More and more stories about the bedbug epidemic are making headlines these days. In cities across the world, the problem appears to be growing rapidly, one bed (or sofa, pillow, crib, etc.) at a time. Families are justifiably worried, because when these pesky bugs suck on their victim's blood, they cause annoying skin irritation and unsightly bite marks. Just reading about the international spread of these pests is enough to make your skin itch.
Detection dogs to the rescue
Since bedbugs are incredibly tiny—about the size of the point on a typical pen—they are extremely difficult to detect with the human eye. This can lead to a frustrating situation: You know you have a bedbug problem because you see the marks and feel the itch, but you don't know where the darned things are hiding.
Enter the specially trained bedbug detection dog. These remarkable professional dogs are one more example of how we humans have come to rely on the super-sensitive canine nose. We depend on dogs to sniff out fugitives, narcotics, and explosives. Now thousands of homeowners are also relying on them to uncover their resident bedbugs.
Bedbug-detection dogs and their human handlers generally work for two types of pest-related companies: detection/inspection services and extermination services. Some companies perform both services.
Just how reliable are bedbug-sniffing dogs? The statistics vary, depending on the source. Many companies boast reliability ratings of 95–98%. Widely publicized industry statistics claim a 95% reliability rating. However, some critics point out that that number was determined awhile ago under controlled conditions using dogs that were thoroughly trained and that met stringent standards. However, with more dogs on the scene today—and with training protocols that may vary wildly-the reliability rating could realistically be lower. When you get down to it, the reliability of the inspection is directly related to the quality of the training both the dog and its handler have received.
Certification and training
There's no doubt that bedbug-detecting dogs are popular these days. They are featured prominently in advertising, people know their names, and at least one such dog has its own Facebook page.
But is this celebrity status deserved? For some dogs, perhaps. Those are the hardworking, expertly trained dogs that have proven reliability ratings. These are the ones that have passed a rigorous training course and are certified by a reliable industry organization. One such entity is the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA), based in Florida. This association has established very detailed and specific rules that determine how a dog must be treated during training and how dog/handler teams can become accredited.
Things to consider before "hiring" a bedbug dog
Do you suspect that your home has been invaded by bedbugs? Before you choose an inspection service that uses bedbug dogs, here are a few things to consider:
- Ask for proof of certification. Remember, the dog isn't the only one that needs training: the dog's handler should also have taken part in these courses.
- Once you've determined that the dog/handler team has been certified, make sure their certification is up to date. Organizations like the NESDCA insist that these teams take refresher courses on a regular basis to maintain the accreditation.
- Find out, up front, what is included in the service. Is it an inspection-only service, or does the price include extermination services, as well? And be prepared for the numbers-these services can be costly.
- Some people believe that an inspection-only service may be more reliable because they don't have a vested interest in getting a positive reading—or positive sniffing, as the case may be. A company that provides both inspection and extermination services stands to profit if the dog indicates the presence of bedbugs.
- Make sure that any positive reading is confirmed by a visual inspection. This step is important to verify the accuracy of the dog's "discovery." A visual inspection by an expert will determine if there is physical proof of an active bedbug infestation.
When it comes to detecting bedbugs, the nose knows. And this amazing ability is one more example in an ever-growing list of the ways dogs help to improve the quality of our lives.