Are Bed Bug Dogs Up to Snuff?

By: Richard Cooper
Pest Management Professional

Bed bugs are one of the hottest topics in pest management today, and they pose significant challenges for hoteliers, property managers, furniture rental companies and homeowners, just to name a few. One thing that virtually all experts agree on, however, is the importance of detecting bed bugs early on, before populations become entrenched at accounts.The problem is that to date, there are no effective or reliable methods for the early detection of bed bugs. Or are there?

Dogs have been used very effectively for the detection of a wide variety of things including drugs, bombs, fugitives, mold and termites. If you have been watching the news, you know that canine scent detection for bed bugs is also available.On the surface, demonstrations can be very convincing, but be careful: Everything isn’t always what it appears to be.


Termite-sniffing dogs trained in the early 1980s had a false-positive rate of more than 28 percent. (False positives occur when the dogs incorrectly indicate termites are present when there are none.)
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We now know this high false-positive rate was because of the method of training and the purity of the training material. In light of this, we need to be careful and learn from our previous experiences in this new bed bug-detecting canines category.It is very important that bed bug-detecting dogs be highly reliable. Their quality and effectiveness depend on several factors, including:How effectively the dogs are trained;What the dogs are trained to do; andThe ability of handlers to maintain quality bed bug scent detections after the dogs leave their original trainers.In addition, there are uncontrollable factors: Dogs have bad days, just like people do. If the handlers or the dogs are having bad days, the dogs may not perform at their highest levels. An uncomfortable or stressful environment also can affect the dogs’ performance.


Clearly, there is a great deal that goes into producing a highly reliable product that can be counted upon to deliver the highest quality of scent detection. Therefore, when purchasing a detection dog, you should expect full documentation to support the type of training that has taken place and data to support the abilities as well as limitations of the dogs being purchased.You should have access to all training records, supported by a microchip number, a veterinarian-certified health certificate less than 30 days old, and a field deployment demonstration in which the purchaser places “blind hides” for the trainer to find.With a quality training program behind the dog and a strong set of data to support the training program — and an effective handler — you should be able to confidently communicate to your clients what they should expect in the event the dog is brought in to perform bed bug inspections.The industry doesn’t need bed bug-detection dogs to find obvious infestations that can be easily identified through visual inspections. Instead, the goal of canine bed bug scent detection is for the dogs to efficiently find what humans are likely to miss. Otherwise, there’s little need for canines to complement human-led bed bug inspections

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