Dogs – they fetch your slippers, find drugs, bite rioters on the crotch and confound your postman, but it seems they can claim another talent – sniffing out lung cancer.

A new report in the European Respiratory Journal by German boffins conclude that your pooch may be able to detect lung cancer by smelling your breath. Although the team worked with just four dogs – an Australian Shepherd, a Labrador and a brace of German Shepherds – the success rate was remarkable. In 100 samples from lung cancer sufferers, they were able to detect the disease on 71 occasions. Conversely, the successfully recognised 93 per cent of samples given by disease free volunteers – an excellent figure for false positives.

These figures are better that the tests most doctors currently run – a recent study found that seasoned smokers who had an annual scan for lung cancer only reduced their chances of death from the disease by 20 per cent.

Any dog owner who has walked their pet within twenty paces of another dog’s bum will know that they have an acute sense of smell, but how can they recognise this killer disease? The team think that a dog can recognise minute changes in certain organic, chemical compounds in human breath that occur in the presence of the disease. However, before you rush to breathe all over your pet pooch because you’re paranoid about your smoker’s cough, the experiments were carried out under strict conditions.

This isn’t the first time that dogs have impressed us with their ability to sniff out disease – in the past, they have correctly identified colon and bladder cancer, as well as low blood sugar counts in diabetes sufferers.

Although impressive, the team say that more research needs to be conducted to discover exactly what chemical their dogs are picking up.