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?



Trust Your Bed Bug Dog

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.

Bed Bug Dogs Inspecting Multiple Unit Bldgs

Recently my bed bug dog inspected 70 studio or one bedroom apartments each day for two days back to back and did a thorough job.     The third day was a Monday and over that weekend we inspected a three unit bldg that definitely had bed bugs.  On Monday my bed bug dog did a number of alerts on what had been a bug free building in the previous two day search.   I tried more frequent breaks and switching up the search pattern but to no avail.  We had ten alerts in 70 units.  I offered to return free of charge to redo the rooms with alerts.  Because of their scheduling conflicts we waited a week before returning.  Upon our return, sure enough, no alerts on those units.

So as a dog trainer I need to figure out what happened to cause my dog to false alert.  Very veteran dogs will have built up more ‘nose time’ (length of time they are able to effectively and reliably search).  My bed bug dog is young, she just turned two years old so, although she was focused the entire time (she is a malinois cross and those dogs will work forever) she obviously was not being reliable that third day.  Over time that schedule will probably be fine but at this point I will monitor the number of units per day and also the back to back days that have long inspection hours.  Inspections are a dance that the handler and dog do together.  It is up to the handler to know their dog, read their dog and communicate to the facility manager the honest outcome.  If a handler gets an alert that he doesn’t totally believe (all dogs will false alert at times) then he needs to be honest about it.  The search can be redone at a later date, or the dog might just need a break and will then be fresh to either confirm or negate.   I also bring vials along on my searches, either live bed bug vials or pseudo scent.  My dog will happily alert on either.  I periodically hide a vial during long searches so my dog has a successful find and gets his reward (toy/treat).  That reinforces him to thoroughly inspect for me and keeps his head in the game.

My belief is that 70 units is a max for a dog per day.  If someone agrees to do 100 units in a day with one dog, I would question how effective that search is.  Bed bugs have a very small scent cone compared to other disciplines (human remains or narcotics etc).   Dogs have to detail to get their nose close enough to the cone to find the bed bugs.  At times with more air circulation a dog can scent the bugs upon entering the room especially in the case of an infestation.  But with an infestation oftentimes you see the bugs and don’t need dogs except maybe to check the adjoining units (they migrate).   But at times the scent cone is as small as six inches so walking a dog into the middle of the room and leaving is not an adequate search.  Detailing a room requires lots of training and lots of energy.  A dog that is thoroughly detailing will take longer to search and cannot search as many units.  My bed bug dog loses weight when we are doing lots of inspections and I need to up her food.  Dogs expend lots of energy searching; even if they aren’t moving quickly.  You can hear them sniffing.

Veteran bed bug dogs can do more back to back heavy schedules but my friend who has a dog that has inspected eight years still likes to have an easy day between heavy inspection days.  As a facility manager you want an honest team that will report honest results and you also need to realize that a bed bug dog is a dog and they will have off days.  It’s up to the handler to know and represent their dog and communicate the findings to their clients.  Rushing through an inspection with a limited number of dogs is not in anyone’s best interest.  It’s not fair for the dogs and you are not getting the best searches and most reliable outcomes.  Work with the bed bug dog teams and if there is flexibility you will get results that you can trust.



Trained Bed Bug K9 sniffing behind a chair

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.



The Importance of Detailing with Bed Bug Detection Dogs – Property Managers

If you watch a bed bug detection dog work, what you want to see is the dog thoroughly checking low, nose level and high as he moves along.  Oftentimes a handler will work with the dog on the left side and move clockwise around the room in a pattern.  You don’t want to see the handler walk into the middle of the room with the dog and walk out.   That is not detailing a room.  That’s air scenting and that isn’t sufficient in searching for bed bugs. Once you’ve gone around the outside of the room the handlers often go around each inside object in a counterclockwise direction.

Why is detailing essential with Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs have a very small scent cone – approximately six inches.  A good bed bug dog will pick up the scent when moving into the room from a greater distance if the air flow is moving the scent around but that cannot be relied upon.  A larger infestation is easier to pick up.  But if you just came home from a trip and a bed bug or two hopped into your luggage, a dog cannot walk in and out of the room and pick up on that odor.  The more thoroughly your bed bug dog details the room, the better you should be able to sleep at night.  It takes longer and is harder work for the dog and handler, but it’s essential to do a thorough bed bug search.  Some services want to cruise in and out of a facility, but that isn’t what you want to hire for a bed bug detection dog service.

