First came the bedbugs. Then the bedbug-sniffing dogs. Now the pest industry is offering certification to companies that want to make sure their dogs and handlers really can sniff out the blood-sucking insects.
In most cases, bedbugs don't emit an odor that the human nose can detect, according to David Latimer, whose family runs a canine scent-detection business called Forensic and Scientific Investigations in Alabama. But the smell, described by some entomologists as sweet and sickly, is something dogs can be taught to sniff out, much the same way they can be trained to detect explosives and narcotics.
And because bedbugs are often difficult to find — they range in length from 1 to 7 millimeters — demand for bedbug-sniffing dogs is skyrocketing.
The increase "has been the most dramatic of any canine scent detection since bomb dogs after 9/11," said Latimer, who is also the police chief and fire chief of Harpersville, Ala.
In the past 12 months, his company has trained about 40 dogs just for bedbugs. By comparison, about half a dozen dogs were trained to detect explosives, and an additional eight to 10 to look for drugs.
It takes about three months, and with a good handler and under excellent clinical conditions the dogs can be "very, very proficient" in finding bedbugs, Latimer said.
His company relies on rescue dogs of mixed breeds, many of them beagles and terriers.