Certified bed bug-sniffing K-9s on the rise
No doubt, the widespread bed bug epidemic is enough to make public health officials quiver — and scratch — at the thought of the nasty millimeters-sized bloodsuckers. Yet bed bug-sniffing canines look forward to finding these notoriously resilient ectoparasitic insects; and now pest-management agencies are facilitating public health initiatives by certifying these canines’ astute sense of smell.
In June, for example, the demand for certification took the front seat at the National Canine Conference in Philadelphia when a trio of companies offered canine scent-detection certification testing in accordance with the National Pest Management Association Inc.© (NPMA) bed bugs best management practices. Three independent organizations — Integrated Bed Bug Management Association, the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA) and the World Detector Dog Organization — conducted the testing.
Bed bug infestations can happen anywhere
Increase in bed bugs’ global population over the past two decades has propelled the need to manage bed bug infestations from the canine angle. Once considered nearly eradicated during World War II, bed bugs resurged in the 1990s reportedly due to pesticide bans and increased human travel, according to published reports.
As a result, 95 percent of 1,000 pest-management companies surveyed reported they encountered a bed bug infestation from 2009-2010 compared to only 25 percent prior to 2000, according to the NPMA and University of Kentucky’s joint study, the 2010 Comprehensive Global Bed Bug Study.
Trained K-9s being used to detect bed bugs
As a result of the upsurge in bed bug infestations, many pest-management agencies as well as independent scent-detection companies are turning to trained K-9s to help find the elusive and nocturnal parasites. To date, various scent-detection agencies show a combined total of hundreds of certified dogs exist in North America. The NESDCA’s website alone shows it trained more than 150 certified dogs in the past couple of years.
Alabama-based Forensic and Scientific Investigations recently told The Washington Post it trained 40 bed bug-sniffing dogs within the last 12 months, or three times the number of dogs it trained for explosives or narcotics during the same period. Global or national statistics of certified K-9 teams vary because multiple certification programs exist, with the most well-known certification programs offered through the NESDCA and the International Forensic Entomology Detection Canine Association (IFEDCA).
The value of certification
While all dogs have a keen sense of smell — in parts per trillion compared to humans’ parts per hundred — bed bug-sniffing dogs undergo rigorous third-party testing to validate their ability to detect their targets with the aid of handlers. In this case, certified bed bug-sniffing dogs are specially trained to locate and confirm the presence or lack of live bed bugs in all growth phases — from a viable egg to an active adult — that may not be found during human visual inspection, according to the NPMA’s guidelines.
The NPMA guidelines for certification require a minimum of two evaluators — with five years’ related experience and no conflict of interest with a testing team — who must pass or fail each team based on the dog’s alerts and the handler’s corresponding interpretation of bed bug scents and man-made extracts on testing hides. In certain cases, these canines also undergo upwards of 600 hours of training prior to certification, according to the IFEDCA.
NESDCA — which only certifies teams (a handler and canine) — also publishes rules dictating the physical treatment of such canines. Any handler’s violation of these rules may lead the evaluator(s) to fail the team for certification. The certification evaluators assess the K-9's demeanor and accuracy during the process, and watch how the handlers work with and maintain control over their dogs.
The NPMA’s guidelines also recommend certification because it confirms teams’ individual abilities to differentiate scents within inspected structures in real world versus laboratory environments. Certification, which a team must renew annually, also affords clients the assurance that handlers possess training in up-to-date bed bug biology, behavior and inspection, notes the NPMA.