How Do Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs Work
Do Bedbug Dogs Work? Yes, and No.
Sorry, but bedbug dog accuracy is not as great as you might think. The dirty little secret in the industry: False positives are rampant.
For the past few years, working canines have been on the front lines of the battle against the bedbug resurgence in the United States.
Trained dogs, surely the heroes of this pest epidemic, are bringing in wads of cash for extermination companies.
But do bed bug dogs work? And just how accurate are they?
A 2008 study (PDF) from the University of Florida has been held up by the extermination companies as proof positive that bedbug sniffing dogs do work.
The controlled study showed a 97.5% “positive indication rate” and no false positives. The report concluded that “if trained properly, dogs can be used effectively to locate live bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs.”
And that’s all the proof that extermination companies needed.
Now, Exterminators Everywhere Have a Bedbug Dog
The industry has grown exponentially since then, as has the bedbug problem in general. Now many companies across the country have bedbug-sniffing dogs — mostly Beagles, but sometimes Puggles (Pug/Beagle mix) and other breeds. I’ve even seen one company with a Chinese Crested.
Of course, these dogs don’t come cheap.
Extermination companies might spend upward of $10,000 for the dog and some handler training. If you’re an unlucky resident using the services of a sniffer dog, you might wind up paying the exterminator $325 an hour — just for the dog to sniff around your home.
Perhaps the most famous of the bedbug sniffing dogs is Roscoe, a Beagle “canine inspector” for Bell Environmental Services in New York. Roscoe even has his own iPhone app and Facebook page.
No doubt, having a dog is a major selling point for an extermination company in the bedbug business.
Do Bedbug Dogs Work?
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but bedbug dogs are not as accurate as you might believe.
I know, I know… that University of Florida clinical study from 2008? It’s proof positive, right?
Well, sure, the numbers were huge, but the 98% accuracy rate doesn’t actually have anything to do with how any particular company’s dog might perform here in the real world.
In fact, the dirty little secret is that false positives by bedbug dogs are rampant in the industry, owing to poor training of dog or handler. The dog might be reacting to cues from the handler, or wanting a treat.
Not to sound conspiratorial here, but let’s say that a company tells you its dog has detected bedbugs in your apartment. Doesn’t it stand to benefit financially from the extermination costs? So, a false positive would work in the exterminator’s favor.
ANew York Timesarticle highlighted the problem, with an entomology professor conceding, “Many pest control companies have the same frustration … that they often follow behind dogs that are indicating bedbugs, and they can’t find anything.”
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Bell Environmental responded to that article by saying that it informs customers that there is no physical evidence of bedbugs even though the dog might have indicated their presence. The choice to exterminate is then left to the resident (or landlord).
Doug Summers of BedBug Dog, in Safety Harbor, Florida, says, “Dogs can be distracted by a number of factors: people in the room, other pets, food smells, litterboxes and other attractive scents.”
He adds: “An established infestation is usually obvious to the dog. A single bug is easier to miss. We expect a 90%-plus accuracy, but a false negative is always possible.”
I believe there should be an industry-wide, independent certification process for bedbug dogs and trainers.
Also, don’t assume that just because a dog has indicated a “positive” result for bedbugs in your apartment, you actually have them. Use your due diligence.
One handler tells me that training a dog to sniff bedbugs is only slightly easier than training a dog to smell cancer.
Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs: The Truth about Canine Inspection
This golden retriever (named Jola) is sniffing for bed bugs under a mattress.
Thinking of hiring a trained dog to detect bed bugs? If so, it’s going to cost you about $350 regardless of whether the dog finds bugs or not.
Does scent detection work?
Below, we one visitor that claims it’s a waste of money and a K9 scent detection company’s response as to why it failed – but the general consensus is yes, it works extremely well, BUT only if:
- The dog trained by a reputable canine detection program for bed bugs only and not cross trained to detect other insects (reduces false positives)
- The handler is trained (accredited certification) to work with and understand alerts from the dog
- Dog can accurately detect as little as one or a few bed bugs
- Dog can detect live bed bug eggs
- The handler will work to confirm dog’s findings and point out the infestation
A university study on dogs that completed a special canine bug detection training program found they had a 97% accuracy rate, but they dogs from that special program. Unfortunately, some inspection services use this statistic to promote their services even though they never had the same training. Make sure the canine used is trained using an widely recognized program.
If the company is as good as they say, they shouldn’t have a problem providing you with a sealed pin-holed plastic vile containing a few live adult bed bugs that you can hide in a room for testing. They will explain that conducting the test near a vent or up high may prevent detection.
