How to Train Detection Dogs to Sniff Out Bed Bugs


Laurel holds Pan and Gaia at 3 months old.

As you can see, these puppy dogs were something to fall in love with! Now it was boot camp for this sister-brother duo; Gaia and Pan. In 2008, we expect they were the first bed bug sniffing dogs in Montreal. The temperament of these Golden Retrievers was so gentle, they hardly ever barked. And when they did, I’d make a big fuss, and give them a reward. Before long, they would bark on the command “speak”. Our clients loved our dogs!








"Find" food under the flower pots Gaia

Instead of simply giving Gaia and Pan a bowl of food, we turned almost every meal into an adventure for training bed bug dogs. Their morning meal was dispersed and hidden under clay flower pots. “Find” was the command when the door was opened to Gaia. She scanned some 30 pots, politely stopping for a bite at each correct selection. “Good find Gaia” I’d say while revealing her win. Pan was particularly motivated with an appetite like a vacuum cleaner. So Pan was a little more proactive, nudging over the pots with his nose to get at his finds.









Ever meal was a training opportunity. Point with paws.

To familiarize Pan and Gaia with odors, specimens were enclosed in pill bottles for training as bed bug dogs. The lids were perforated and closed with a gauze to allow odor to escape, but not the specimens. I’d present the bottle to Pan’s nose and say “sniff, bed bugs” followed by a pellet of food reward. They would repeat this with pleasure searching me out for where I was holding the bottle.

To keep them alert, when going on jobs we would postpone their morning meals. 







Pointing, "sniff here Pan"

At three and a half months old and after having them for only 3 weeks, Gaia and Pan suggested they could find specimens already! Am I imagining this? Tim, Laurel, come and see this! Sure enough, the dogs would stop at the pots with specimens. Problem was that they had no way of saying: “look Paul, there are specimens here”.

Next thing I see is Tim playing clicker with them. Check out Mind Games for Dogs: Shell Scent Game as an example of the extraordinary information I was able to draw on. The simple device, the clicker is a powerful training tool that simply goes “click”. Each time the dogs indicated specimens with their paw, “click” and a reward immediately followed. They got so reliable that we even had them perform in public on several occasions.

To get them to follow a pointer, we would place food pellets in many places. While bring attention to the food with the pointer tip, we commanded: “Pan, sniff”. With delight, Pan would sniff at each location instructed, and of course vacuum up the treats. 

We started out training them to identify 5 things: carpenter ants, big head ants, mold, white grubs and bed bugs. We quickly encountered a problem, when the dogs indicated a wall socket as positive, we were unable to distinguish the indication as being ants, mold or bed bugs. So then we turned their capacity to “speak” as the indication for bed bugs. From then on, when they put their paw to an item and began to bark, or in Gaia’s case, politely growl, we knew there were bed bugs there.



Dog scootering is a blast!We wanted to avoid producing overweight lethargic dogs, so we came up with a few great exercise ideas. With the wonderful internet I discovered “dog scootering” as you see in the photo.












Trashed furniture with bed bugsNext, I discovered the tadpole trike. This bike was my favorite toy ever, were we could travel for substantial distances. All this exercise resulted in happy and strong dogs. Even dog walking was a training opportunity. I would search out for trashed mattresses and furniture to provide for a diversity of sniffing exercises for training as bed bug detection dogs. This resulted in Pan and Gaia indicating bed bugs at more than 14 locations in less than 3 years. And keep in mind that this is confined to a neighborhood, not a city. Our biggest score was 3 positive locations in one day within one block of our home!











Every walk in the woods was an occasion to expect doggie treats. Pan would point out innumerable stumps and rotted trees and give that look.















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