The long-awaited University of Florida study of bed bug dogs that we mentioned last year has now been published:
Ability of Bed Bug-Detecting Canines to Locate Live Bed Bugs and Viable Bed Bug Eggs
MARGIE PFIESTER, PHILIP G. KOEHLER, AND ROBERTO M. PEREIRA
Department of Entomology, Building 970 Natural Area Drive,
University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-0620
J. Econ. Entomol. 101(4): 1389-1396 (2008)
Here’s the abstract in full:
ABSTRACT The bed bug, Cimex lectularius L., like other bed bug species, is difficult to visually locate because it is cryptic. Detector dogs are useful for locating bed bugs because they use olfaction rather than vision. Dogs were trained to detect the bed bug (as few as one adult male or female) and viable bed bug eggs (five, collected 5-6 d after feeding) by using a modified food and verbal reward system. Their efficacy was tested with bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs placed in vented polyvinyl chloride containers. Dogs were able to discriminate bed bugs from Camponotus floridanus Buckley, Blattella germanica (L.), and Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), with a 97.5% positive indication rate (correct indication of bed bugs when present) and 0% false positives (incorrect indication of bed bugs when not present). Dogs also were able to discriminate live bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs from dead bed bugs, cast skins, and feces, with a 95% positive indication rate and a 3% false positive rate on bed bug feces. In a controlled experiment in hotel rooms, dogs were 98% accurate in locating live bed bugs. A pseudoscent prepared from pentane extraction of bed bugs was recognized by trained dogs as bed bug scent (100% indication). The pseudoscent could be used to facilitate detector dog training and quality assurance programs. If trained properly, dogs can be used effectively to locate live bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs.
You can easily access it on the Armed Forces Literature Retrieval System, using the title above.
The study used dogs trained by Pepe Peruyero.
The results are impressive: “Dogs trained to locate live bed bugs and viable
bed bug eggs had an overall accuracy of 97%, which is similar to previous studies on insect detector dogs” (1394).
But there was also a 10% no-indication rate on viable bed bug eggs (10% of the time, dogs did not alert to viable eggs being present). The study suggests this can be attributed to a low concentration of the target odor. These false negatives (as well as false positives) can also be attributed to the handler’s “misreading dog behavior” (1394).
Ultimately, the study concludes that
Dogs can be trained to locate cryptic insects that are difficult to uncover visually as long as dogs are trained in a similar manner to the method we used, training is maintained regularly, an experienced handler is used, and nontarget odors are separated from target odors (1395).
This comes as no surprise, but cannot be emphasized enough. We know that bed bug dogs can detect bed bugs. We also know that it doesn’t always work.
Bed bug dogs have to be properly trained, the training needs to be ongoing once they’re with the handler, and the handler has to know what they’re doing and do it well.
Everyone is not cut out to be a dog handler. This is a booming industry and a lot of people are trying to get in on it. People with no experience handling dogs are among them and some of these may not be cut out for it.
The potential is there for people to obtain bed bug dogs from the trainers but to handle them improperly, or not maintain training. So even if your bed bug dog handler got his or her dog from the same source, depending on how the handler is working with the dog now, your results may not be as impressive.
Consumers considering a bed bug dog need to remember that anyone can hang out a shingle and advertise their “bed bug dog;” there’s no government agency certifying their effectiveness. So get references and recommendations and choose wisely.