Below is Jenifer’s story on how sent detection repeatedly failed her.
Scent Detection That Didn’t Work
Jennifer’s bad experience & a canine detection company’s response
About 2 1/2- weeks ago I noticed my wrist itched at work. upon inspection, the bites looked and felt just like mosquito bites. When I got home later I inspected my body and counted 2 bites on my right finger (about 1/2 ” apart), 2 or 3 bites on my right wrist, and one bite on my left thigh (just above the knee).
Just to be on the safe side, the next morning I had an exterminator come and do an inspection of my home to make sure I was safe and pest free.
The exterminator who came to do the inspection told me that my bites looked a lot like classic bed bug bites and explained that he needed to do a thorough inspection of my house … especially of the bedrooms. He turned my house upside down looking for bed bugs. After a long search he said that he felt very certain that I did not have bed bugs and went on and on about all the telltale signs of bed bugs and how nothing in my home shows evidence of any (except for my bites!).
Anyway, after a week or so of bite free, restful sleeps in my bed, I woke up last Tuesday morning with 8 or 9 bites on my left wrist and arm! I was/am upset, disgusted, frustrated and in pain. I envy those who are not allergic to these awful bites. Consider yourselves lucky. The following morning, I called my dermatologist and he saw me that afternoon. My dermatologist said that he was 95% certain that I had bed bug bites and 100% certain that they are insect bites either way. At this point I am really starting to lose my mind. Not only have I spent $40 on a doctor visit copay, but $185 on pest inspection and nothing has changed: (
Now I have spent nearly 200 dollars, lost a lot of sleep, and look like I have some sort of a skin condition you could catch. not a pretty picture. I spent nearly all of Wednesday night becoming a web MD/expert on and about bed bugs. After doing all my online research while I was paralyzed by fear of falling asleep – I decided the smartest thing I could do is to hire special dogs to come and sniff the exact location bed bugs!
Okay, so I hired this company with hounds that only can identify the scent of bed bug. Scam? who knows? I certainly didn’t care because I was/ am so desperate to get these things out of my house! So here is what happened. Yesterday the man with the dog came over to my home. The dog goes up to the beds in my house and apparently really reacts to something on both the bed in my master bedroom and the bed in my guest-room. You can’t imagine how excited I am that I am THIS close to hard evidence of real, live, disgusting, blood sucking bed bugs! I am this close to a solution!
Okay, the bed bug dog, handler, and I go back to the bedrooms to hone in on the exact spots the dog reacted to. This way I can find out where I need to treat the infestation. The doggy is good and shows me the spot again. I look at the box spring and then at the guy and dog and say “Uh, okay- umm can we see them… or like one”? the guy tries to find one for me but goes on to say “how hard it is to find these little suckers” and “gosh they are just so sneaky”. Ughhh. My hope of the beginning of the end of bed bugs has quickly been deflated. All I can think to myself is what a crazy, gullible idiot I have turned into in a mere 2 weeks. I will not even say how much money I spent on this. It is shameful…
Believe it or not that was my day yesterday. C’mon people- HELP ME!
Response from the owner of a bed bug dog company
I own a Bed Bug dog scent detection company that detects the odor or LIVE bed bugs and viable eggs with the use of dogs. The team here at BadBedBugs contacted me to see if I could shed light on this matter for you.
I first want to start off by saying that using dogs to detect bed bugs is certainly not a scam. In fact, scientific studies have been done on the dogs to prove the accuracy of their findings. Now here is where that last sentence gets tricky. Yes, the University of Florida has done extensive studies in regards to the use of dogs and posted that their findings were that dogs were averaging 98% accuracy. But what you need to understand is that the University used dogs that were trained at special Canine Academy. And because the University released their report without discussing who’s dogs they used, now everyone with a bed bug dog now thinks they have the right to say that their dog is 98% accurate, when in fact, that statement is completely inaccurate.
All dogs should be single scent dogs and certified via a third party and not an in-house certification program.
Now onto the situation at hand….
I don’t know what the rules and regulations of the company you used are, but I will say this, when we do an inspection we rely 100% on the accuracy of the dog. If our handlers start second guessing our dogs, then that defeats the purpose completely. And so that you know, the extensive study that the University did stated that humans were only as high as 30% accurate in finding bed bugs. Which is the other reason we don’t search for them after the dog alerts.
Now, it is true, bed bugs can be elusive. especially if they are nymphs (babies). In some cases they can actually hide within the fabric of your bed making them almost impossible to find. Also keep in mind that they could be elsewhere in your living space. Nightstand, couch, chairs, carpet, clock radios, etc etc. And for that reason alone, this is why using a dog like the ones we use, are a perfect fit for your situation. Secondly, if you were able to just see them on your bed, then you wouldn’t need a dog to begin with.
