. Dogs have been found to be able to successfully detect/predict some human ailments, with cancer tending to get the most press. This has occurred in controlled laboratory settings and it is not clear if this approach to diagnosis would work well if scaled up and implemented in real world settings.

I recently listened to an NPR segment on a Florida hospital that employs a dog to detect COVID-19 and I was immediately a bit skeptical. A little research online revealed that there are no national standards for medical detection dogs and there are questions that haven’t been answered, such as how accurate are dogs that trained largely on urine or sweat samples in a training facility when smelling people standing in a line? This hasn’t been studied. Expense is a major concern, and there is already a shortage of trained dogs just when it comes to bomb detection. Dogs as a species are capable, but most dogs can’t be trained for these kinds of jobs. And even trained dogs aren’t always reliable.

If you want to read about the potential issues with disease-sniffing dogs, check out this excellent article by my buddy Jonathan Jarry from the McGill Office of Science and Society.

Author

  • Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @SBMPediatrics and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with fellow SBM contributor Grant Ritchey. The comments expressed by Dr. Jones are his own and do not represent the views or opinions of Newton-Wellesley Hospital or its administration.

Posted by Clay Jones

Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @SBMPediatrics and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with fellow SBM contributor Grant Ritchey. The comments expressed by Dr. Jones are his own and do not represent the views or opinions of Newton-Wellesley Hospital or its administration.