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Bedbug Sleuths: Why Dogs Best Detect the Pests

Dogs have been trained to detect lots of different things, from melanoma cancer to bombs and drugs.
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A bedbug summit has the potential to drown in esoteric nuances of entomology, physics and chemistry. Speakers at the recent Second National Bed Bug Summit in Washington, DC, made references to high level IPM (integrated pest management), non-chemical interventions and cimex lectularius (bedbug).

When Harold Harlan, a member of the Armed Forces Pest Management Board who has worked to suppress bedbugs for 37 years, said that he advocated the use of dogs to help find bedbugs, I felt myself floating to the surface of the murky bedbug waters. Here's a story our readers can more easily embrace, I thought.

Dogs, Harlan said, may not find the bedbugs every time, but they are more accurate and "tremendously faster" than other searching methods. My interest piqued, I sniffed around the summit for the best source on dogs as bedbug sleuths.

I was told to talk with Richard Cooper, a research entomologist, the author of Bed Bug Handbook: the Complete Guide to Bed Bugs and Their Control and the vice-president of Bed Bug Central, a leading source of bedbug information. Cooper, leaning against a wall minutes after the conclusion of the summit's first day, authoritatively extolled the virtues of dogs as bedbug bullies during a 10-minute conversation. A few of his more profound thoughts:

Why Dogs Are so Effective as Bedbug Detectors
"Dogs have been trained to detect lots of different things, from melanoma cancer to bombs and drugs. They can detect snakes and turtle eggs. You can train a dog to cue in on what they call a sense picture, and you may not know what's in that picture that's actually being sensed by the dog. A dog is not looking for a physical bug. It's picking up a scent cue.
"They can inspect large areas very efficiently without being invasive. You don't have to tear a room apart for the dog to pick up the cue. To send a human through an entire cruise ship or an entire hotel or an entire movie theater trying to find a bedbug or two is economically not practical. And the results of that inspection are going to be mediocre at best.
"A dog can go through that entire environment very quickly and detect things that a human can't. A dog could inspect a room in maybe 2 minutes. A human inspection would take 20 to 30 minutes. A person trying to inspect a cruise ship could take weeks. A dog is going to do it in a day."

Ensuring Quality Dog Detectors and Searches
"It's a very attractive thing for businesses to get involved in, you know, 'I can buy myself a dog and now I am in business doing scent inspections.' The concern is, do we have high quality inspections? When dogs are alerting to the presence of bedbugs, is there some kind of confirmation method? You have to trust the dog but you do need to confirm.

"There is one certifying program called NESDCA (National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association) that has aligned itself with researchers in entomology, namely the University of Florida and also with the National Pest Management Association. I think the effort now is to try and rein it in. There are more dogs coming on board. The effort is focused on making sure those are quality-run programs. There's a lot of implications for a false alert: damage to brand and reputation, potential application of pesticides where you know a bug may not have existed.

"It needs more internal industry self-regulation. If we have dog teams out there that are not working effectively, that's going to undermine the entire industry and the lack of trust will become too big of a problem.

"This is too valuable a tool and I don't want to come off saying people should be too skeptical of the dogs. It is important that we realize it's a tool. It's not perfect."

Beagles Are the Best
According to Pepe Peruyero, the CEO of J&K Canine Academy of High Springs, FL, beagles are the best dogs for bedbug detection. Of the 175 dogs J&K has sold to clients to detect bedbugs, 90% are beagles or beagle mixes.

"You consider a dog that has the right working trait, a strong work ethic, and you consider the environment itself," said Peruyero. "In 5-star hotels, most people don't want a big Rottweiler or a Shepherd. If you walk into a hotel with a dog to do a search, people get freaked out with large dogs. You walk into a hotel with a beagle, they say, 'oh what a cute little dog.' We use food reward in the entomology detection field. You want a dog with a strong food drive. That's a beagle. And they're very personable."

Peruyero said other dogs that work well include Jack Russell Terriers, Chinese Crested Hairless and Labradors.

Peruyero opened his academy in 1996, started training dogs for entomology detection in 1998 and added bedbugs to the mix 4 years ago. It takes J&K Canine Academy 4 months to train a dog to become certified as a bedbug detector.

Peruyero called business "beyond good." His company saw an 80% growth in 2010 in selling and training dogs and has sold 70 dogs in the first quarter of 2011. The dogs cost just under $12,000.

J&K Canine Academy does not sell dogs to just any pest control operation. "We're very selective," Peruyero said. "We turn down about 3 people a week."

You can find 10 things you need to know about bed bugs at