I recently had a customer go through the exact same thing as you. She had 4 pest management companies come in and none of them found a single bug. She then called us in and the dog alerted us to bed bugs on each side of her mattress. I wrote in my report that the dog alerted to both sides of the bed and was also trying to crawl under the mattress. So I suggested that if her pest control company wanted to find them to look on the mattress and under the bed.
The customer called me back 2 days later crying saying that the pest control company did not find anything at all. I asked if the pest control company completely searched the bed and box springs. She said yes. I asked how and she told me they had flash lights out looking all around the bed. When I asked if they took the fabric off the bottom of the box spring she replied NO. I suggested to look there, as I stated before the dog was trying to crawl under the bed. She called me back 30 minutes later again in tears apologizing to me stating that she found the evidence she was looking for. At last, they identified bed bugs.
I truly hope this restores your faith in the accuracy of a trained dog’s ability to sniff out bed bugs.
Scent Detection That Worked Great
Mimi’s great experience where a bed bug sniffing dog did what the pest control companies couldn’t
Mimi hired pest control companies to help her find bed bugs and in the end, it was the bed bug sniffing dog that solved the problem! Her story is listed below:
My nightmare started exactly 2 weeks ago today. That is when I caught my first bed bug on my body around 2 am. I feel “lucky” that I caught the little *#%@ because I had suspected there may have been an issue a couple of weeks prior but could not find any of the evidence in my room or on/around my bed, sheets, box springs, night stands, curtains, picture over my bed, light sockets, etc.
Late November I had to go to Cincinnati for business and about 2 weeks later I received my first “spider” bite. It was the worst bite I have ever experienced! Red, extremely itchy, and swollen. About a week later, low and behold, I got another spider bite. a few days later 3 in a row on my elbow. I even went to my doctor because my boyfriend said it looked like MRSA. After the Dr swabbed the infected area, I told him I thought it could be bed bugs. He said Mimi, you do not have bed bugs.
Well, a week later is when I caught the thing red handed biting me in the middle of the night. That night it woke me up because my neck was itching so badly. I got up to see what was wrong with my neck when I spotted her on my white t-shirt. I freaked when I caught it because blood squished out of it’s body! That’s when I knew I had bed bugs. I put her in a plastic container and looked up images on the internet.
I had three pest control companies come out (Terminix, Orkin, and OPC Pest Control), all did what I thought was a thorough inspection but none of them found any bed bugs.
So next I called this guy in Northern Kentucky who has dogs that smell live bed bugs and their eggs. His dog identified a bag that contained my down comforter (I madly cleaned, vacuumed and bagged everything the day I found the bed bug).
Broke down my whole bed and vacuumed every crack and crevice of my furniture and light socket. I have been vigilant in my search for bed bugs, exoskeletons, larvae, and eggs but still cannot find anything except for that one bed bug I caught. I know that there must have been more than that one as I had 15 bites on my neck 2 weeks ago.
The bed bug dog handler said the one I caught was a female so I am waiting to see what happens in the nest 2 weeks.
It’s been 2 weeks today since my last bite but I still wake every night with nightmares of bed bugs crawling on my neck. I wake myself up scratching my neck but, thank God no bites…. yet! I am going crazy
I think I have caught this early and if I have total faith in the dogs, only my comforter was compromised but time will tell!
Wish me luck and I wish all of you luck as well as this is the most emotionally devastating experience I have gone through to date.
A bit about the bed bug sniffing dogs that were used.
The dog service was $360. For me it was worth it as I feel his dogs are well trained and were invaluable in helping to find their location in my house! I am keeping my fingers crossed as it’s been 3 weeks since I realized I had bed bugs and no bites!
He had two dogs. The first dog he called “the sweeper”. She is a black lab and she indicated the plastic garbage bag I had put my comforter in the night I found a bed bug. (He had opened all the black plastic garbage bags that I stuffed all bedding into so the dogs could get a whiff of them).
The second dog, a terrier, was brought in after the first dog and he said was his pin point dog also only indicated on the same bag. Both dogs went through the whole house (3 levels) and all closets, dresser drawers, and my car.
He lives 1 1/2 hours away from me so my charge was reflected in my bill. He had been a pest control specialist in the Cincinnati area before he got into training these dogs and he is very knowledgeable about bed bugs as he has had a lot of experience in the Cincinnati area.
I was a little skeptical at first but he told me there is no guarantee but, he has a lot of confidence in his dogs. As of now, I do as well!
