The ABC’s of Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs: Accuracy, Benefits, and Costs

If you want to find out if you have bed bugs in your home and you heard about “bed bug sniffing dogs,” you might be wondering:

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the accuracy, benefits, and costs of bed bug sniffing dogs.

If you have any questions that we didn’t cover, or if you’re anxious to schedule a certified canine bed bug inspection in New York City, call (212) 219-8218 or click the button below to fill out our contact form.

A Brief History of Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs

Throughout history, people have relied on the powerful sniffing ability of man’s best friend to detect everything from explosives, narcotics, missing people, and other creatures — including pests.

Dogs were first trained in the pest control industry to sniff out termites in 1979.

At that time, bed bugs had been largely eradicated in the United States due to widespread use of pesticides like DDT. However, new pesticide-resistant strain of bed bugs made a resurgence in the early 2000’s, especially in densely-populated places like New York City.

And since the old methods of killing bed bugs were no longer effective, exterminators were hard-pressed to locate and control new infestation. That’s when bed bug sniffing dogs came into the picture.

It’s hard to say exactly who was the first to successfully train dogs to sniff out bed bugs, but it happened around the early 2000’s. The first mention of specially-trained bed bug detection canines appeared in newspapers around 2006.

Third party certification organizations that helped create and ensure certain standards in canine inspections were also created around that time, such as the National Entomology Scent Detection Association (NESDCA) and the World Detector Dog Organization (WDDO).

In the last decade, bed bug dogs have become an indispensable part of modern pest control, offering greater accuracy and efficiency at finding bed bugs compared to human inspectors.

How Accurate Are Bed Bug Sniffing Dogs?

Working canines can be trained to achieve an extremely high degree of accuracy. For example, bomb detecting dogs must be tested to 100% accuracy before being assigned to active duty.

In a 2003 study, researchers found that dogs could accurately sniff out the presence of termites with 95% accuracy.

But what about bed bugs? These pests are notoriously good at hiding and often seclude themselves in places that are difficult to access and filled with clutter and other distractions.

The short answer is yes; bed bug dogs CAN be extremely accurate (>95%) — but not always.

Bed bug sniffing dogs certainly have the potential to be extremely accurate at finding bed bugs, but that doesn’t mean that every dog is so accurate.

Just like humans, some dogs are great at their jobs and others aren’t. Some of them have more extensive training and work with experienced handlers, while others don’t.

That’s why certifications for canine bed bug detection teams exist. Third party certifying organizations like NESDCA set standards to make sure both the dog and its handler have the knowledge and skills needed to perform bed bug inspections with a high level of accuracy.

What Does the Research Show?

Pest control companies often claim or imply that their bed bug dogs have an accuracy rate of 95%, or even 98%.

Most times, those numbers are based on the first and most cited study about the accuracy of canine bed bug inspections, which was published in 2008 by researchers from the University of Florida.

In that experiment, 7 young dogs underwent special training for 90 days to identify the scent of live bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs. Researches then tested the dogs for their ability to locate and distinguish those scents from other household pests (e.g. cockroaches and termites) and bed bug debris from a possibly inactive infestation (e.g. shed skins, feces, and dead bed bugs).

  • Overall, the dogs displayed a 97.5% accuracy rate at distinguishing live bed bugs from other household pests with no false positives.
  • They had a 95% accuracy rate at distinguishing live bed bugs and viable eggs from bed bug debris, with a 3% false positive rate from bed bug feces.
  • In a realistic hotel room setting, the dogs showed a 98% accuracy rate in in locating 6 hidden vials of bed bugs with no false positives.

Although the results were very promising, extrapolating these accuracy rates to all bed bug dogs may be somewhat misleading. As explained by Dr. Philip G. Koehler, a professor of entomology and one of the researchers in this study:

“Our study has shown that dogs can be trained to accurately locate live bed bugs and viable bed bug eggs; however, bed bug detecting canines and handlers are not all equal. The quality of canines depends on the efficiency of their training, handlers, and what the dogs are trained to do.”

