Updated: February 15, 2021

For thousands of years, dogs have been more than just human companions. They were often bred and trained as hunting partners or guard animals.

In more recent years, their keen sense of smell has been used to detect explosives, narcotics, and even missing people.

But did you know that some dogs are trained to detect bed bugs?

A human exterminator can only do so much when treating a home, and might not be able to fully detect a bed bug infestation. So, if you want a more thorough check of your home, then it might be a good idea to consider a bed bug sniffing dog as part of the detection process.

Can Canines Detect Bed Bugs?

Many pest control companies utilize bed bug sniffing dogs in their treatment programs. Before being put into service, each dog goes through an extensive training program to ensure the best results when they go out on the job.

The reason dogs are so useful in detecting bed bugs is their sense of smell.

 

A dog’s nose has over 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to only 6 million in humans. This means that a dog’s sense of smell is 40 times greater than ours, allowing it to follow scent trails that humans can’t otherwise pick up on.

Scent trails left behind by bed bugs can consist of:

  • Excrement: Bed bug droppings look like tiny, rust-colored stains on your bedding. They give off a strong, musty odor if allowed to accumulate.
  • Blood: If you’re dealing with bed bugs, then chances are you’ve spotted blood stains on your sheets or pillowcase.
  • Pheromones: When bed bugs are startled, they release a pheromone that alerts nearby bugs to flee. The pheromones are undetectable to humans, but dogs can easily follow the scent trail to wherever the bugs have run off to.

Are Bed Bug Dogs Accurate?

While bed bug dogs are an effective method at detecting infestations, they aren’t entirely accurate on their own. Like any other detection method, they have their strengths and weaknesses.

As previously mentioned, bed bug dogs must go through training programs before they are put to work. These programs often include the following:

  • Identifying the scent of bed bugs.
  • Telling the difference between the bed bug scent and other smells.
  • Signalling where bed bugs are residing. 

If trained properly, a bed bug dog can tell the difference between a mature bed bug and a bed bug egg. They will also be able to distinguish the scent of live insects from the scents of discarded exoskeletons or eggshells.

Dogs can also point out infestations in places where humans would not otherwise be able to. Places like electrical outlets and box springs can be marked by the dogs as points of interest long before an exterminator would think to check in those areas.

One major caveat is that dogs can only detect the scent if the airflow of a room allows the smell of bed bugs to spread.

For example:

If bed bugs are hiding along the ceiling, the dog would be unable to point them out even if the bugs are plainly visible.

 

Dogs might also track unrelated scents that are similar to bed bugs. There have been cases of bed bug dogs pointing out mold growth, but finding no trace of bed bugs.

One study designed to test the accuracy of bed bug dogs concluded that on average, only 44% of infestations were properly identified. The best score belonged to one human-dog team that managed to accurately detect 88% of infestations.

How Much Does a Bed Bug Detection Dog Cost?

The price of bed bug dogs varies by area and the specific pest control company. On average, a bed bug detection dog costs between $200 and $500 per treatment.

This is in addition to any other treatment or removal programs you choose to go with, which can cost you thousands of dollars.

Click here to learn more about the cost of typical bed bug removal services.

What Kind of Dogs Sniff out Bed Bugs?

Some dogs have better senses of smell than others. These dogs, collectively known as scent hounds, have been bred for centuries as hunting dogs, where their sense of smell would have been used best.

But while they’re no longer used to hunt foxes or rabbits…

They are useful for hunting bed bugs.

Listed below are some of the breeds most commonly used for bed bug detection:

  • Beagles: One of the most popular dog breeds to have as a pet, beagles are also great at sniffing out bed bugs. They have the best sense of smell among any dog breed, and their long ears can actually trap airborne scents while they sniff out their target.
  • German Shepherds: German Shepherds are commonly employed as scent dogs in other professions, mainly narcotics detection or on search and rescue missions. While they aren’t classified as scent hounds, their sense of smell and natural curiosity makes them capable bed bug detection dogs.
  •  Bloodhounds: Bloodhounds are famous for their remarkable sense of smell, and are capable of following scent trails that are several days old. Their ears and neck folds are designed specifically to trap scent particles, which allow them to follow even the most subtle of scent trails.
  • Labradors: Labradors are dutiful trackers. Once they hone in on a scent, they will typically follow the trail until they find the source. Labradors are also famous for their gentle nature, which makes them suited for sniffing out bed bugs in homes with children or other pets.
  • Basset Hounds: With their long ears trapping scent particles and their short stature keeping them low to the ground, Basset Hounds are great trackers. The one downside to having a Basset Hound as a bed bug dog is their stubborn nature, which can make them less reliable when compared to more dedicated breeds like beagles or Labradors.

Bed Bug Dogs For Sale

Generally speaking, bed bug detection dogs are used exclusively by pest control companies. This is due to the fact that each dog must go through rigorous training before being sent out into the field.

It’s during this training process where several traits are observed:

  • The dog’s age.
  • The dog’s breed.
  • How effective the dog is at accurately finding bed bugs.
  • The type of reward the dog expects upon finding bed bugs.

This training process is very similar to the training that service animals go through.

So, are bed bug dogs for sale? Not exactly…

If you wanted to, you could enroll your dog in one of the training programs, but it would probably be cheaper to just hire a professional and request their bed bug dog services.

Bed Bug Dog Training School

In order to become a “licensed” bed bug detector, dogs are put through an extensive training program.

These programs amount to 800 cumulative hours, or roughly 1 month, of training. Upon successful completion of the program, the dog “graduates” and is officially a bed bug sniffing dog.

The training consists of presenting the dog with scent samples, tasking them to identify which scents belong to bed bugs. The dog is trained to give signals when they pinpoint a bed bug-related scent, and will be given rewards to reinforce this behavior.

Here are some of the methods used in training schools:

  • The Food method: This method is commonly used with younger dogs, who will be more receptive to rewards early on. Bed bugs are placed in containers of food, and the dog is tasked with determining which container has the food. The food is gradually phased out, with the expectation that the dog will select a container holding only bed bugs.
  • The Scent method: This method exercises a dog’s heightened sense of smell. They are tasked with following a scent and then giving a signal upon finding the source (i.e sitting, pawing the area, etc.). Bed bug scents are gradually added in, and the dog will only be rewarded if they identify these smells.
  • The Matching method: This method gives dogs a scent sample of bed bugs, and then canisters containing the bugs are placed around a given area. The dog is required to locate canisters that match the initial scent sample, and receive rewards upon finding all the live containers.

Check out Wag’s training portal to learn more about bed bug dog training programs, including specific instructions on the above methods.

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Date Published: 2021-02-12

Written By James Oliver

James is a writer for bedbuglawer.org. Having graduated with a BA in English, his passion for writing and helping others learn about bed bug related injuries is evident in the expert coverage he provides. James' other interests include reading and watching nature documentaries.

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