Bed Bugs continue to be a problem and bed bug detection dogs are widely used to detect them. “These specially trained canines are boast a 97% accurate in finding live infestations. This is compared to only the 30% accuracy of humans with visual detection.” (http://www.bedbugs.org/dogs/) Increasingly more clients are requesting dogs to find an infestation. We as handlers need to ensure that our canine partners are being honest with us about finding the problem. Set up your bed bug dog training for success.
The last three searches that I did with my canine were heavy infestations. My bed bug dog’s alert is a sit. She will detail an area and determine the location of the heaviest scent and do her alert. I noticed on the third search my bed bug detection dog alerted on two beds and some bins under one of the beds. But when she got to a sofa, she jumped up and sat. I didn’t believe her since I saw no sourcing behavior prior to the alert decision. We knew that the house was infested and the owner adamantly wanted the entire house treated so no harm done. But on my way home I stopped at the local hardware store and did a search with no alerts. I wasn’t satisfied because the hardware store is a very different picture than a house.
I trust my dog so I immediately wanted to test her on a sofa where I knew there were no bed bugs. Later that day I asked my neighbor if I could search her house. My bed bug dog had never been in this house so I drove there just as I would in a search, put on my food pouch and leashed her up with her long lead. No alerts until we got to one of her sofas. Sure enough, same lack of sourcing behavior, she jumped up and sat. I ignored it but waited her out and we moved ahead. No alerts on the rest of the house. We went back to the sitting room, same sofa, and she searched it and no alert. She realized that she couldn’t get away with it. The next day I went to another neighbor’s house, no alerts including the sofa. My neighbor then hid two vials single blind (I didn’t know where they were) and my dog did two beautiful finds (but I asked my neighbor not to put them on the sofa).
I am taking any false alerts very seriously. I can’t afford to have her false alerting and lose confidence in her. Any false alerts and she is crated for a short time, prior to continuing training. As soon as she false alerts I pick her up and taking her immediately to her crate. No conversation. I am glad that I know her well enough and that I picked up on the behavior immediately. If we only trained our dogs and did no real life searches we could avoid any poor performance but our working dogs are in unknown situations and we need to observe them and know them well enough so we can address problems immediately. The only way to get to know your dog is to observe your dog in a training environment where you know exactly where the hides are.
You can incorporate some training into your work, but since you don’t know where the bed bugs are or not you need to keep up with your training. The Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthogonal Detector Guidelines (SWGDOG) has studied and set guidelines for training requirements of a working dog. According to SWGDOG a canine team shall complete a minimum of sixteen (16) hours of training per month to maintain and improve the proficiency level of the team. These guidelines are followed by law enforcement and used in court when cases arise relating to detection dogs. The handler should be keeping a regular training log. It’s essential to keep your dog honest. You need to understand your dog’s body language to determine if there actually are bed bugs in the alerted location. The only way to reinforce accurate detection is regular training.
If I’m out on a long search with no bed bugs I notice my dog’s detailing getting sloppy. I need to periodically introduce a vial into longer searches to ensure focus and to keep it fun for her. Conversely the problem of heavy infestations where the dog starts to realize that she can alert and get fed. Hey, this is easy! But if you notice a behavior change, she may be playing you. I will do more negative searches in training after working heavy infestations so my dog builds her nose time with no finds. And if there are no bed bugs in a long search I will put out a number of vials in training to reinforce her detailing behavior. If she expects to find something there she is going to check for it. I will address this in an upcoming post.
We have begun an Interdisciplinary Working Detection Dog Group since these issues are similar in all detection working dogs. Please contact me if you are a handler and interested in participating. We have handlers in human remains detection, narcotics, vapor wake and nose work as well as bed bugs.