Can Dogs Find Bed Bugs?

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Introduction

"Good night. Sleep Tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite!" Many a child is tucked into bed to this saying. It came from colonial times when people slept on mattresses stuffed with fibers like hay. They would tighten the ropes to keep the mattress firm and above ground to try and avoid getting bed bugs. 

Bed bugs are tiny parasites the size of an apple seed that come out at night to feed on the blood of humans and animals. When they are full, they swell and are red. The person who is bitten is left with red welts and what can be a great expense to rid their homes of a bed bug infestation. Many are turning to dogs to help them to detect bed bugs with their super sniffers.

Signs Your Dog Can Find Bed Bugs

Dogs have amazing abilities to detect and to discriminate scents. With training and the proper handling of the dog, they will explore the environment relying on their sense of smell. The dog will be led by their nose to probe into cracks, furniture, rugs, walls and sockets, and mattresses. A working dog will show focus, alertness, and attention to the handler. When the dog detects the bed bugs, they will engage in the action they were trained to do to show the handler where the bed bugs are located.

The bed bug detection dog has a nose that knows the smell they need to find. You will be able to tell that the dog is on the scent by the wiggling wet nose that is rubbed up against the features of the room being searched. The dog will have ears down and pointed tail as a demonstration of the canine's focus to their work. The dog may appear to maintain a high energy level and a heightened state of awareness as they travel through the environment sniffing for the bed bugs.

The dog will have been trained as to how to signal when the live bed bugs have been located. The signals may include scratching at the object or area, sitting, or burying their nose into the location of the scent. Some dogs may emit a sound of excitement, such as a whine or a bark.

Body Language

Signs that a dog will display while searching for bed bugs include:
  • Alert
  • Sniffing
  • Dropped Ears
  • Nose wrinkled
  • Stiff tail

Other Signs

Other signs to watch for are:
  • Sitting and Waiting, as Trained
  • Scratching at the Source or Area of the Scent
  • Pointing Nose into Where the Bed Bugs Are
  • Sounds of Excitement

The History of Dogs Finding Bed Bugs

Bed bugs have been around for centuries. With the development of DDT in the mid-twentieth century, there was a decline in bed bugs. These resilient insects have evolved to be more resistant to pesticides within the past decade, which has led to a troubling increase in the infestations of bed bugs, particularly in large cities. 

They are difficult for people to visually detect as they are very small and live in hidden places. Humans are able to detect them from the presence of bug bites, blood spots and feces on mattresses, or by finding their exoskeletons. If the infestation is extensive, a human may detect a sweet, musty odor.

With increased concerns for balanced pest management and environmentally safer pest management practices, attention has been turned to the potential of the dog in assisting humans with the identification of bed bugs. 

The use of dogs to detect bed bugs is new. There are only about 100 certified bedbug detection dogs in the United States. The National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association or NESDC was formed by pest control specialists to ensure the highest of standards in the training and use of bed bug detection dogs. The dog and handler are tested by trained evaluators.  The dog must alert at the source of the live bed bug. The team is scored on a pass/fail basis.The organization maintains a listing of certified teams and their affiliations.


The Science Behind Dogs Detecting Bed Bugs

Dogs are chosen to use their super sniffers for bed bug detection because science has already established that they have the ability to smell in parts per trillion. The average dog has about 250 million receptors. Bloodhounds and Beagles are often chosen for bed bug detection as they have about 350 million scent receptors. It has been hoped that the dogs would be able to hunt down the bed bugs. 

There have been studies conducted as to the reliability of the bed bug dog that have shown there are successes and failures among teams in reliably detecting bed bugs. A study conducted by the University of Florida in 2008 as cited by the NESDC concluded that the dogs are 98 percent accurate in detecting live bed bugs with no false positives. Other studies have not been as validating to the accuracy of the bed bug detection dog.  

In 2014, a team of researchers investigated the accuracy of 11 canine-handler teams. The handlers predicted that their dogs would be more than 95% accurate in detecting the bed bugs. The dogs were 44% accurate. 

There are a number of factors that could impact the accuracy of the detection. For example, the size of the infestation, the distractors, the years of experience of the trainer or dog, or certification status of the teams. None of these variables were found to reliably predict or explain the lack of consistency in the detection of the bed bugs. It was concluded that there should be more research on the factors that are involved in the identification of bed bugs with canines. 

As still a newly-developing use of dogs, there is promise that more will be learned about the training and use of dogs to help manage the bed bug problem. 

Training a Dog to Detect Bed Bugs

There are a number of programs across the United States that specialize in training dogs to detect bed bugs. The first step is to identify a dog with the temperament and instincts that will make them workable and more likely to succeed in bed bug detection. The trainer will want to select dogs that have a willing-to-please disposition. 

The training begins at around eight to ten months. They do not cross train the dog to identify other problems, such as mold. The dog is more likely to be accurate if the training focuses on the scent and locations that will most likely lead to successful bed bug detection. 

The training will begin by teaching the dog to identify the different phases of the bed bug life span. Canisters are set up with bed bug shell casings to live bed bugs. There are also treats associated with the live bed bugs. The trainer works with the dog to learn to sit in front of the canisters with the live bed bugs. 

The training will also focus on teaching the dog where to look for the bed bugs. Typically, they will be found under mattresses. They can also be found behind headboards, under carpets, and in closets. The dogs are taken into practice environments, like practice motel rooms, to learn where to search for the live bed bug scent. As they practice these search patterns, they will learn to check locations such as light sockets, cracks, and walls. 

The dogs are trained to sit when they find the live bugs or to burrow their nose into the site to make it easier to tell where the bed bug is hiding. Once the dog learns what to detect and where, there must be opportunities for the dog to practice traveling to and working in different environments.

As important as dog training is the training of the handler. The handlers are trained in obedience, the feeding and care of the dogs, as well as the commands to use with the bed bug detection canine. The handlers must know the commands the dog was trained to follow, such as "find the bug", "seek" or "show me".  

While this is a working relationship, the handler must also provide the dog with rest and socialization opportunities. The handler and dog must be both a team and companions to be successful and to provide the dog a quality life experience.  

These are some of the many steps the team must take for the dog and handler to be officially certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association, or NESDCA.


How to React to a Dog Detecting Bed Bugs:

  • Pay close attention to the dog's signals.
  • Search the location for a visual inspection to locate the bed bugs.
  • In large areas, some will use more than one handler/dog team to verify the location of the bed bugs.
  • Move objects to look under, within, and around the area of detection.
  • If the dog stops working, give him a break and let him try again later.
  • The handler and dog will have established commands, forms of praise, and signals to reward the dog for a job well done.
  • Understand that bed bugs are hard, even for dogs to find.

Safety Tips for Bed Bug Detection Dogs:

  • The dog must have good food and health care.
  • The trainer must provide the dog with socialization experiences with other animals and people.
  • The dog should not be taken into situations that would pose physical danger, such as the presence of aggressive animals or risky environments.
  • Use good car safety when transporting the dog to work locations.
  • Remove distractions from the area where the dog will be working.
  • Do not allow people to approach the dog unless the handler has given permission.