How can you tell up front if a Bed Bug Dog service is thorough and reliable?

To start out, make sure that they are certified.  The bed bug detection dog and handler team have to test annually in order to be certified.  Also, if they say they are certified, ask them what date they certified.  It is essential to retest annually and if it’s been more than a year, they are no longer certified.  Ask your perspective service to run a test for you.  Ask them to bring a vial of bed bugs they use for training or of pseudo scent which is the scent of bed bugs but not the real thing.  Ask if you can hide it in the room somewhere and have the dog search for the vial.    You may have to wait 30 mins after hiding so the scent cone is available to the dog.  You also want to hide it in a location that the scent is available to the dog since there is only a tiny opening at the top of the vial.   All you are trying to determine is if the dog can recognize and indicate on that scent.  If the dog cannot find the vial, then you probably want to stop any search and find another Bed Bug Dog service.

We at Bed Bug Detection K9s are currently working a large job with 200 units.   The previous Bed Bug Detection Dog service that they had retained walked into and out of each room without detailing.   Immediately after the inspection they found a huge infestation of bed bugs in a unit.  A huge infestation doesn’t happen overnight.  The handler also refused to do the vial test prior to the search and was not certified.  MANY RED FLAGS!!!!!    We are splitting the search into three days with days of recovery in between.  A dog cannot do more than that if they are doing thorough detailing.  If you are a property manager and have many unit buildings, you will want the dogs to be fresh and effective.  One dog cannot do 100 units in a day and be effective.  Some services bring in several dogs and swap them out and that is a reasonable approach if the job needs to be done in short time.  Otherwise spread it out.  At Bed Bug Detection K9s we take breaks with the dogs.  Fifteen minutes is enough to revitalize the dog and get them refocused.  I like to stop after 70 units.  Any more is too much detailing for my dog for one day.   I can see if my dog is not focusing, or if I question an alert, I take a break and come back and re-inspect the unit.     When my dog needs a break she doesn’t slow down, instead she needs to be recast because I see she is missing areas.  Recasting in circling around to pass through the area again.  She also might do a false alert.  If she is tired and does an alert without sourcing the bed bug, it’s time for a break.  Sourcing the bed bug means change in body language.  She will breathe more heavily, her tail might move, she might do a button hole turn and go back to a previous area.  That is all indication to me that she has found something and is working odor.  The alert (behavior that tells the handler she has found – it might be a sit or a scratch or nose touch) is just the  final commitment.  So if a dog false alerts (tells you she has found without there being any bed bugs) with no body changes then it needs to be questioned by the handler.

A good Bed Bug Detection team will train minimally 16 hours per month.  If a team hasn’t bothered to certify I truly doubt that they are keeping up with their training.   Training logs are a part of the requirement and any professional service will have training logs on hand in the event they are ever called into court.  It’s reasonable to ask a service about their training logs.

I am the owner and dog trainer/handler at Bed Bug Detection K9s.  I also have two dogs that are certified in finding missing people and they are used by the state and local police.  I follow the same high standards on working my bed bug dog that I do on my live find and cadaver dogs.  Professionalism, reliability and accuracy are essential  with any working dog and the client deserves to get what they pay for.

Trained bed bug dog alerting

Bed Bug Dogs – The Importance of Certification

When looking for a bed bug detection dog, a certified bed bug dog should be at the top of your list. Just as you wouldn’t employ an unlicensed electrician or plumber, you want to ensure that the bed bug dog and handler inspecting your house or facility have credentials to do the job. Making a mistake about the findings and false alerting could cost you thousands and thousands of dollars in treatment that you might not need. Conversely the the bed bug dog misses the bed bugs, it could result in heavy infestation and many more dollars in treatment than would have originally been necessary (not to mention the heartache of living with bed bugs). It doesn’t matter how long the handler has been in business if they aren’t certified.

