Understanding and Communicating with Bed Bug Dogs

Most people who have dogs know how intelligent the animals can be. Dogs are smarter -- and easier to train -- than many other animals, including cats. There is a reason that dogs work at a variety of jobs, from K9 cops to service dogs, while cats just work at relaxing and shedding! It is also why dogs work at sniffing out bed bugs. Dogs have a very keen sense of smell. It's much better than humans -- between 10,000 and 1000,000 times better. Researcher James Walker discovered that number in a study on the canines. He told PBS: "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." Dogs have over 300 million "olfactory receptors," PBS says, as opposed to humans' six million olfactory receptions. Given those phenomenal numbers, a dog's nose can be trained to find out a lot of things. Some dogs are trained to sniff out drugs, or bombs, or missing children. Bed bug dogs are trained to sniff out, well, bed bugs!

What types of pooches can be trained as bed bug dogs?

Contrary to popular opinion, multiple breeds -- not just beagles -- can be bed bug dogs. Even mutts can work at the profession. Basenjis and poodles are just two types of the canines that have worked as bed bug dogs. There are several characteristics that all bed bug dogs must have:

  • The first is that they must be small enough to maneuver around small spaces. After all, bed bug dogs will be working in bedrooms and other tight areas. Saint Bernards and afghan hounds may have a good sense of smell, but they can't crawl under beds and squeeze into tight spaces.
  • The second thing bed bug dogs must have is trainability. The ability to listen, follow commands, and retain that knowledge is necessary in such a dog. As pet owners know all too well, some dogs are just too difficult to train.
  • The third thing bed bugs dogs need is the ability to get along with strangers and not be scared at unfamiliar locations. After all, the dogs will be going to new locations all the time as part of their job. Some dogs may have a great ability to sniff out bed bugs, but if they are skittish around humans they might not be prime 'detection' candidates.

What should bed bug dogs be able to do?

Bed bug dogs should be able to sniff out, well, bed bugs! That is obvious, of course. But they also need to be able to distinguish a variety of things while looking for these pests. They should be able to ferret out bed bugs when there are as few as one or two of them around. They also should be able to figure out the difference between live and dead bed bugs. If there are only dead bed bugs, and the detritus connected with dead bed bugs like empty egg shells, fecal matter, and carcasses, it is possible the infestation is over.

How is a bed bug dog trained?

Much like humans do, dogs respond positively to treats -- especially food treats -- and praise. A good bed bug handler works with his dog every single day, with live bed bugs and bed bug eggs. Each day, he hides the bugs in a different place, and has the dog sniff them out. It could be up high, or down low. The idea is to keep the dog's senses sharp. The canine is trained to signal to the handler when he spots live bed bugs. Some may paw the local area, or bark, or do some other sort of signal. When the dog successfully ferrets out the bugs, the handler will praise the dog and give him a treat. Every dog is different, so there might be different, subtle ways that the dog acts. But all of them should be able to successfully communicate evidence of a current bed bug infestation to their handler.

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