Bed bug detection dog myths busted at PestTech 2011

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There is a lot of comment on the accuracy, or otherwise, of bed bug detection dogs doing the rounds of the global pest management industry at present. Adam Juson’s workshop at PestTech 2011 on 2 November helped sort out fact from fiction.

Director of Merlin Environmental Adam Juson kicked off the 2011 PestTech workshops programme and drew a decent crowd, despite the early 9.30 start and the tannoy system at the National Motorcycle venue being on the blink, meaning no announcement about the session could be made!

“Myth number one: dogs are dishonest – no they are not, they are completely honest,” said Adam, who has been working with dogs for 20 years. “If there’s any dishonesty in a bed bug detection service, it will come from the person on the other end of the lead.”

“Myth number two: contrary to what appears in the Australian Pest Detection Dog Code of Practice, dogs can work in any environment. It is not necessary to remove foodstuffs, turn off radios, TVs or air conditioning units, nor to prevent smoking in the area for at least two hours prior to the inspection, as the code suggests. My dogs are trained not to take food unless instructed and if dogs can’t work in a noisy environment then how on earth do the explosive dogs in Afghanistan do their job? It’s true that aircon will stir the scent around but, provided both human and dog are well trained, they can sort it out. Such comments are just rubbish, as is the instruction that ‘socialisation with the detection dog must be kept to a minimum’,” adds Adam. “My dogs are fully socialised. They have to be. I’m taking them into hotels, conference rooms, cruise ships and the like, where they will come across people. I’ve even had a three year old child hanging off the end of my dog’s tail as we crossed a hotel lobby with no problem whatsoever!”

This ability to have confidence in the way the dog behaves with people is one reason why Adam is sceptical about using rescue dogs as detection dogs. “It’s a lovely idea but you just never know with a rescue dog if it’s been mistreated in the past there may be something which triggers an aggressive reaction. I prefer to work with dogs where I know the background and the pedigree.”

Adam also stressed the importance of training from a young age and training just to detect one thing – bed bugs. He explained that the trick is to imprint on the dog’s mind that ”if I find this smell and let my handler know I will be rewarded”.

PestTech 2011 bedbug dogs
Adam Juson with bed bug detection dog,
Basil, on the Merlin Environmental
stand at PestTech

PestTech Delegates Bed bugs are badly named as they are just
as likely to be found in the chairs in a hotel
conference room as a bedroom

For Adam’s dogs that reward is simply a game with a squeaky toy. Dogs also need to be rested frequently. “It’s not that the dogs aren’t willing but their nose gets exhausted. We work one hour on, with 30 minutes off, for the dogs that is, not the handlers.”

Of course dogs are not 100% accurate. They may miss something and if the handler isn’t well trained he or she may miss something the dog has found. It is essential to be aware of the limitations. That said, Adam explained how research has shown the value of bed bug dogs. At the University of Kentucky they found a dog cleared a room in two minutes and left it in the state it had found it. In contrast a human bed bug inspection took two hours to come to the same conclusion and the room was quite literally taken apart!

Where a large number of rooms have to be checked, in a limited time period, dogs are an invaluable part of an integrated pest management routine. Unlike humans, dogs have no preconceptions about where the bugs might be. People would check the bed head, mattress, skirting boards etc but the dog might come into the room and immediately go to the luggage. “Around 1 in 200 bags carry bed bug scent but unfortunately there are legal constraints on us when checking hotel rooms. This prevents us from opening the luggage to get a visual confirmation.”

In addition to hotels and cruise ships, Merlin’s dogs also screen around 600 aircraft a year. “Aircraft are complex structures but once bed bugs get in they will spread like wildfire. In one of our inspections the dog indicated to a row of seats. Two hours later the engineers finally found two bed bugs in a locking screw on the underside of the seats.”

Adam also pointed out that conference rooms, and particularly the seats in conference rooms, are also prone to infestations which made quite a few people in the room begin to squirm! “Bed bugs have been badly named, he suggested. “They should be the anywhere someone comes to rest bugs.” Sadly, whilst accurate, it’s not a name that’s likely to catch on!

To conclude Adam once again quoted ans australian source who reckoned that detection dogs are a stop gap measure and will be replaced by electronic samplers. Really? Explosive detection air samplers have been available for around 15 years but dogs are still the first line of defence. Man’s best friend looks set to continue to be the bed bugs worst enemy!”

Read more about Adam’s bed bug dogs in Pest magazine, Pest issue 8 March & April 2010 and Pest Issue 16 July & August 2011.

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