Not All Exterminator Dogs Are Perfect in Sniffing Out Bedbugs
An exterminator’s dog that falsely alerts to bedbugs can cost you money.
— It might be a bedbug’s favorite time of year. With the holiday travel season now in our rearview mirror, it’s possible that bedbugs took advantage of your vacation by hitchhiking their way back to your home from your hotel or just from your Uncle Larry’s. Unfortunately, exterminators — like the rest of us — aren’t perfect, and can sometimes fail to find an infestation. They can also tell you have a problem when you really don’t, especially if they’re using dogs to sniff out bedbugs.
The bedbug-sniffing dog has become a go-to marketing tool for exterminators. And it’s no myth that, with their superior sense of smell, dogs can indeed be trained to sniff out bedbugs.
“You just want to make sure that that dog is really exposing a live bedbug,” Matt Fabry, exterminator and owner of Town & Country Pest Solutions in Rochester, New York, told ABC News’ “20/20.” “Because you can pay a lot of money for false alerts.”
Man’s best friend can steer his handler wrong, especially because often, dogs get a doggie treat each time they signal that they’re smelling bedbugs.
“And if he’s really hungry, he’s going to do false alerts . and bark, and there won’t be a bedbug there," Fabry said.
And that’s why, Fabry also said, it’s important to make sure the exterminator shows you the bedbugs if their dog has alerted to their presence.
To see whether dogs would alert to bedbugs at a home with no evidence of bedbugs, ABC News’ “20/20” set up hidden cameras at a home in Brooklyn, New York, and made appointments with 10 teams of exterminators and their dogs.
Georgia entomologist Paul Bello, who authored “The Bed Bug Combat Manual,” and entomologist Lou Sorkin of Entsult Associates in Rye Brook, New York, first conducted a search of the home and found no evidence of bedbugs.
Still, four out of 11 dogs we met got it wrong, and alerted to bedbugs in the home even though there were none.
One exterminator’s dog — "20/20" will call the dog “Mikey” — smelled bedbugs on a couch, on a chair and on a bed. With each hit, the handler rewarded Mikey with a treat.
“So basically every time she scratches, she’s picking up a scent of a live bedbug in that area,” the exterminator told the homeowner.
Fabry said an exterminator shouldn’t recommend professional treatment, which can run upwards of $600 per room, for a bedbug infestation unless the exterminator himself performs a visual inspection, but Mikey’s handler did not do any further inspection.
Another exterminator’s dog — which "20/20" will call “Skipper” — then alerted to bedbugs in a different part of the house.
That company’s handler even brought in a second dog, which also alerted to bedbugs.
“After he is done, I’m going to jump in and show you the bug myself,” the exterminator said.
But after searching, the exterminator still wasn’t able to find a bedbug.
“I’m not going to lie to you and say I found the bedbugs here or the eggs or anything like that,” he told the homeowner. “But 100 percent I rely on them,” the exterminator said of his dogs. “If they say there is, there is.”
He then recommended that the homeowner start treatment for bedbugs before they became “visible everywhere.”
But Fabry warns, “Make sure that they show you that bedbug, and don’t just let them tell you it’s there, and, ‘We can’t see it.’ You can see it.”
"Our industry is filled with professionals that are committed to customer satisfaction," Missy Henriksen of the National Pest Management Association told "20/20." "There is no cookie-cutter approach to pest control. It’s the handler’s job to make sure the dog is alerting to bed bugs.”
Entomologist Sorkin advises homeowners not to be pressured into doing expensive treatment when a dog alerts to the odor of bedbugs but no bugs are found. Instead, he recommends using bedbug monitors or traps that can be found in stores.
“It’s less than $100 to do some monitoring,” Sorkin said, “and thousands of dollars to do a treatment.”
Bed Bug Dogs
Why We Need Bed Bug Dogs
Everyone has heard the phrase, “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.” The fact is
bed bugs are biting. Complaints continue to rise as the problem spreads across the globe.
What You Need to Know About Bed Bugs
Size and Feeding Habits
About the size of an apple seed, bed bugs hide in mattress seams, behind base boards, in furniture and anywhere else close to a human host. Bed bugs tend to emerge at night in search of a food source: human blood. After feeding, bed bugs can leave some people with itchy, red welts. While bed bugs are not known to cause disease, they can put your company’s reputation at risk.
Bed bugs are virtually impossible to prevent. They can thrive in spotlessly clean environments, overriding the best sanitation efforts.
