Bed Bug Detection Dog Inspections vs. Training

I have been training search dogs for years.  I am Canine Training Director for my search team and have trained wilderness air scent dogs, cadaver dogs and trailing dogs.  All of the work is volunteer and we respond when we get called out by state and local police.  Oftentimes we are second tier to police dogs and we are called out when they have not located the missing person, so the searches don’t happen as often as we would like.    We have the luxury of lots of training and after searches we are able to go back to training to fix any issues that might happen in the real world.  In training we have control over the hides (human remains or subjects).    Generally either we or someone accompanying us know where the hides are and if the dog alerts elsewhere we don’t reinforce the behavior and if they alert correctly there is a big party.  But when out on bed bug detection jobs, there is often no immediate feedback.  My bed bug dog alerts and I treat or not.  Later I may find out if there was in fact a source or hide, but the delay could be hours or days.   And many working dogs work a number of jobs a day and on consecutive days so squeezing in corrective training can be difficult.  I have three certified dogs;   a live find dog, a cadaver dog and a bed bug dog.   I find that handling my bed bug dog is the most challenging because of the aforementioned issues.   If I reward her for a false alert (every working dog falses at times) then extinguishing that behavior will be more difficult.  But if I don’t have immediate feedback on whether there are bed bugs or not, I can’t withhold the reward.  If I am withholding rewards until I actually get visual confirmation my dog will stop alerting for me.

In training you can watch your dog and observe her body language when she is sourcing a hide as well as when she is falsing.  Get to know your dog.   You know where you have put the hides (bed bugs) so if the dog falses, what is his body language?  What are you doing to elicit the false?  Tape your sessions or have an experienced person watch you.  I have a group of handlers that I train with.  They give me feedback and make suggestions.  Regardless of how many years you’ve done this, feedback is always valuable, even from a less experienced person.  It’s a fresh set of eyes.   Single blinds (you don’t know where the hides are but another person who is present does) are valuable so you don’t unconsciously cue your dog.  I just learned that my bed bug dog sometimes licks her lips when she’s made the find in addition to her sit alert.  I also train to commit to scent so if she makes a find she stays seated with it, regardless of what I do.  If I keep walking she stays.  Another behavior is sourcing.  When your dog comes into scent, generally she will spend time sniffing to find the exact location of the scent.  That’s another behavioral indication of commitment to source (the bed bug in our case).

I constantly work distractions.   When we go out on inspections we run into distractions and challenges every time.   Hopefully you’ve proofed your dog off of the many distractions but when you’re inspecting people’s homes and other facilities there is always a new challenge.  Sometimes a scent can be close to the scent you work.  Carpet beetles can be close to bed bug scent and I have gotten carpet beetles to proof off of with my dog.  I also proof off of dead bed bugs as we do lots of post treatment inspections and there are generally dead bed bugs.  We don’t care about dead bed bugs and I can’t have my dog alerting on them, we only care about live bed bugs.  So my dog knows there is no reward for dead bed bugs.  I reinforce that training periodically with her so she doesn’t forget.

Having a certified dog doesn’t mean you’ve arrived.   I’ve had search people tell me that their dog has never falsed.  I always wonder how they know that unless they have never been on a real search and they have always known the location of the hide.  But that’s not real life.  I have also had bed bug handlers tell me they only reward their dog when they get visual confirmation.  But we bed bug dog handlers know that we are only called in when there are all the signs (bites) but our clients can’t find the bed bugs.  We also oftentimes can’t get visual confirmation after an alert.   The dogs’ noses are sensitive and they are able to find a hidden bed bug in a location that is impossible to see (between floor boards for example).   I’ve asked those handlers how often they get visual confirmation and they say ‘not very often’.   I have to wonder if their dogs are always telling them about their finds.  Why bother if there is no reward?

 

 

Bed Bug Treatment – Professionals or Not

Bed Bug Treatment – Professionals or Not

Bed bugs are difficult to eradicate once you have them.  Personally I would not attempt to treat on my own.  Once there is an infestation, a professional tretament service will address the visual problem but also the hidden problem behind walls and under floor boards.   It’s time to get professional bed bug treatment.

There are times when waiting to treat makes sense.  We had a call and did a search in Townsend MA on January 2.   The family had visited relatives in Maine.  The wife had gotten bitten and when she went to the dermatologist it was suggested that her bites might be bed bugs.  She decided to bring in a bed bug dog to see if they had brought any bed bugs back to their home in Townsend.

The bites were typical of the lines with bed bugs and she didn’t believe she had gotten any bites since she had come back but wanted to see if there were any bed bugs in her home.  I suggested that her relatives have their home inspected as well.  But as it turned out, that wasn’t necessary as the relatives had already seen bed bugs at their home shortly after the visit.

Bed bug dog Spice alerted upstairs on a cot in a bag that they had used in Maine.  Spice actually stuck her head inside the bag then sat.  She also alerted on a gym bag.  She stuck her head in the bag then sat (her alert) on top of the bag so she was pretty clear where she smelled bed bugs.  The owner put the cot bag outside in freezing temps but will need to be treated as cold cannot be relied upon.  The gym bag got thrown in the dryer.  The bag had gone to Maine and carried back all of their clothing which they had dried upon their return but had done nothing with the bag.

Rather than immediately treat since it was not clear that any bugs had migrated from the bags, the owner elected to wait 3-4 weeks to see if she gets any more bites.  Either way I will return in four weeks to recheck the house with bed bug dog Spice.  Four weeks will be sufficient time for any eggs to hatch and for bed bugs to migrate to human hosts in the house.   Also, if they are in the house there will be an established scent pool when Spice and I return to search. Our return trip at no charge will give her piece of mind.  If she sees bed bugs in the interim we will not need to return, she will treat.  If she starts getting bitten we will go back to try to get location an then visual confirmation.

Hopefully moving and taking action on the bags will be sufficient to address her potential bed bug problem.  It’s much cheaper to hire a bed bug dog than to treat for bed bugs.