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Bed bugs have become an epidemic! These pesky, tiny, little blood-feeding insects hide in crevices of furniture, rooms, and luggage, spreading rapidly. They are very hardy, able to withstand long periods without food and even temperature changes. Eradicating them is quite a challenge, as they are resistant to several methods of extermination, and avoid detection.
Recently using dogs (and specifically, scent hounds such as Beagles) has become a popular way to detect bed bugs in homes and commercial spaces. Early detection and treatment to remove the nasty critters is the best way to prevent a widespread infestation. Beagles, who have excellent sniffers, can be trained to detect the odor of bed bugs to locate them quickly and efficiently.
One potential issue with training Beagles and other dogs to detect bed bugs is that teaching the dog to distinguish between live bed bug infestations and older infestations that have already been dealt with can be difficult. Also, training an easily distractible Beagle to focus on the task at hand can be a challenge. But if you're up to it, your Beagle can be a valuable tool in the hands of an experienced handler, to locate bed bugs before they locate their next victim.
The challenge with handling bed bugs is detecting all the locations in an infested home or building where the little creatures are hiding. They are so small that it can be difficult to locate them visually. Dogs like Beagles that can sniff out all the locations that bed bugs are hiding in a room can be an invaluable tool. Beagles are especially adept at using their noses to distinguish scents, including the scent of bed bugs. However, deploying Beagles to successfully locate bugs in the real world can be complex, and variables such as the size of the room, competing scents, and the experience and direction the handler provides are crucial to the dog's success.
Getting a Beagle motivated to find bed bugs is not difficult, as they love to use their senses and “hunt” whatever you teach them to hunt, including bed bugs. However, getting your Beagle to focus and do a thorough sweep of an area does require discipline and training. Since bed bugs can hide in cracks in floors, walls, electrical outlets and furniture, a bed bug Beagle will need to do a very thorough search of the environment to locate all bed bugs hiding in a given area.
Most Beagles are motivated to work with their nose and get pretty excited about any task involving hunting with their incredible sense of smell. However, having food and treats available to reinforce correct scenting of bed bugs is beneficial, so your Beagle can understand what is expected of him. You will need to use samples of bed bugs to help train your dog to locate them, and great care is required to prevent them from escaping and creating an infestation. Containers with fine mesh screens and careful handling will be required.
The Associate with Food Method
Make a game
Make your Beagle learn a game to smell and receive food hidden under containers. Beagles that need to sniff out and locate their food are also being taught important scanning behaviors.
Put live bugs in containers, sealed with mesh, so that scent can escape but bugs can’t. Put the bedbug containers with the food under a container.
Pair bedbugs and food
When the Beagle stops at or indicates a container with food and the bedbug sample, provide the food. Ignore if your dog stops at a container with food but no bed bugs.
Practice repeatedly. Start introducing samples of dead bed bugs, shell casings, and fecal matter as well and only reward your Beagle for indicating live bugs.
Remove food pairing
Start putting samples under containers with no food. When your dog indicates live bedbugs, provide food as a treat from your hand.
The Scent and Signal Method
Use strong scents
Set up mock rooms and place canisters containing a strong scent like food, vanilla, or peanut butter in hiding spots around the room.
Teach a signal
Teach your Beagle a hand or verbal signal such as ‘sit and look at me’ or ‘paw’ that will be used to indicate the presence of the scent.
Associate signal with scent
When your Beagle locates a scent canister, provide your command for the signal behavior.
Pair signal with bed bug scent
Introduce a bed bug scent in a container and provide the hand or verbal command for the signal to indicate location of the scent. Have the Beagle investigate the scent, provide the command and when the dog correctly responds, provide a reward.
Remove your signal
Gradually remove your signal, continue to present the bedbug scent and reward the dog performing the signal.
Set up multiple scent canisters containing a variety of bed bug scents including live bugs, egg casings, discarded shells, fecal matter and other competing substances of interest such as food in a room. Take your Beagle and ask him to search. When he locates live bedbug samples and signals, reward. When he identifies another scent or dead material, ignore.
The Match Scent Method
Set up samples
Use containers such as salt shakers with gauze over lid area to contain bugs. Put live bedbugs in some containers, fecal matter and dead bugs in the others.
Reinforce live sample
Provide your Beagle with only the live bug shakers and let him sniff them. Provide treats or play time as a reward after sniffing.
Remove your Beagle from the room and hide shakers in the room.
Ignore false signals
Ask your dog to ‘seek’. If your dog locates a shaker with dead material, ignore.
Reward successful locating
When your Beagle identifies and signals on a shaker with live bedbugs, reward him with treats or play.
Repeat and practice in different environments, different hiding places, and with distractions. Stop providing the matching live bug scent. Ask your dog to locate live bugs and signal you without the matching sample. Reward success.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 12/26/2017, edited: 01/08/2021