This conclusion was later backed up by another study published in 2014.

Researchers from Rutgers University tested the abilities of 11 canine detection teams from pest control companies in New Jersey, New York City, and Maryland to locate bed bugs in real-world apartments. The study found:

  • The overall average accuracy rate was 44%, with a false positive rate of 15%.
  • The detection rates and false positive rates varied greatly among the 11 teams, and even across different days.
  • Not all errors were due to the canines; in several cases the handler misinterpreted the dog’s signals.

Based on the small sample size, the researchers couldn’t find a correlation between accuracy rates and the experience or certification status of the teams. However, all of the teams that participated in the study were relatively new — the most experienced dog and handler pair had worked together for only 3 years, and less than half had worked together for longer than 12 months.

In conclusion, there is little real world data that conclusively answers how accurate bed bug sniffing dogs are.

The current research suggests that dogs certainly have the capability of detecting bed bugs at a much higher accuracy rate than other existing methods, but whether or not an individual canine detection team can achieve that potential depends on their training, experience, and protocols.

How Accurate Are MMPC’s Canine Bed Bug Detection Teams?

Based on almost two decades of experience performing tens of thousands of bed bug inspections, we can confidently say that MMPC’s veteran bed bug dogs and their handlers are currently among the most accurate in New York City.

As pups, each of our canine inspectors receives extensive training at one of the best scent detection training facilities in the world. After they are certified by NESDCA — which happens every year — they continue to receive ongoing training on a daily basis to keep their minds and noses sharp.

That’s why MMPC is one of the top-rated pest control companies for bed bugs in New York and named one of “The Best Exterminators in New York” by New York Magazine.

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What Are the Benefits of Canine Bed Bug Inspections?

Hiring bed bug-sniffing dogs is often the best way to detect early infestations because their noses are good at finding what human eyes are likely to miss.

However, that doesn’t mean a canine inspection is the best choice in every scenario. For example, if an infestation is already so bad that you can easily spot live bed bugs crawling around, then it’s better to immediately contact an exterminator and start treatment.

Besides accuracy, which we covered in depth earlier, here are the other benefits of canine bed bug infestations and the scenarios where they’re most appropriate:

1. Identifying Infestations Early

Bed bugs like to hide in tiny crevices that are just over 2 millimeters wide, making them difficult to spot in small numbers. Once there are so many bed bugs that they start getting pushed out of the good hiding spots, that’s when we start seeing them with our eyes.

Way before the problem reaches that stage, a specially-trained bed bug dog can accurately sniff out even small numbers of bed bugs.

With how complex and expensive it is to treat a full-blown bed bug infestation, catching onto them early can potentially save thousands of dollars in treatment costs, and also help you avoid spreading them to your neighbors.

2. Locating Specific Infestation Areas

Without knowing exactly where the bed bugs (and their eggs) are located, the exterminator will either need to spray everything (which increases pesticide use and the total costs) or risk missing a few that may come back and re-infest your home.

Bed bug sniffing dogs solve this problem by pinpointing the specific rooms or areas where bed bugs are hiding.

This helps narrow down the scope of the infestation, allowing the exterminator to come up with a more targeted, effective, and eco-friendly treatment plan.

3. Immediate Results

One alternative to canine inspections is the use of bed bug monitoring devices or traps. The most commonly-used kind are bed bug interceptors, which are passive traps placed around the legs of your bed to catch any bed bugs trying to climb up.

While monitoring traps have the benefit of never giving a false positive (if you catch a bed bug, then you have bed bugs), the downside is that it often takes 1-2 weeks to catch one. That’s because bed bugs don’t feed every night — they typically feed every 5 to 10 days, according to the EPA.

On the other hand, a canine inspection gives immediate results, allowing you to move forward quickly with treatment if needed.

Because a single female bed bug can lay around 1-7 eggs per day, and each egg hatches in 6-10 days, every week of waiting gives time for a new generation of bed bugs to be produced and start spreading.

