How accurate are human bed bug inspectors, k9s?

by nobugsonme on April 17, 2008 · 5 comments

in bed bug dogs, bed bugs

This article in the Danbury, Connecticut News-Times trumpets the arrival of Squirt, a new bed bug dog who will be working with local Pest Control firm Amtech. The dog was trained by Pepe Peruyero, and dog and trainer are learning to work together.

What caught my eye was this snippet:

“Humans can see bedbugs 50 percent of the time,” said Richard Monastero, president of Amtech, a pest management firm in Danbury. “A dog can find them 90 percent of the time.”

That seems like a guesstimate, rather than an actual statistic.

I believe it’s the first time I’ve heard a PCO estimate the human inspector’s effectiveness at 50%, an interesting number.

Granted, it comes from a human who just acquired a bed bug dog, and so he’s biased.

But I’d be interested in hearing how effective other PCOs honestly think they are when it comes to detection. Yes, when bed bugs are “literally crawling up the walls in broad daylight,” I’d call that 100%.

But what about the more average, run-of-the-mill, “where are these bed bugs hiding?” cases. Finding bed bugs is a very difficult task.

So how effective are human inspectors? Or to put it another way, how long does a careful visual inspection really take?

We’ll know more about how effective bed bug dogs can be when research currently being done at the University of Florida is available.

1 parakeets April 17, 2008 at 9:52 am

Interesting point, especially when people pay to have an inspection by a PCO. I know at the First International Bedbug Conference in Herndon VA in 2006, there was a panel of PCOs who said they had one room where they knew there were bedbugs. Yet a team of 3 excellent PCOs combed the room for hours and still could not come up with the bedbugs. I know my bedbugs hid in spaces beneath the floorboards and in the ceiling above the light fixture, so I have no idea how a PCI could see them there. I could only tell some of the places they were by observing, when my infestation was heavier, where the bedbugs returned to once fed.

2 nobugsonme April 17, 2008 at 12:42 pm

I think that is a very helpful bit of informal research those PCOs did.
I would be interested in knowing how those PCOs now approach inspections, given that they discovered their own limitations in this case. (In most cases, of course, a PCO will have no idea if they are missing bed bugs, or if there are none.)

3 Vectorguard April 17, 2008 at 7:56 pm

The findings on a Termite dog for detection rate is 95% with a less than 3% detection rate, study done by FSU. As nobugs stated the FSU results we are
waiting for they will coming out in may.
As it was stated finding bed bugs crawling up the was is and easy find but unless you
find the horborage you wont truly get rid of the problem. Bed bugs are noctural creatures and that means they are good at hide and seek. Another bit of information
bed bugs fecies once left to sit for a period of time will turn into a type of mold so a
mold dog may be deteting bed bugs instead of mold unless he is trained off this scent the same way a bed bug dog is trained not to alert on skins or dead bed bugs
they are taught to find the strongest scent possible, a dog to be a good bed bug dog has to be methodical in his search some dogs do not know how to use thier nose
for more than just sniffing the air, some dogs are born hunters like the beagal but
that does not mean they are the best, they have a great drive but unless it is used correctly this drive will only frustrate you and the the dog a good dog is only as good as his handler, this is very important for training and assisting the dog in his mission, cause honestly you as the handler are there only to assist the dog he can do the job he has properly been trained to do. You have to learn to read your dog and follow his reactions when he is alerting or false alerting. Dogs have a bad day just like people do so you have to account for that also. You have to bond with the dog. I excersise my dogs 3 times a day and work 1-2 hours a day training and testing thier ablities. I am not trying to promote my business here but from a handlers point of view this is not as easy as people may think. These dogs are a part of me and my life they are with me 24/7 they look to me for support and trust me
to take care of them and not to lead them into danger. They look to me for love and praise with a treat and lots of praise and petting. A dog has a incredible memory I have taken a dog into a room for the first time to hunt and then I can take them back to that same room a few days later and they will remember where I hid the bedbugs and will go to that same area to check. I cant say that these dogs are the
cure all for the bed bug epidemic but they can sure even up the score with thier wonderful sense of smell. I want my dogs to the very best at finding these pests
because I have felt and seen what they can do to a child or a baby and people that are allergic to thier bite. I hope this little bit of information will help people understand that this is not some magic potion but it is a lifetime commitment for the dog and the handler.

4 DougSummersMS April 18, 2008 at 8:40 am


I am really curious about the statements you made regarding bed bug feces, mold and scent detection dogs.

You comment stated…. “Another bit of information bed bugs fecies once left to sit for a period of time will turn into a type of mold so a mold dog may be deteting bed bugs instead of mold unless he is trained off this scent the same way a bed bug dog is trained not to alert on skins or dead bed bugs.”

Do you have any sort of scientific reference for this claim? Any thoughts on the name of mold species that you are referring to in your comment?

If the feces “turn into a type of mold”, then a MoldDog would be detecting mold, not bed bugs.

I’m not saying that bed bug feces cannot support mold growth. Any organic material can sustain mold growth if excessive moisture is present. I would object to the suggestion that bed bug feces “turn into a type of mold” spontaneously without an external source of moisture being present.

I commonly find termites with my MoldDog during field inspections. The reason my MoldDog will occasionally locate termites is because both termites and mold growth thrive on wet wood.

I have never discovered any type of mold growth during an inspection of a structure with my BedBugDog.

I’d be really interested to hear about the source of your information on this claim?
I look forward to seeing your response.

5 DougSummersMS April 18, 2008 at 8:44 am

I haven’t run across any published studies on the accuracy of human inspectors, but I have heard a number of estimates regarding human accuracy mentioned by various experts during presentations at trade conferences.

The accuracy range for an unaided human detecting a very light infestation has been estimated from as low as 10% to as high as 50% in the presentations that I have attended. I don’t recall ever being given a reference for any of the figures that were mentioned. Prior to the introduction of Bed Bug Dogs we didn’t have a reliable way to measure the accuracy of the unaided human inspector in the field.

The major consensus among the experts seems to be that light infestations are very difficult to detect. This is especially true if there are high levels of clutter present or if you have bed bug friendly construction with hidden areas that are inaccessible for a visual inspection.

For example, loose wood flooring with extensive gaps may have bed bugs hiding on the wood sub-floor under the flooring material. Even the most diligent human visual inspection could easily miss a light infestation in a situation where the bed bugs are hiding under the flooring.

Bed Bug Dogs are not 100% accurate, but I believe that K9 teams are at least three to four times more accurate than an unaided human inspector. The best bed bug surveillance & detection system currently available is an experienced human inspector aided by a well trained Bed Bug Dog.

Only a K9 team can accurately detect light infestations when there is only a single bug or a single egg & thoroughly search the room in less than five minutes. A K9 team can identify a problem area before there are any bite reports or complaints from occupants.

The accuracy of any unaided human inspector could easily be assessed in the field by utilizing a K9 team. Simply allow the human inspectors examine a room for ten or fifteen minutes (up to an hour), then give the dog team five minutes to identify the problem areas. We could then make a valid comparison of the relative skill of an unaided human inspector versus a K9 assisted inspection under true field conditions.

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