Working dogs are everywhere using their amazing sense of smell. You’ve seen them on the news, sniffing out the trail of a bad guy or searching for hidden drugs. Terriers were initially bred to sniff out and kill vermin. But, aside from finding every stray piece of food that falls to your floor, what can a dog’s incredible nose do for you? Believe it or not, a properly trained canine may be able to sniff out those elusive of all pests: the bed bug.

Largely eradicated from the United States over 50 years ago, bed bugs have reappeared in recent years, arriving on luggage and clothing from travelers overseas. The pesticides that effectively eliminated them last century are no longer legal to use in the U.S. While other methods to kill the bugs are available, you first need to know that they’re around. That’s where the bed bug-sniffing dogs enter.

Bed bugs are small, about the size of an apple seed, and are experts at hiding, using cracks in walls, electrical sockets and even seams of mattresses and linens as hideouts. They only come out to feed when you fall asleep. All of this makes it difficult for the average person to find them. Studies, like those at the University of Florida, have found that well-trained dogs can accurately detect bed bugs 98 percent of the time, with almost no instances of false positives.

Unlike humans, dogs smell in parts per trillion. One trainer likens the comparison to a person being able to smell a stew cooking, while a dog can smell the individual ingredients in the dish. Bed bugs are known to emit a sweet, musty odor, similar to the scent of berries. The human nose normally only detects the smell when there is a significant infestation. A dog’s nose, however, can detect the scent from even one bug.

Many of the dogs used in bed bug detection come from shelters and rescues. They are trained using food motivation and work with a number of handlers, making them comfortable in variable circumstances. Dogs may be certified through the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association, although no industry-wide certification process exists.

Some pest control companies discuss the problem a customer is having outside of the presence of the dog and his handler. This prevents the handler from subconsciously steering the dog toward a nest’s suspected location. Speak with your prospective pest control provider about their methods when using a bed bug detection dog. Ask how the dog and handler trained for the process. If the dog can distinguish between live and dead bed bugs, as well as between bed bugs and other pests, you can feel confident the dog was trained well. Beagles have proven particularly adept at this work, thanks to their size, temperament and smelling skills.

A strictly human team may require dozens of workers to find a bed bug infestation. A properly-trained dog can sniff out the problem in as little as 30 seconds to two minutes, according to research. So, although the initial acquisition of an effective bed bug sniffing dog may be costly, in the long run, this method can save money for both the pest control company and the consumer.

Filed under: Working Dogs

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