How Bed Bugs Infest Property
These pests can hitchhike into your property on personal belongings, shipments, or even on your next guest. Bed bugs multiply at rapid rates. In just one month, two bed bugs can produce more than 150 offspring.
It takes just one incident to affect your business and impact your bottom line. That’s why your pest management partnership is so critical, and why a bed bug dog can help.
The Orkin Bed Bug Dog
Your New Partner in Pest Management
Bed bugs reproduce quickly, so it’s crucial to detect and treat for bed bugs early.
At Orkin, we continue to research and implement innovative, scientific pest management techniques to help protect your business. That’s why we have a team of trained canines ready to spot bed bug infestations.
Orkin’s bed bug detection dogs join our team of Ph.D.s, entomologists, and sanitarians, to provide an extra set of eyes and a keen sense of smell to help “spot” any bed bug problems you might face.
How Can Your Business Benefit from Bed Bug Sniffing Canine?
Here’s what to expect with the help of a bed bug dog:
- Accurate Results:Did you know that dogs have about 45 times more smell receptors than humans do? This keen sense of smell makes them the new experts on bed bug detection.
- Quick Detection:Bed bug canines can easily find the areas where bed bugs reside, and detect them quicker than their human counterparts. Faster detection can speed up the treatment process and allow you to get back to business as usual.
- Trusted by the Law:Working canines have a long history of expertise, especially when it comes to their most valuable tool – the nose. Federal, state, and local government agencies employ dogs for search and rescue missions. Law enforcement agencies also use canine units to detect drugs and sniff out bombs.
- Peace of Mind:Each Orkin Commercial Pest Specialist is a skilled service technician who has undergone formal accredited class work from Purdue University and is well versed in treatment techniques. The Orkin Man® plus The Orkin Dog – a formidable bed bug detection team.
Award Winning Training
No pest control company puts as much into training its pest specialists and bed bug dogs as we do.
Consistently appearing inTrainingmagazine’s Top 125 list, we at Orkin continue to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pest control pack.
Rest assured, you’re getting the most cutting edge and effective bed bug dog management techniques delivered by knowledgeable, expert staff.
Call today to check availability for bed bug dog inspections and to get help with bed bug prevention and control.
5 Frequently Asked Questions About Bed Bug Detection Dogs
Why are dogs used for bed bug detection?
Bed bugs emit a unique scent that no other insect does. Because dogs have a sense of smell that is 40 times better than a human’s they can detect odors that we can’t. Small bed bugs are the size of a sesame seed and a full grown bug is the length of a grain of rice. This makes detecting them with the human eye very difficult especially if they’re hiding inside mattresses, along baseboards or in the folds of a couch.
How do bed bug detecting dogs work?
Using their keen sense of smell bed bug detection dogs enter an area where bed bugs are suspected. They sniff along crevices, around and in furniture and in any other area bed bugs are known to hide or lay eggs.
When they detect the odor indicating a bed bug is present they notify their handler with an alert. Typically this means sitting down, looking at the handler and then pointing with their nose to the area they have detected. They continue this notification for every area they find the correct scent.
How does a dog become a working bed bug detector dog?
Bed bug detection dogs are highly trained service dogs. They are selected to enter training with a school such as the Florida Canine Academy. The school carefully choose dogs with the appropriate temperament, drive and energy for the job.
Typical training for a dog to be certified in bed bug detection is between 600 and 800 hours. To maintain their efficacy, working bed bug detection dogs require continual training and testing in controlled environments to ensure they continue to be effective in sniffing out bed bugs.
Along with training for the dog, bed bug detection dog handlers should also undergo extensive training. The dog and handler work as a team and must have good rapport and communication for the best results.
Why are bed bug dogs the best choice for treating bed bugs?
As the bed bug problem continues to grow in Texas, so does their resistance to traditional pest control methods. They are very resistant to chemical treatments and can continue to grow and thrive even after a home, apartment, hotel or business has received a bed bug treatment. Frequently this means that the homeowner believes their problem has been cured when bed bugs actually still remain.
If signs of bed bugs exist in one area of a home it’s likely that they’ve already spread but haven’t yet made their presence known. The human eye can search for signs like spots on mattresses, itchy bites and actually seeing the live bugs but it’s not uncommon for bugs to survive in other areas without leaving signs.
Are bed bug dogs accurate?
Bed bug detection dogs can locate both live bugs and their eggs with 97% accuracy. This means that they will detect the presence of bed bugs in areas beyond where they have been spotted or where there’s indication of a bed bug infestation. With this knowledge, pest control companies that specialize in bed bug treatment can successfully target every area with a problem, often long before the human eye can detect the severity of the infestation.