Bed bugs have the capability of ruining a company’s brand. But there are ways to proactively find where underlying issues exist, so they can be addressed before reputations are damaged. We spent some time with one company’s key to proactive monitoring for new introductions before significant infestations start.
Why Bed Bugs Cause Such Frustration
With the return of bed bugs (cimex lectularius) in the U.S. over the past decade, there has been an increasing need for effective monitoring and control of this destructive pest. Unlike many other structural and urban pests that can occur in apartment settings, bed bugs are especially difficult to find. They have a very specific, cryptic lifestyle that makes it quite difficult to identify and locate infestations. Their flattened body shape allows them to move easily between the narrowest of cracks and crevices and they also hide together in very secretive harborages that are often well hidden and not easily accessible. A full sized apartment can have small pockets of 10-20 individual pests located nearly anywhere out of sight. Unless a full inspection is conducted, where beds are taken apart, baseboards are pulled back, and other disruptive activities are conducted, these small pockets of bed bugs go easily unnoticed.
As the population grows, these small harborages become overcrowded and grow into significant infestations. Individual bed bugs will leave the small harborages in search of other places to hide, creating multiple harborages. This repeats as the population becomes larger and larger. It is often these individual bed bugs, moving around to find new refuges, which become apparent to a resident or staff. And worse, initial efforts at this stage can exacerbate the situation. Residents may self-treat with ineffective, over-the counter products that may repel and spread the infestation to other areas in a unit or neighboring units. Or they may move around in the apartment, sleeping on the couch or other areas, which only causes the bed bugs to also move to those other areas. Often, by the time they are apparent, and management is made aware of the problem, the population has grown into a large infestation that is much more costly to eradicate, with treatments that require a significant amount of time and input as well as being disruptive to residents and management operations.
The Answer: Proactive Monitoring
The use of properly trained bed bug dogs helps to break this cycle by finding new introductions prior to them becoming major infestations. In 2008, a team of entomologists at the University of Florida studied the effectiveness of dogs in finding bed bugs (Pfiester et al. 2008). Their findings showed that dogs are capable of identifying bed bug odor with 98% accuracy, however, for this to occur, the dogs must be trained following specific modules and protocols. In 2015, a team at Rutgers University tested dogs in the field using several canine teams; some which had a regimented training program and others which did not (Cooper et al. 2014). The results were that the range of the canine teams’ ability to detect bed bugs was from 10% to 88%, highlighting the importance of training in ensuring that bed bug canine teams can detect infestations with a high degree of accuracy. Canine teams that do not follow an effective training program are ineffective in detecting bed bugs while those with a strict training regimen are very effective, more so than visual or passive trapping options. When using bed bug dogs as a recurring monitoring tool to find new introductions before they turn into massive infestations, the training of the canine team is the most important aspect to consider.
Western Pest Services’ canine program follows a highly regimented system to ensure that their canine teams are effective. The training program is coordinated by an outside consultant, Joe Nicholas, aka “Joe Nicks,” who is a 36 year veteran in canine scent detection. Joe Nicks has trained scent detecting canine teams for narcotics, arson and bomb sniffing activities. The training protocols that Western uses are based on decades of experience of their Master Trainer, Joe, combined with the science utilized by the company’s entomologists which is specific to bed bugs and bed bug sniffing dogs. This blend of the highest levels of experience and science creates one of the most effective teams of bed bug dogs available.
Western Pest Services offered us the opportunity to meet with Joe Nicks at the training facility where the Western dogs are trained, evaluated, and certified. Joe trains the Western bed bug dog teams alongside narcotics, arson, and bomb sniffing dogs, using the same base models and exercises. That means that Western’s bed bug dogs are trained to the same level of expectation as, say, a bomb sniffing dog in finding a possible explosive, with a razor thin margin of error requirement. Western’s dogs are evaluated for their environmental conditioning, obedience, and scent drive before they are even deployed for “imprinting,” which is the technical term for training the dog on a specific odor, like bed bugs. Once they pass those initial tests, they undergo an initial training regimen that could take as long as 6 months before they are deployed for work. And, their handlers are all canine trainers as well. Once deployed, the individual handlers reinforce the initial imprint by training their dogs a minimum of ½-1 hour every day, including weekends and holidays. These teams spend nearly as much time training their dogs as they do working their dogs. This is all verified through a series of evaluations, tests, and certifications that the canine teams undergo routinely.
The industry standard is that canine teams are certified once a year by a third party Master Trainer. However, Western’s canine teams are evaluated quarterly, tested 2 times each year and have an annual certification test conducted as well. That means these teams are evaluated and tested seven times each year in total in addition to the daily training that the handlers conduct with their canine partners. What’s more is that these events occur every 2 to 3 months, instead of every 12 months as is expected under the industry standard alone. This combination of following a strict set of protocols, a disciplined canine selection process, a difficult imprint program, a regimented training system and a consistent testing and verification process affords Western’s canine teams to be one of the most effective groups of bed bug dogs available to the property management industry. And the fact that they are more than willing to show their abilities in live demos or allow us to visit their training facility speaks to the fact that they stand behind their commitment to only utilizing the highest level of canine scent detection teams.
About Western Pest Services
Western Pest Services is a New Jersey-based pest management company serving businesses and homeowners in major Northeastern markets. Founded in 1928, Western Pest Services provides professional pest control services to homeowners and businesses in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Connecticut. They’ve earned a reputation of being a partner that can be trusted to get the job done and get it done right. Western’s employees are part of the community and their approach is locally focused, both of which give the company superior knowledge of local pest conditions. Western Pest Services stands behind their work and takes pride in doing things the right way – from how they treat a home or business to how they treat their customers.