4. Detecting Viable Eggs

Bed bug eggs that are viable (meaning the ones that will hatch) are mainly of concern after your home has been sprayed and all adult bed bugs have been exterminated.

Bed bugs eggs are usually hidden deep inside crevices and are slightly more resistant to treatment methods than adult bed bugs. If missed, they will hatch in 6-10 days and gradually re-populate and re-infest your home.

Certified bed bug dogs are often trained to sniff out both live bed bugs as well as viable eggs, so they can be brought in to confirm whether or not a treatment has been successful in eradicating all life stages.

However, don’t assume that all bed bug dogs can do this — be sure to ask the company whether or not their dogs have been trained to discern viable bed bug eggs from carcasses and other debris.

5. Non-Invasive

Because bed bug dogs rely on smell, not sight, to locate bed bugs, there’s no need to flip over beds and disassemble furniture as you would during a visual inspection.

The benefit of this is saving time and labor without sacrificing accuracy.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to prepare for a canine inspection. At a minimum, clutter should be removed and furniture shifted so that the dog has enough room to sniff around. Any distracting smells, such as from food, cigarettes, and other pet items should also be kept away from the inspection area.

6. Fast and Efficient

Speed is one of the biggest advantages of canine bed bug inspections.

An experienced bed bug sniffing dog (with a skilled handler) can cover an entire apartment in a matter of minutes when a visual inspection might take hours. And they usually do so with greater accuracy as well.

This efficiency is the most apparent (and economical) when checking for bed bugs throughout an entire building — since bed bugs can easily spread to neighboring apartments — and in large, nontraditional spaces, such as schools, offices, and retail stores.

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How Much Do Canine Bed Bug Inspections Cost?

The cost of canine bed bug inspections usually depends on 3 factors:

  1. Your city and location
  2. The size of the space to be inspected
  3. The certification and experience of the canine team

The average cost of a certified canine bed bug inspection in New York City is between $300 to $600. Larger apartments and homes may cost more, depending on the number of rooms that need to be inspected.

While a canine inspection may seem pricey, bear in mind that exterminating a bed bug infestation typically costs thousands — sometimes even tens of thousands — of dollars.

Lastly, when shopping around for affordable canine inspection services, be wary of companies using non-certified or inexperienced bed bug dogs.

Without meeting the standards set by third-party certification organizations like NESDCA, your mileage may vary when it comes to quality and accuracy of the inspection.

What to Ask before You Book an Inspection

When it comes to canine bed bug inspections, the cheapest option is often not the best option. When inquiring for quotes, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • How long have the dog and handler worked together?
  • When and where did they receive their certification?
  • Is the dog trained to detect both live bed bugs and viable eggs?
  • Does the handler perform a visual inspection each time the dog alerts?
  • Will they send a second canine team to confirm findings, if necessary?

What to Know during an Inspection

According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), pest control professionals should always confirm any findings made by a bed bug detection canine with either a visual inspection or a second canine before making treatment recommendations.

You should never feel pressured by the handler or by the pest control company to doing any expensive treatments, especially if the dog alerts to the odor of bed bugs without any visual evidence.

If that’s the case, you always have the option of asking for a second opinion or using monitoring traps to confirm or refute the findings.

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About MMPC — Bed Bug Experts in NYC

MMPC is an award-winning, minority-owned pest management company based in New York City with over 25 years of experience helping New Yorkers find and exterminate dreaded bed bugs.

As licensed pest management professionals, our focus is on providing effective and eco-friendly bed bug solutions to our clients all across the Tri-State area.

We take great care in training and raising our happy and hardworking bed bug sniffing dogs, who are paired with knowledgeable and experienced handlers.

Through diligent training and following rigorous protocols during inspections, the success rate of our canine bed bug inspections speaks for itself — MMPC was named one of The Best Exterminators in New York with almost 500 positive reviews on Yelp.

Book a Canine Bed Bug Inspection

Call (212) 219-8218 or fill in the form below to get a quote or schedule a NESDCA-certified canine bed bug inspection.

Also, feel free to reach out anytime if you have questions about canine inspections or bed bugs in general.