As the bed bug dog industry grows, dog quality will become an issue. Not because of the initial training of the dogs but from the ongoing training of the dog with their handler. The same thing happened about 8 years ago with Arson dogs (an accelerant) and has always been a challenge with drug detection dogs in the courts. It is up to the folks in this industry to set the standards, maintain the standardsand ensure that the public knows what to look for in a quality team.
So here is the typical scenario…Pest Control expert buys a bed bug dog, goes through days of trainingand takes his dog home to work. There is no upper-level quality control, there is no handler supervisor who has years of dog experience. The newbie handler effectively becomes that company’s dog expert but is not an expert at all. After a few weeks and months, the dogs have strange quirks that the handler does not know how to fix and does not know how they happened. The quality of the dog spirals downward. One year later when they go for re-certification they fail. The expensive bed bug dog is now an expensive pet. The company would have been much better off hiring a professional dog handler and training them on bed bugs.
The biggest problem areas I see in pest control dog detection are the following:
- The dog is a pet on the weekends and a tool during the week – the dog does not understand the changes and alternating hurts the dog's focus and training.
- The dog knows how to learn – they were taught how to learn in their months of training, but they can learn bad habits from a newbie handler just as easily.
- There is no “practice” with a dog. You either do the handling technique correctly, how the dog was trained or don’t do it at all. If you have to practice activity with a dog you will teach it something outside of how they were trained. This creates a vicious cycle of training degradation.
- The handler wants the dog to be successful. At first glance this is great, but ultimately it will make the dog handler dependent. When a handler puts out a hide for the dog they inadvertently key the dog to the location of the hide. So the dog learns that “my handler always knows where the bugs are, so I will look to him to show me” The dog stops searching on their own and is constantly looking to the handler for confirmation.
- Reinforcement of odors is not as simple as it seems and there are several ways a handler can mess this up. Hide management – location of hiding placement, how to place a hide, how to manage human odors on hides, varying hide containers, etc…