I work many different detection dogs and train detection handlers and when you are out on a job your dog can pick up bad habits. You need to go back to your training to right any wrongs. For instance, if you go out on a multi-unit job that is heavily infested in bed bugs and the dog is constantly getting a food reward each time he alerts, soon he realizes he gets food if he alerts. Back in training you set up problems where you know locations of bed bugs. If there is a false alert you know it. Out in the field you don’t. So the false indications can become ingrained unless you diligently ensure that your dog is honest. Or if your dog is not a diligent searcher, he can start missing bed bug locations.

The working dog requirement is annual certifications. That way a handler must keep up with his training if he wishes to pass the test. Constantly working your dog and not keeping up with ongoing training can be detrimental to a previously good bed bug dog and result in an unreliable bed bug dog.

I’ve seen many bed bug dog handlers that have certifications on their websites but they are not current. Not only do you need to confirm certification but request a certificate (online or on the website) so you can see that it is current. If it has lapsed (longer than a year), what about the dog’s training? There are actually only a handful of currently certified bed bug dogs in Massachusetts. It is too bad because it impacts the reputation of those of us who genuinely train our dogs and follow the working dog guidelines to ensure the highest industry standards. Be sure to only consider a currently certified bed bug dog for your inspection if you want reliable results.

Got Bed Bugs? What NOT To Do!

Bed Bugs and Travel

You’ve just gotten back from a trip. You spent and overnight in an expensive hotel. Two days later you notice a uneven line of bites on your ankle. You go online and decide the hotel room must have had bed bugs.

Too late, you’ve brought your suitcase up to your bedroom and unpacked all the unworn clothing. FIRST NOT! When you travel throw all your clothing (worn and unworn) into the washer and drier immediately upon return. After visiting an infested home I remove my clothing in my attached garage and throw it into the dryer for 30 mins unless I plan to immediately do a wash and in that case I wash on hot then dry immediately. (did you notice the word immediately?)

Okay, so your unworn clothing is back in your dresser, unwashed and undried. Too late now. You may or may not have brought bed bugs back with you. You will have to wait to see but don’t wait too long as you don’t want a large infestation. Bed bugs feed every 5-10 days. Bed bug bites sometimes are delayed at coming out so if you notice the bites a few days after travel, they may have happened in the hotel room.

What you should start doing is checking your bed. If you notice bloody dots on your sheets it’s not a good sign (smashed bed bugs possibly unless you know what else they are from). If you find a bug do NOT kill it and flush it down the toilet. Get a piece of clear tape and tape it down, then put it (in the clear tape) in a sealable plastic bag and take a picture on the macro setting of your phone. You can email that picture to an extermination company or to us. Could you have found the only bed bug you brought home? Maybe but not likely. They reproduce very quickly. Keep watching.

Bed Bugs and Bed Bug Detection Dogs

If you find positive proof of bed bugs and you live in a single family home, you don’t need a dog, get an exterminator in. If you live in an apartment building and you find a bed bug in your apartment, tell management and they should get a dog in to determine if any of the adjoining apartments have bed bugs and exactly how many units need to be treated. They quickly move from unit to unit. If you are uncertain about whether you have bed bugs, do NOT use household sprays. Once you have sprayed chemicals a dog cannot come in for 30 days. If you’re getting bitten but haven’t seen the bed bugs, get a dog in to determine if you have bed bugs or are getting bitten from something else.

Do NOT spend the money for extermination until you have positive proof that it’s bed bugs. I just went out to a search in Concord, MA. The homeowner had bites and one service was going to come in to exterminate at a high cost. The owner called another service who recommended she confirm first and referred her to me (my bed bug detection dog search is much much cheaper than the extermination). That is the more reputable extermination company because there was no beg bug scent in her home. Her bites may have been solely from her stay at the hotel and no bed bugs hitched a ride to her home. Or they could have been bites from something else.

We are not in the business to service people who don’t need us. If you call us we will consult with you at no cost to see what we can resolve over the phone to determine your problem. Many people do not want to wait to see if they brought in bed bugs and want to go ahead and have a bed bug detection dog search for piece of mind. I can understand that.

Once you think you have a problem with bed bugs educate yourself online and call a professional to find out what your best alternatives are before you have a large bed bug infestation. We offer free consultation so don’t hesitate to call us!

