Bed bug sniffing dogs challenged by NYT

Recently (11/11/10) the New York Times released an article on the doubts of bed bug sniffing dogs.  The concerns were as follows:

  1. Dog accuracy may not be what it is billed to be
  2. People were being led to remediate by unscrupulous exterminators based on “false alerts” from a dog
  3. False positive alerts will hurt the credibility of the bed bug dog   

As bed bug canine detection is a completely unregulated industry this is bound to happen.  I am a 10 year veteran to the canine industry.  I have owned and operated a successful detection canine business for 7 years training and delivering drug, bomb, and contraband canine services to schools and industry.  As these services fall into the security arena, positive alerts have legal and law enforcement implications.  Operational procedures and canine standards for excellence must be top notch and able to be defended in the courts. 

The bed bug problem, while pressing and aggravating for the person who has the bugs, does not by its nature, have the same level of consequence as drugs and bombs.  Unfortunately, this permits less stringent standards for the canine and the handler and opens the doors to self promoting organizations.

When a trained bed bug dog walks out the door of training facility to start working with its new owner it knows the smell of bed bugs cold.  There is no doubt that it will alert to the bed bug odor.  But that is where the surety ends.  That dog has been trained to learn, and for better or worse, it will.  If a poor inexperienced handler works with a dog they will teach the dog new techniques, new problems, and eventually “re-train” that dog to their personal style.  This is not good.  However an experienced handler can grow a new dog’s skills exponentially turning it into a virtual bed bug finding machine.  The cycle is either vicious or virtuous, but nothing in between.  The accuracy of the dog team is contingent on both partners being trained well.  I can assure you that most exterminators who own bed bug dogs have very expensive pets who work on occasion.  Until standards are established for the dog AND the handler the general public will not have a way to interpret the quality and value of the dogs service.

My favorite quote from the article is as follows: Mr. Peruyero, the dog trainer, is pushing for scent-detection dogs to be certified through an independent oversight board, the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association.”  This may shock you, but there is nothing independent about the NESDCA.  Mr. Peruyero is the founder of the organization, the trainer of the bed bug dogs, and the seller of the bed bug dogs, charging over $10,000 for a trained dog.  The NESDCA board positions are filled with his bed bug dog clients, not veteran canine experts.  Ironic that the NYT supporting expert is just another example of a person promoting their own work. 

If the industry wants credibility they need to look to their working canine peers.  Dogs have been utilized throughout history for working tasks. Let’s not remake the wheel for a single odor dog.  There are organizations already in place that test and certify dog teams for drugs, bombs, arson, etc that have stringent requirements in place.  This would ensure that you have a “dog person” looking for bugs rather than a “bug person” working a dog.  I can assure you, id-ing a bed bug is a cake walk compared to working and maintaining a quality detection dog.

Lastly the article highlights a variety of circumstances where customers were taken advantage of by unscrupulous extermination companies.  Here is my opinion, proceeding with an expensive remediation effort based on a “false positive” that cannot be confirmed is absurd.  If the dog alerts to an area, the handler should be able to confirm that alert more times than not.  If you cannot confirm it, the space needs to be monitored further, not remediated.  Owners need to take responsibility for their decisions and not be led down a path of fear, uncertainty and doubt by an exterminator.  Every industry has folks who will take advantage of the situation, let’s not let the bed bug hysteria scramble our minds.

- Ashley



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