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Everything You Want to Know About Bed Bug Detection Dogs

Written by: Rachel Giordano

Last Updated on April 5, 2024 by Dogster Team

Everything You Want to Know About Bed Bug Detection Dogs

At one time, bed bugs were eradicated in the United States in the 1950s through the late 1990s.¹ Unfortunately, a new strain of bed bugs came about that was immune to DDT, the chemical used to eradicate them.2 The result was a new infestation of bed bugs, along with bug exterminators scratching their heads to derive a new way to detect and kill these annoying bugs without harming the environment.3

Then, canines came into the picture. Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, so why not train dogs to sniff out bed bugs? In 2011, dogs were becoming trained and certified to detect bed bugs with impressive accuracy. In this article, we’ll examine this method of bed bug detection and explain how it works.


How Does It Work?

To explain how this method works, let’s first explain what bed bugs are. Bed bugs are small, oval-shaped little bugs with a reddish-brown color. They have flat bodies and feed off the blood of humans or animals. Though they cannot fly, they have the ability to quickly move over walls, ceilings, and floors. Infestation happens quickly, as females may lay up to 100 eggs over a lifetime.

One fact that makes bed bugs such a nuisance and hard to eliminate is that the eggs are only the size of a speck of dust, and they can invade your home by hiding in luggage, clothing, used beds, or other items brought in.

They typically prefer mattresses because they can hide undetected and feed off humans while they sleep. We’re sorry to make your skin crawl, but that’s a fact. Dogs play a role in detection by having extensive training to sniff out these bugs so that the area can be treated to kill them.

In 2008, researchers from the University of Florida conducted a study of the effectiveness of using dogs for bed bug detection.5 What they concluded was dogs used their sense of smell to differentiate the scent of bed bugs from German cockroaches, subterranean termites, and carpenter ants using a verbal and reward system.

Bed bugs give off unique pheromones that dogs are able to detect with a 97.5% accuracy rate. They also discovered that dogs could detect live or dead bed bugs, exoskeletons, and eggs with a 95% success rate, alerting their trainers by scratching at the surface.

BedbugSniffingDog (Image By: Elgaard, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

How Do I Prepare for a Bed Bug Dog Inspection?

To receive an accurate inspection, you must take certain steps to prepare your home.

They are as follows:
  • Remove any clutter inside your home so that the dog has clear paths.
  • Remove any odors that may be a distraction to the dog. For example, don’t cook bacon or some other strong-smelling food that will deter and distract the dog.
  • Avoid using perfumes.
  • Don’t smoke inside the home for at least 2 hours on the day of inspection.
  • Remove and empty ashtrays (preferably in an outside receptacle but ensure nothing is smoldering or lit).
  • Remove any other pets you have off-site from the home.
  • Avoid using rubbing alcohol or other strong cleaning agents.
  • Ensure no chemical pesticides have been used inside the home 30 days prior.
  • Turn off air conditioners and fans.
  • Remove pet food bowls, toys, and pet food.
  • Leave recently-luggage out and open for inspection.
  • Pull headboards, beds, and furniture away from walls for canine access.

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What Should I Expect During the Inspection?

Different companies use different methods to do the inspections, but mostly, they are the same methods across the board. The handler/trainer and dog will work their way through the home, taking notes of where the dog scratches or is drawn to. The handler/trainer will inspect areas the dog points out. Clients are then given a plan of action for treatment.

What Are the Different Types of Dogs Used for Bed Bug Detection?

All dogs used for bed bug detection must be certified beforehand. As we’ve mentioned, dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, but some dogs’ sense of smell is better than others, resulting in certain breeds being better suited to take on the task.

Usually, the breed types used are hunting dogs, such as Beagles, Terriers, and Border Collies. These breeds are also small, allowing for easier access in small crevices for inspection. Beagles are scent hounds and are often used due to their incredible sense of smell and small size.

Other dogs used are German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Belgian Shepherds, and Basset Hounds. While all dogs have a strong sense of smell, these dog breeds have that little extra that is superb for bed bug detection. Generally, though, the smaller the dog, the better, making the Beagle or Basset Hound used often. However, whatever pest control company you choose, rest assured the dog breed they use will be certified and well-adapted to sniff out bed bugs.

woman walking beagle dog in the park
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock


Can Dogs Miss the Detection of Bed Bugs?

Unfortunately, using dogs for bed bug detection is not 100% accurate. However, the 97.5% success rate is worth the try.

It’s important to note that preparing your home for a bed bug inspection to be performed by a certified canine is crucial to a successful outcome. A dog can be deterred or distracted by certain smells or other distractions, such as an AC unit running, fans running, certain chemical odors, cigarette smoke, or food.

If you follow the steps mentioned earlier in this article, your chances of having a successful canine bed bug inspection and detection are much higher.

Advantages of Bed Bug Detection Dogs

Many advantages come with using dogs for bed bug detection. In using dogs, you can detect bed bugs early on to prevent a full-on infestation.

Dogs can also detect bed bugs in numerous locations, making eradication much greater. Another advantage of using dogs for bed bug detection is it’s a non-invasive way to find them. You don’t have to dismantle furniture or destroy mattresses to have a successful detection.

Disadvantages of Bed Bug Detection Dogs

The disadvantage of using dogs for bed bug detection is a false positive or missing them altogether. False positives can occur if the home or dwelling had an infestation previously at some point in time, making the dog sniff out old smells. Another deterrent could be if the bed bug eggs are in plastic, the dog may miss them. The service can be costly, as well.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Much Does Canine Bed Bug Detection Cost?

This service does not come cheap; the average cost for bed bug detection using canines can range anywhere from $325–$1,000, depending on your location. You definitely need to weigh the pros and cons, given that dogs may be able to detect them before a full-blown infestation occurs, which could save you money in the long run.

Can My Pet Carry Bed Bugs?

Bed bugs do not live on pets or people; they simply live in the environment and feed on pets or people. After bed bugs feed, they retreat back to their hiding spots, unlike fleas or ticks, which remain on the pet.

Do Bed Bugs Carry Diseases?

As gross and annoying as these pests can be, thankfully, they do not carry diseases that can be transmitted to their food source (you or your pet). The bites do cause itchiness, and with excessive scratching, an infection could occur.

How Long Does Bed Bug Treatment Take?

Once a certified bed bud-detecting dog has detected them, treatment follows with an insecticide. It typically takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the size of the room. It can also take two or three treatments to kill all of the bed bugs.

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Dogs are amazing creatures with a keen sense of smell. Thankfully, their extraordinary sense of smell can be used to detect bed bugs.

While it’s not 100% foolproof, it’s a non-invasive way to determine if you have them or not. Using a dog bed bug service may also prevent a full-blown infestation, which can be extremely costly.

Bed bugs can invade any home no matter the cleanliness or dirtiness of the environment, and if you suspect you have them, calling a pest control company as soon as possible is vital.

Featured Image Credit: Ozzy, Toby, and Becca The Bed Bug Scent Detection Beagles (MarceloGallo, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

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