How Are Dogs Trained to Detect Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs are a nuisance -- there is a reason "don't let the bed bugs bite" became such a popular expression over the years. And the human eye cannot easily spot them. Not only is the adult bed bug only the size of an apple seed, but the bugs are secretive and lurk at night. So you might have bed bugs in your home or business and not even know it. This is where bed bug dogs come in. As you may know, dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans do. According to PBS' TV show "Nova," dogs' sense of smell is "10,000 to 100,000 times as acute" as ours. James Walker, who was the director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, which did a study on dogs' sense of smell, said: "If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well." So that makes dogs an ideal tool for sniffing out things like drugs, chemicals, and bed bugs. But not all dogs are ideal candidates to be bed bug sniffing dogs. Size matters. A big dog, like a St. Bernard, would simply be too unwieldy to get around spaces like a bedroom in order to find the bed bugs. How are bed bug dogs trained to detect their prey? First of all, not only does size matter, but so does temperament. A high-strung dog would not make the ideal bed bug dog. Nor will a headstrong dog that does not listen to orders. The best bed bug canines are smart, friendly, and determined. A variety of breeds can work well as bed bug dogs, including beagles, labs, and terriers. Most bed bug dogs are trained within the first three years of their life, after they are no longer headstrong puppies. They can work a decade or more. Bed bug dogs also need to be willing to work with a human trainer or inspector, who will work with them on how to detect the pests. The trainer or handler should also be able to make visual confirmation of the pests, once the dog sniffs out the bugs. Different trainers may have different training methods, but the goal of the training is the same -- to get the dogs to ferret out live bed bugs.

A typical training may go like this:

  • Take five salt vials. Fill three of them with some bed bugs. Have one of them empty. Have one of them filled with bed bugs' eggs, excrement, and casings.

  • Have your dog sniff only the salt vials with live bed bugs.

  • Take the dog out of the room and hide the vials.

  • Bring the dog back in and give him a command, such as "seek," or some other command that the dog will recognize. The important thing is to be consistent with the command.

  • Give the dog a treat and praise only when he finds the salt vials containing the live bed bugs, not the empty one, or the one with the eggs and fecal matter. Ignore him if he finds the other ones.

  • Keep up this process, using different rooms, and more elaborate or out of the way places to find the bed bugs. Mix it up; otherwise it will become too routine.

  • Don't forget to reward your dog after they find those bed bugs for you. Positive reinforcement can be an important part of their development as master bed bug finders.

Whether it's a treat, a squeaky toy or even a friendly hug always make sure you thank your dog for a job well done!

Good bed bug dog handlers make sure to train their dogs every single day to keep their skills up. Otherwise, the dog's skills could atrophy. Also, it is important that the dog is only trained to sniff out one thing -- bed bugs. Do not train the same dog in mold, drug, chemical, or any other detection. It will only confuse them. What people hiring a bed bug dog need to know If you are considering hiring a bed bug dog, make sure that the dog is certified by some sort of national organization. This will make sure that the dog has been trained and is following national standards. Also, ask for the dog's success rate. One hundred percent is not realistic, though. And finally, ask about how the dog is regularly trained.

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