Dogs are a great deal more than mere companion animals. Throughout history we’ve put them to work. They herd livestock, guard property, lead the blind, pull sleds, help with water rescues, work with police to catch and detain suspects, carry things in a backpack, catch rats, provide therapy in homes, and perform dozens of additional tasks human beings find absolutely invaluable.
Detector or Detection Dogs
Then there are “Sniffer Dogs”. These dogs are trained in the detection of all kinds of things. They are used to detect drugs, money, weaponry, including bombs, mold, cell phones, termites, and a variety of natural, agricultural products in places where some species are banned. Some of these detection/detector dogs are even used to detect illnesses such as cancer in humans.
There is no doubt that these dogs can successfully sniff out a wide range of contraband and undesirable materials. The question this article addresses, however is this: can “man’s best friend” help detect the presence of bed bugs?
This is an ongoing controversy with fiery arguments on both sides. Quite a few pest control companies use dogs to detect bed bug infestations, so the question is a valid one. Can canines really do this? We’ll examine both sides of the issue.
Dogs Have Highly Sensitive Noses
Dogs have an acute sense of smell. They smell in parts per trillion, which is far better than humans can manage. Like all true bugs, bed bugs emit a smell. They’ve been said to smell a bit like rotting raspberries. Since dogs can pick up the most minute odor from several feet away, it makes sense to look to the faithful pets to see if they can be trained to find bed bugs in a dwelling. Indeed, it has been proven with some accuracy that dogs can detect bed bugs in all stages of their lives. Whether they will do this for humans with a high accuracy rate is what we’re investigating here.
Humans Can’t Compare
Humans have trouble detecting bed bugs. In fact, even professionals can take hours to find out whether a home is infested. It takes a thorough visual inspection of all furniture, walls and possessions if an infestation is thought to be present. Even then it can be a hit or miss situation. It makes sense to look to nature and technology for help with this task.
Bed Bugs are Tricky to Find
The trouble is, bed bugs can hide, and hide well. They are approximately the size of an apple seed, and are flat enough to fit most anywhere. They get into places humans can’t, such as in the tiny space where walls meet the floor, and inside electrical outlets, the folds and seems of furniture and mattresses, and other small, dark, warm places. With a dog’s keen sense of smell and the natural odor of a bed bug, asking dogs for help was a natural step in the work toward solution of this problem.
How Are Dogs Trained?
Detecting bed bugs and alerting handlers to their presence is one of the most difficult tasks a dog has been asked to do. There are training centers across North America that train dogs for different sniffing jobs, bed bugs among them.
Would Dog Detection Be Worth the Money?
Insecticides, especially the more effective ones, are harmful to humans and pets. Spraying these chemicals on and around your bed and possessions may be necessary, but minimizing the area covered by the spray is a good idea. That’s where dogs may be able to help. It is said they can pinpoint an infestation, thus allowing their operators to report on exactly where to concentrate eradication efforts.
What Does it Take to Train a Dog to Detect Bed Bugs?
- Selection of the Dog
- Length of Training
- Training the Handler
Selection of the Dog
Dogs are selected less for their breed and more for their willingness and eagerness to do the job. They have to be highly motivated and enjoy what they are doing, without appearing to consider it hard work.
Length of Training
It takes several months to properly train a detection dog.
Training the Handler
Handlers are brought to the training centers from which their dog was purchased, and spend several days with the dog learning how to handle them. The training includes lessons on how to handle the dog, how to initiate search patterns, how to protect and maintain the environment, how to recognize the signs the dog gives when it does recognize a scent, and how to care for the dog and treat it if it needs first aid.
The National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA) is an accreditation agency. Their mission is to assure the highest quality of standards of scent detecting canines.
In 2011 the NESDCA released their Bed Bug Best Management Practices outlining minimum recommendations for treatment and certification of canines. One of their highest recommendations is that rather than hiring a pest control service with their own detection dog to come in and do the work, an impartial third party organization with no affiliation to the trainer, company who sold the canine, or buyer of the service should be employed.
In controlled conditions, researchers have found a remarkable 97% success rate in bed bug detection by dogs.
But Do They Really Work?
Many hundreds of dogs across North America and many other countries have been trained in bed bug protection, yet the stories can be found on the Internet of people who have had less than stellar service from companies that go through their homes or facilities with bed bug detection dogs. So do they work?
The answer is yes, they do work, but results are best in a controlled situation with expert dogs and handlers. Well-trained dogs can detect bed bugs accurately and consistently in a controlled situation. Whether they can in the field is another question entirely. Poorly trained dogs and poorly trained and motivated handlers can negate the accuracy entirely.
Dogs can be a useful tool in the detection of bed bugs but we do recommend using a certified third party organization to come in and inspect the dwelling. After all, the company hoping to do the work has a vested interest in the outcome of the investigation, and they may not hold themselves to the same high standards that a certified bed bug detection dog organization might.