Can Dogs Smell Alive and Dead Bed Bugs?

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Introduction

This is fast becoming a dog detector world, as our clever canines put their powerful noses to the ground and sniff out drugs, explosives, cash, gold, DVDs, and now, bed bugs. 

Just the thought of those nasty critters makes you want to cringe. These blood-sucking insects love beds and can spoil the reputation of a resort or hostel that might not be aware they have free-loading guests. Bed bug sniffer-dogs are the new kids on the block who detect the little varmints and alert their handler to send in pest control!

Signs a Dog is Detecting Bed-Bugs

With their supersonic hearing and star-quality sense of smell, our woofers can hit the ground running when it comes to sorting out bed bugs -“Wanted Dead or Alive!”

Although a mass of bed bugs can leave brown or black spots on a mattress, in general, they are tough little vampires to detect. Once again, the dogs have been called in to help these insatiable insects pack their bags. It may surprise you to know that bed bugs can extract up to 10 minutes worth of your blood while they are partaking in their breakfast, lunch or dinner. You may not be aware until blood spots appear on your arms legs or neck and even then, you might head to the vet to get your canine sleeping partner flea treatment, not suspecting the real culprit.

Dogs are saving people thousands by pinpointing the spot an infestation might be. They are popular with hotels and holiday accommodation, as the bed-bugs may only be located in certain rooms. This exact detecting makes the overall cost of extermination easier on the bank balance. If a pest controller finds these terrorizing insects, they might recommend the entire space be fumigated, so yes, dogs are invaluable for saving time and money.

Meet Toby, a rescue Beagle who works for Round The Clock Pest Control sniffing out bed bugs. Toby and his partner go into nursing homes, apartments, suburban homes, and places of business as the "bed bug busters" of Los Angeles. Toby is quite the celebrity and has been featured on KCAL 9 News, Channel 4 News, and Santa Clarita Signal, to name a few.

When pooches like Toby are on the job, they can be seen running or pacing back and forth through rooms, their tail wagging like crazy. They’ll jump up smelling draws, head turning in all directions trying to locate the scent. Dogs love sniffing and having learned the specific odor of these insects in their 5 stages of development, it's not long before the dog sits or uses their nose to point. They may also gently paw at the place they detect bed bugs. Dogs are not allowed to scratch or dig like other detector dogs, as it could cause damage to the bed, walls, or furniture. For a job well done, a pooch might play-bow for their treat or toy reward.

Smaller breeds of dogs are used to avoid unnecessary fears by people who may have an issue with dogs. It’s also easier for the handler to lift them up if they need to check out higher-up places those darn bugs might be.

Body Language

Signs a dog is trying to find bed bugs are:
  • Jumping up
  • Wag tail
  • Pacing
  • Sniffing
  • Play bowing

Other Signs

More signs a dog can smell bed bugs include:
  • Sitting to indicate they found the bugs
  • Pointing with their nose
  • Pawing

History of Bed Bug-Sniffing Dogs

Bed bugs have a long history here on earth, with their beginnings in Middle Eastern caves where they lived on bats, making them ancient bugs with attitude. Pest World informs us these parasitical globe travelers entered the USA without a green card along with early colonists. They went unnoticed for quite some time until the fabulous 50’s, when they were ousted by pest products, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines.

The war had begun and these insistent insects were being targeted as illegal aliens in people’s beds, mattresses, and shoes. As cities got more congested and overseas travel increased around the 90’s, the word on the streets was “Bed Bugs are Back!”

Up until the early 70’s, DDT was the weapon of choice for ridding homes of bed bugs. A ban was placed as DDT was deemed a health hazard leaving an open door for Cimex lectularius to unleash a new reign of terror in the modern age. This time around, bed bugs had built up a resistance to the insecticides available and were moving into apartments and condos - infesting city after city.