Bed Bug Dogs – Detection Dogs Interdisciplinary Scent Group New England

I co-hosted a Detection Dogs Interdisciplinary Scent Group Seminar recently. We had participants from Nose Work, Narcotics, Explosives, Human Remains and Bed Bugs. The common theme is using dogs to detect scents. The other scents were distractions to the dogs. For a Narcotics dog, human remains is interesting but should be left alone. The dog will smell HR but move on, continuing to look for his target odor: Narcotics.

Bed Bugs are a challenge because their scent cone is smaller than the other scents. Bed bug dogs need to detail areas in order to get
their noses to the target scent. Generally it’s necessary to keep them on lead. My cadaver dog generally works off lead even in buildings. My bed bug dog works on lead. If I let her off lead she may pick up on a scent and follow it to source. But if it’s one bed bug she could miss it since the scent cone is so tiny. So working her on lead keeps her closely detailing and slows her down so she doesn’t miss the subtle bed bug odor.

The further challenge is that there are so many other distractions in people’s homes. During training you need to proof bed bug dogs off all the other food, toiletries, air fresheners, etc and although the bed bug dog can sniff, he must move on searching for his target odor: bed bugs. And with any kind of air flow, the dog may pick up the odor more readily but conversely the scent cone may be dispersed and the dog may have a more difficult time following the odor into source.

These challenges are true for all detection dogs. But my bed bug dog must work the cone longer before pinpointing the odor. And my bed bug dog must detail every room to ensure he doesn’t miss a tiny number of bed bugs. The earlier they are found the easier they are to exterminate. I bring along a pseudo scent on jobs and if there are 40 rooms I put out a vial every 5-10 rooms to keep my dog focused. My bed bug dog is very high drive but we all start seeing double after detailing countless identical rooms. And finding bed bugs is what makes it fun (and rewarding) for the dog.

Each discipline has it’s own challenges and detection dog training must be fine tuned to address these challenges.

Trained bed bug dog on a couch

Bed Bug Dogs – When, Where, What?

So you think you have bed bugs? Bites? Found a bug that really looks like a bed bug you’ve seen pictured online? What are your choices? Catch the bug with a piece of clear tape, put it in a sealed baggie and take a picture on your phone.
You can contact a bed bug organization to get more information and feedback on whether the bug you found is in fact a bed bug. You can also contact an exterminator or a bed bug dog service. Both should be able to help you. But you don’t have a picture and you don’t want to wait it out.

Exterminators will generally send out a technician to go through your facility to look for bed bugs. If you have a heavy infestation it will be obvious to the technician and you won’t need bed bug detection dogs. If the facility is large and you need to determine exactly where the infestation is a bed bug dog is indicated. And if you have a light infestation a dog is 60+% more successful than a human at finding the bed bugs. The dog can also pinpoint the location so it might not be necessary to treat an entire bldg or even an entire house.

You’ve just come back from a trip and think the bed bugs have just moved into your house. No big infestation and you want a bed bug detection dog. Some exterminators have their own dogs that are owned by the company. Others use independent contractors with dogs. And finally there are bed bug inspection dog services that you can go to directly. Why one over the other? The independent services are not affiliated with an extermination company so they are unbiased about finding bugs. There is no advantage to them in finding bugs as there may be to an extermination company. The real money is in the treatment process not the inspection process. So even if an extermination company tells you there is no charge for the dog inspection, that is factored in to the treatment cost.

Questions to ask the service about their bed bug detection dogs. Are they certified? If a dog is not certified you have to ask why. There are various certification boards that ensure that the dog is reliable, truthful and able to differentiate live vs dead bugs. Personally I would only use a service that has certified dogs. Also ask about training. The guidelines for working dogs are minimally 16 hours of training a month. Any handler should be keeping training logs of the dog’s training sessions. Also you want to confirm that the service has liability insurance should anything happen.

If you decide to go to an independent bed bug inspection dog service and they find bed bugs, you can find an exterminator or ask the service for some recommendations. There are options to heat treat or chemical treat and it’s worth taking your time to find out the best alternative for your situation.

How to Keep Your Bed Bug Dog Honest – The Importance of Defining Your Training Criteria.

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.” (   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.