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?



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.