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Detect Bed Bugs with Trained Dogs

Bed bugs are one of the trickiest pests to keep the upper hand on – especially if an infestation isn’t caught early. 76% of pest control professionals note bed bugs as being the hardest pest to get rid of and keep under control. Thankfully there are numerous different tell-tale signs to detect the little insects; however, a visual inspection isn’t always one hundred percent accurate. This is why many individuals and businesses are opting for a four-legged inspector.

People started utilizing certified bed-bug sniffing dogs as a way to catch an infestation in approximately 2011. The dogs use their enhanced olfactory traits to detect bugs humans can’t, in the same way dogs can sniff for bombs, drugs, or mold.

Here’s how and why canines started being used to detect bed bugs!

Dogs as Detection

Starting in the early 2000s, bed bugs have increasingly become a problem, especially in densely populated areas like cities or dorm rooms. It’s been reported that 20% of Americans have either personally, or know someone that has, come across bed bugs at home or in hotel rooms.

Bed bugs can be hard to spot, not only because they like to hide and typically come out at night, but also because they are tiny and light colored through many stages of their life. When they are just eggs, they are a very light whitish color. Then when they move onto their nymph stage, they are still light and very small, something you can easily miss. If they don’t eat, even adult bed bugs will stay the lighter color. Once they’ve had blood, they obtain a reddish-brown hue, but still remain small, ranging from 1mm to 7mm.

With them being so evasive, a visual inspection done by a human isn’t always completely effective, whereas dogs have the advantage of not needing to see them. Instead, they use their keen sense of smell.

How It's Done

Typically, the go to dogs for the job are bloodhounds, beagles, and other hunting dogs since it’s in their nature to track things down. Additionally, bed bug inspection dogs are also smaller in size so that they can be raised up to search higher areas like drawers and shelves and get into small spaces like under and behind beds. 

In a traditional inspection (without a canine), inspectors look for live bugs in sockets, behind pictures, in the seams of mattresses, and other small areas known to shield bedbugs. Inspectors are searching for live bugs, exoskeletons, and reddish spots on furniture which comes from their excrement. Unlike humans relying on their eyes for the inspection, dogs rely on their noses.

The dogs go through rigorous training for 800 to 1,000 hours, where they learn how to identify the scent of bed bugs through a treat reward system. Then, the dogs go through mock hotel rooms looking for bed bugs placed there by the trainer. The final step in their training process is to get certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA), wherein both the dog and the trainer have to prove they have the ability to accurately detect bed bugs.

A Keen Sense of Smell

Unbelievably, dogs can smell the difference between bugs that are alive as opposed to dead bugs or molted exoskeletons. This means the dog will only alert their trainer to infestations that are ongoing problems and not ones that have been resolved.

There are a lot of different things that go into why dogs have such an exponentially greater sense of smell than humans. The first is the fact that they have 300 million olfactory receptors, which is 40 times more than those in humans, who only have 6 million. Another major factor is that they have an organ specifically designated for scent detecting, which can’t be found in humans – the vomeronasal organ. Lastly, dogs smell in the same way that we see; their brain compiles different smells from either nostril to pinpoint where something is in the same way our brain combines the images from our two eyes.

Useful and Accurate

Bed bugs are most known for the fact that they are excellent at evading detection, often hiding in places people don’t even have access to. This makes visually inspecting for bed bugs difficult and not always accurate, especially for businesses such as hotels and apartments with large facilities containing endless places for bed bugs to hide. 

The various elements that go into a dog's amazing sense of smell are what make them so useful in detecting bed bugs. Since they don’t have to see the bugs to find them, they are able to pick up on bed bugs hiding in outlets, under carpet, behind heavy furniture, and other hard to reach places. A canine inspector can also go into the large buildings or even people’s homes and inspect for pests in a fraction of the time that it would take humans to do so, taking only minutes to look through spaces that would take people hours. This means there’s less manpower to pay for and you can get started on treatment faster.

Not only are they more convenient, more importantly the dogs are also accurate. The bed bug detection dogs are 95-98% accurate, whereas humans visually inspecting an area are reported to only be 30-50% accurate. Additionally, the dogs are able to pick up on one or a small number of bugs, this means they can catch an infestation early, or catch any bugs and eggs left behind after treatment.

Not a Guarantee

While there’s plenty of evidence that proves their accuracy and numerous benefits, there are still some people not fully convinced that dogs are the way to go. This is because the bed bug finding dogs have their limitations and there have been instances where they were incorrect. These limitations stem from the fact that they are solely reliant on their sense of smell to find the bed bugs.

Three factors that could potentially impact the dog picking up on the odor are the location of the bugs, the airflow in the room, and lastly the temperature. Another possible reason for false alerts is simply because the dog wants the treat it would get for finding bed bugs.

Although they aren’t 100% accurate, neither are other forms of inspection; as mentioned earlier, it’s been reported that the dogs are about twice as accurate as a human visual inspection. This is why it’s important to use multiple methods to find, treat, and keep up with bed bugs.

What Can You Do?

While you may be lacking a dog’s sense of smell, there are many things you can do to keep bed bugs at bay. Inspections are a key aspect of keeping up with bed bugs, but so is being preemptively prepared. 

Experts advise that the best way to control bed bugs is to use an Integrated Pest Management strategy, which consists of setting preventative measures in place, regularly monitoring rooms, and limiting chemicals when trying to prevent or eliminate bed bugs.

Make Life Easier by Being Prepared

The most important part of the Integrated Pest Management Strategy is to take preventative measures to avoid an infestation from happening in the first place. Here are a few things that you can do: 

  • The first thing you want to do is to shield your bed with mattress encasements and pillow protectors. This will make it so that new bed bugs can’t get into your mattress and hide along the seams and in crevices, and any old bed bugs get trapped in the casing, unable to reach you, where they will eventually die off from not getting food. The encasement also make inspections easier; bed bugs are forced to stay on the smooth outer casing, leaving them out in the open and easily spotted.   
  • Another key tactic is to raise your bed off the floor with a metal frame; bed bugs can’t fly, so an elevated bed adds another obstacle the bugs would have to tackle to get to your bed. Additionally, if you have a bed skirt, raise it an inch or two so that it doesn’t touch the floor. This will prevent bed bugs from climbing up it to get to the bed.
  • In order to make monitoring rooms for bed bugs easier, use bed bug detectors on the feet of furniture, around the perimeter of rooms, and on the feet of the bed. Any bed bugs that try to climb up the bed and furniture or move from their hiding spot will get stuck there. This will both prevent bed bugs from getting to your bed and help you catch an infestation before it starts.

Bed bugs seem impossible to both find and get rid of, but bed bug inspecting canines may just be the solution. With a superior sense of smell, dogs can sniff out bed bugs that are out of sight. Plus, they can complete inspections way faster than any human can, with great accuracy. Not only are inspections vital in keeping up with bed bugs, it’s also important to safeguard your furniture with things like mattress encasements and pillow protectors.

Could a four-legged inspector be the solution you are looking for?

The Ultimate Mattress Protection to Prevent and Stop Bed Bugs: Get the sleep you need in a clean environment with the following Protect-A-Bed products that keep your bedding crisp:

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