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Bed bug sniffing dogs: what you need to know
February 15, 2012
Bed Bugs 101 – Biology & Behavior
February 15, 2012
Bed bug sniffing dogs: what you need to know
February 15, 2012
Bed Bugs 101 – Biology & Behavior
February 15, 2012

Bed Bugs 101 – Canine Scent Detection


  • Canine scent detection can be an effective inspection method
  • Dogs, just like humans, are not perfect and thus are not 100% reliable
  • Many factors need to be considered when evaluating the effectiveness of a canine scent detection service for bed bugs
Dogs have been used very effectively for the detection of a wide variety of things which include but are not limited to drugs, bombs, fugitives, cadavers, mold, and termites. So why not bed bugs? There would seem to be no reason, and canine scent detection for bed bugs is already available.

A number of scent detection companies have emerged offering canine scent detection of bed bugs. While we are advocates of canine scent detection, it is also our opinion that the current scent detection offerings have limitations. If you are considering a scent detection company you should consider the following:

  • How frequently do the dogs have false positive alerts (this means that the dog alerts to the presence of bedbugs in situations where bedbugs are not present).
  • How often (what percent of time) do dogs fail to find bed bugs?

You will want to carefully look at the claims of the company you are considering and determine what type of research has been done to validate their claims on the performance of the dogs. While the use of canine scent detection is both an exciting and promising method for the early detection of bed bugs, it is still an evolving technique and you should exercise caution when considering this method of detection to ensure that the detection service that you select is capable of delivering the level of service that you expect.


Canine scent detection can be very effective but it is important to realize that every bed bug detection dog and handler team is different from the next and you need to find out exactly what you can expect from the team that is performing the inspection. A well-trained bed bug detection dog should be able to identify very small numbers of live bed bugs, sometimes as few as one. Additionally, the dogs should be able to discriminate live bugs and viable eggs from evidence left over from an old infestation (fecal spotting, caste skins, empty egg shells, carcasses). Unless they are able to do this, it becomes much more difficult to distinguish between active and old infestations.

Some trainers cross train dogs to detect multiple scents which may make it difficult to interpret a dog’s alerts. How do you know whether the dog is alerting on the scent of mold or of bed bugs if it has been trained to detect both? Like any other inspection tool, scent detection has shortcomings and is not always definitive. Scent dogs depend on their noses, so their “inspection” is limited by what they can smell. Sometimes, bed bugs can be present but the odor is simply not available to the dog. The reasons for this vary, but the three most significant factors include the location of the bugs, air flow, and temperature.

If bed bugs are located well above the dog’s head, and the air flow is pulling the scent upwards, the dog may not alert. Therefore, it is entirely possible for bed bugs to be in plain view high up on the wall or along the ceiling and not be detected by the dog. It is this type of “failure” that causes some to doubt the utility of scent-detection dogs.

However, there are just as many situations where the dog will alert on bed bugs that are difficult or unlikely for an inspector to find: an outlet with a bug or two behind it, a baseboard that has a few bugs behind it, or eggs hidden along a carpet tack strip. A scent-detection dog can go under a bed and alert on bugs inside the box spring without an inspector having to take the mattress and box spring off. The dogs can alert to bed bugs behind a heavy entertainment center without anyone having to move it, and can detect bed bugs or their eggs in a pile of clothing or a toy box full of stuffed animals.

Dog going under a bed during an inspection Dog alerting on scent of bugs associated with bed
Dog alerting on the scent of bed bugs associated with a desk Dog picking up scent of bed bugs in a book case

What should be your response when the dog alerts? You have a choice to make, you can either put all of your trust in the dog’s ability or you can try and confirm the presence of live bugs or viable eggs in the area that the dog indicated. If you are going to inspect the areas to confirm the dog’s findings you may need to conduct a very in depth inspection in an effort to produce the bug(s) or egg(s) that the dog alerted upon. This could involve removing the mattress and box spring, take off the outlet switch, pull up the carpet, remove the baseboard, empty and move the entertainment center, and go through the pile of clothing and stuffed animals where the dog alerted. This can be done but obviously this adds time and money to the inspection and there is no guarantee that you will be able to find the bug(s) or egg(s) that the dog alerted on. If the evidence is inaccessible, or you simply fail to see it, you will not be able to visually confirm the alert. Also, the dog is alerting on a “scent picture,” and while it will often be right where the bugs or eggs are, there is also the possibility that it is not. Scent travels with air, sometimes for significant distances.


An alternative method is to use a double blind confirmation system that uses multiple-dogs and multiple handlers. This type of an approach can help overcome some of these issues and often adds the level of certainty needed for both the handler as well as the contracting party. The way this works is that the area is independently inspected by two different handlers, each using a different dog and the results of the two inspections is compared. If both dogs indicate the presence of bed bugs in the same areas, independently of one another, the likelihood that bed bugs are actually present is quite high. Still, you must decide what you are going to do with this information. One option is to say that a double positive indication is viewed as a confirmation that bugs are present. A mixed result, one dog alerts and the second does not, could be viewed as reason to perform a visual inspection in an effort to find bugs or eggs. If visual inspection fails to reveal evidence of a live infestation, you must decide whether or not to treat for bed bugs or to just keep a close eye on the situation. Other options might include implanting the use of other tools that can help aid in the detection of bed bugs such as mattress encasements, insect interception devices, CO2 traps, or other detection traps as they are developed (also see section on Early Detection Devices) .

Canine scent detection is especially well suited for large scale inspections where visual inspections is simply not practical, such as periodic inspections of hotel guest rooms, college dormitories, entire apartment complexes, movie theaters, schools, or infestations in office buildings. The contracting parties should agree in advance as to what methods will be used and how the information will be interpreted. Questions to be considered include the following:

  • Will they rely on the dog’s detection alone?
  • Do they want a second dog for confirmation purposes?
  • What if there are mixed results between multiple dogs?
  • What circumstances will mandate a detailed visual inspection to confirm the dog’s alert?
  • How to handle situations where the presence of bed bugs could not be confirmed through visual inspection?

Nevertheless, scent detection adds a whole new dimension to the inspection. Bugs that might escape visual detection by a human may be detected by a bed bug sniffing dog and vice versa. Look at it this way: Bed bugs can be so difficult to detect that different methods may prove to be useful from one location to the next. The more bed bug detection tools you can deploy, the more likely you are to detect infestations early when bed bugs are the easiest to control. NESDCA (National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association) The National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA) was recently formed and held its first meeting at the University of Florida Department of Entomology’s Southeast Pest Management Conference. The objectives of the association are as follows:

  • To unite and assist all entomology scent detection canine teams in the training and continued improvement of all Entomology scent detecting work dogs.
  • To establish a working standard for all entomology scent detecting canines, handlers and trainers through an accreditation program.
  • To provide educational material through publications, visual aids and training seminars.
  • To improve the image of the entomology scent detecting canine.

The standards that are being utilized by NESDECA are based upon research on canine scent detection conducted by scientists at The University of Florida, Department of Entomology. This association provides the insurance that the training facilities, training methods, and dog/handler teams have met the high standards set by NESDCA. Training facilities that are NESDCA certified are listed on the NESDCA website. You can visit the NESDCA website at www.nesdca.com to learn more about the association, to find NESDCA certified training facilities, or to look up NESDCA certified dog & handler teams trained specifically for bed bug scent detection.


Source: www.bedbugcentral.com

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