Something needed to change and that was the advent of the bed bug detector-dog. In 2010, The New York Times mentioned a dog named Cruiser being employed to find these pesky parasites. Cruiser was a rescue pup trained at J&K Canine Academy in High Springs, Fla. Here other mutts were taught to detect termites, bombs, and cancer. Cruiser's handler realized that training dogs to find bed bugs meant keeping the little suckers and feeding them. There's only one way to do that and if you're feeling a little queasy, so probably is Cruiser's handler.

With another detector-dog called Freedom tagging along, Cruiser and his handler went to work in a home and shocked the resident with news that the dogs had detected bed bugs in her baby’s crib.

This was the beginning of a career change as Cruisers handler, Jeremy Ecker, had been in the extermination business for years but saw the beauty of dogs as fast and efficient detectors.

Science Behind Dogs Sensing Dead and Alive Bed Bugs

A study performed By NCBI found dogs were able to detect bed bugs and eggs with an accuracy rating of 95.7%. They were also able to differentiate between live and dead bed bugs. A study in a hotel room revealed dogs successfully found alive bugs 98% of the time. The study concluded that well-trained dogs could be highly effective at identifying bed-bugs and their eggs.

Beagles appear to be a popular dog of choice because of their compact size and super sniffing abilities. These intelligent, friendly, and playful dogs were originally bred to hunt rabbits. The big-hearted Beagle has survived to become one of the best detector dogs on the planet.

Their smelling apparatus is second only to the Bloodhound and can sniff us, humans, out of the ballpark. The Beagle could easily detect the player’s socks in their locker room - from some distance away! The part of a woofer's brain that’s designed to process smell is 40 times larger than ours, plus they have up to 300 million smell receptors as opposed to our measly 5 or 6 million. It's also said a dog can whiff a small teaspoon of peanut butter or coffee in a million gallons of water. There’s no doubt our pooches are sniffing geniuses and can tell if we are in good health, just by inhaling our scent!

Training Dogs to Smell Dead or Alive Bed Bugs

Training a dog to be a "bed bug buster' starts around 8 to 12 months. Potential candidate-dogs are often found at the local shelter, which is a wonderful way to give an abandoned or rescued pup a chance at a new life.

Basic obedience is always the first port of a call - just as a child needs to know there ABC’s, a pooch must learn sit, stay, down, and come. These training commandments not only introduce a dog to learning new ideas but keep them safe. If a woofer is trying to chase a cat across the road and doesn’t understand the “come” or “wait” code, the worst might happen.

All dogs starting their careers as bed bug detectors receive positive encouragement with no force or punishment tactics involved. The certificate these mighty mutts are studying for involves a test with the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDC). The dog and their handler are put through their paces to see how well the dog can sniff out those bugs.

One of the excellent requirements of the NESDC is how they ensure the safety of the dog. Bed Bugs inform us that no nasties like shock collars, whips, or sticks are to be used on the pup. In fact, if a handler is caught out being cruel to their dog they are likely to lose the certificate issued.

The actual scent training takes place at a venue specially set up to mimic hotel rooms and homes so the dog gets familiar with the environment they will be working In. It can take up to 1000 hours before the bed bug busters are ready to sit their NESDC exam. Dogs are coached to detect alive and dead beg bugs plus their eggs and feces.

The tiny bugs that are taking over the earth have a “War Of The Worlds" style image as they invade every nook and cranny in homes, boats, and planes. According to the The Daily Mail, in 2017, British Airways were red-faced when passengers were bitten by jet-setting bed bugs.

Our detector-dogs have their work cut out with these brazen bugs as they are highly mobile and breed like crazy. For the last decade, the revolution has been picking up the pace as more pest control firms are catching on to pooches being wonder dogs that can sniff out these blood thirsty bandits!

How to React When Your Dog Sniffs Out Bed Bugs:

  • Praise them heaps!
  • Reward them with a treat or play.
  • Pu them on a leash and walk them around the whole home to see if they find more.
  • Read articles to see if your dog can be trained as a bed bug detector.
  • Call pest control.