4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Bed Bugs?



4 min read


Can Dogs Smell Bed Bugs?


According to the National Pest Management Association, bed bugs are one of the most troublesome pests in America. About twenty percent of Americans have experienced bed bugs in either their home or a hotel room, or know someone who has experienced bed bugs. Even further, seventy-six percent of pest-control professionals consider bed bugs to be the most difficult pest to control.

However, bed bugs can be controlled! And interestingly enough, recently, pest control companies have been turning to bedbug-sniffing dogs to search out these tiny, pesky bugs. But, how accurate are the noses of these pups? Read on to find out!


Signs Your Dog is Smelling Bed Bugs

Bed bugs are tiny little insects that are barely visible to the human eye. Bed bugs are parasites and require blood to stay alive. As nocturnal creatures, they tend to live in bedrooms, coming out at night and feasting on your blood. People with bed bug infestations will wake up with new, pink bite marks all over their bodies each morning. Normally, bed bugs feed every three to seven days, but adult bed bugs can go up to five months without a meal, making it hard to get rid of them.   

Bed bugs can spread from one place to another, usually via bags, luggage, mattresses, or furniture. If you wake up with bloodstains or bites, you may have a bed bug problem. Small dark brown or black fecal matter found on bedding, pillowcases and other furniture can also be a sign that you have bed bugs. 

Thankfully, our pups have really strong noses and may be able to sense these pesky creatures. Pay attention to your dog's behavior and where they seem to be sniffing. You are going to want to inspect any areas your pup sniffs out to confirm any bed bug findings. Keep an eye out for bugs, eggs, or fecal matter that your pup is alerted to. 

Body Language

Signs that your pup has sniffed out bed bugs may include:

  • Alert
  • Wag Tail
  • Sniffing
  • Body Freezing

Other Signs

Other signs to watch for include:

  • Stopping And Sitting Patiently In Front Of An Area
  • Pointing Their Nose At Infested Areas
  • Seeming Weird Or "Off"


The Science Behind Dogs Smelling Bed Bugs


Although bed bugs tend to be about 2.5 mm to 4.5mm long, your pup may have the ability to still smell them. Dogs have one of the most powerful noses on the planet! While us humans have about 5 million cells in our noses that help us smell, our furry friends have around 220 million! 

Particles in the air attach to our pups' wet noses, helping them smell even better. Even further, the part of a dog's brain that is dedicated to analyzing scents is far larger than ours. And while dogs have amazing senses of smells, they are also smaller and agiler, allowing them to identify something as small as a parasite. 

Since dogs are born with an amazing sense of smell, detection dogs are taught to seek out certain scents, including those of bed bugs, and alert their trainer whenever it is present. This is how dogs are capable of hunting animals and detecting bombs — they can smell things the humans can't even imagine being capable of!

The National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NEDSCA) is the only facility in America with accreditations for training scent dogs. The NESDECA standards are based upon research conducted by scientists at The University of Florida. NESDECA provides the training methods set out to be used by trainers and certifies facilities. Dogs, along with their humans work alongside one another to produce accurate and efficient results. However, the accuracy of canine detection with bedbugs has been controversial. 

ABC aired a story on how effective canine scent detection really is for bed bugs. The show explored a detection team in New York City. The home observed was certified as bed bug-free by two entomologists. The homeowner, who was indeed an actor for the show, asked 11 pest control professionals that utilize canine detection to inspect her home. Seven of the eleven canine detection teams found the home to be bed bug-free.

There are a multitude of reasons for the false alerts - ranging from a mistake to the fact that the dogs may simply have wanted a treat. Because there is no way to know what training a dog has to determine it's detection reliability, you should always request evidence of bed bug presence prior to a treatment being made.

How to Train Your Dog to Detect Bed Bugs


Although canine detection is not always one hundred percent accurate, training dogs to detect bed bugs is possible, and surprisingly, has become very popular for pest detection companies. Dogs are capable of smelling out bed bugs in hidden locations and tight crevices (think of a stuffed animal or an electrical outlet). Once dogs are able to detect the presence of bed bugs a trained exterminator will be able to test these areas for bed bugs and provide further action.

However, you can try to train your pup to use scent detection with treats and positive reinforcement. Start by making your pup earn their treats from the start. Teaching your pup to sniff out and locate food also supports important scanning behaviors. 

You can prepare samples by putting live bugs in containers, sealed with mesh, so that scent can escape but the bugs can’t. Try placing the bed bug containers with the food in a container. Then you should reward your pup when they locate the container with food and the bug sample.

You can then further confound the samples by placing some samples of food alone and some with bed bugs and food. Again, make sure your reward your pup for locating a container with food and a bed bug sample (but don't reward your pup if they stop at a container with food, but no bed bugs). 

After repeating this process, you can complicate the detection process by using samples of dead bed bugs, shell casings, or fecal matter as well. Lastly, start using samples with no food. When your pup finds the containers with the bed bugs, make sure you reward your pup. Practice makes perfect!

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By Olivia Gerth

Published: 04/06/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
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