One thing I’ve discovered as a Bed Bug Dog Handler is that bed bugs are never where you expect them to be. You cannot anticipate where they will be. So given that, it’s essential to believe what your dog tells you. If he alerts, he smells bed bugs and no alerts, no bed bug scent. Trust your bed bug dog.
I have gone out to houses with people who have many ‘bites’ in the right locations – hands, wrists, ankles, face sometimes back, all the exposed areas. My dog will not alert on any scent. Sometimes these people have travelled and the only explanation is a delayed reaction or getting bitten elsewhere (office, etc). And after our visit they won’t get any new bites so I do trust what my dog said: ‘no bed bugs’.
Another inspection the woman was waking up to new ‘bites’ at night. She had just begun a job as a home care worker and went into a variety of patient homes. Prime candidate for bed bugs! I have to say that I went expecting to find bed bugs. No scent according to my dog. They had taken care of a dog the previous week and I suggested other alternatives. I’ve also had hives and they can be itchy and fleeting. I always do a follow up with my clients to see how they are doing. It’s good feedback for our work. I called her nine days later (bed bugs feed every 5-7 days so it would give them time to feed again if present). She had not had a ‘bite’ since the night before we came out and the doctors now thought it might be hives. I know our inspection allowed her to sleep better.
We have gone out on countless post treatment inspections where the client felt ‘itchy’ and found no bed bugs and it gave the client piece of mind.
One post treatment inspection I expected to find bed bugs. The tenant said she had seen bed bugs recently and was getting bitten. It had been 90 days since the heat treatment and they had a large infestation. They unsuccessfully chemical treated first for eight months then resorted to heat when that was not successful. This time she said she ‘wanted heat again’ and that her bed bug bites were sporadic. I expected to find bed bugs. My bed bug dog found no bed bug scent. The tenant was not happy. I also inspected the other two upstairs apartments where the tenants said they had no bites or visual confirmations and we likewise found nothing. I instructed the woman to take a picture of the bed bug next time she finds one and send it to us for confirmation. I think her ‘itchy’ feeling had escalated to the point where she got confused about the timing of seeing bed bugs before or after treatment.
I recently went out to a sorority house where the house manager thought the house mate was psychosomatic. She had received bites but no one else had. Not all people react to bites so her roommate might not react. We had had five inspections in a row with no bed bugs. We inspected the fourth floor rooms and found nothing. On the third floor my dog alerted on the clothing bins under her and her roommates raised beds. My dog was adamant with a little pawing (she has a sit alert and only paws if I’m not listening to her and she wants to make sure I hear her). There was one other room on the same floor where I got an alert. It was a room where the roommates also sometimes sleep. Nothing in the rest of the house.
Bed Bug Dog trainers and handlers, or any detection dog trainer/handler for that matter, must trust their dogs to be effective. And the way to build trust with your dog is to have your dog prove that he is reliable and to get to know your dog’s body language. Ongoing training is the basis of maintaining a reliable bed bug dog. Watch your dog in training and get to know his body language when he’s in scent and when he’s made a find. If you have been out on a number of searches with bed bugs in the bed your dog will start expecting there to be bed bugs in the beds. Be sure to train in between these inspections on beds that have no bed bugs. Set your dog up for success. If I’m doing inspections every day I set up training early in the morning or late at night. It’s easy motivational training but it just reinforces the scent and proofs the dog off any expectations of a find.