I'm a bed bug dog and I love what I do?
November 23, 2010 5:08 PM   Subscribe

My friend (really) is considering using a bed bug dog to help her figure out what is biting her (she is aware of all of the other ways to monitor the situation, as well). However, she is a gentle soul, and is worried about whether such dogs like what they do.

She's also concerned about the business end of employing such dogs, i.e. that they are trained at a place like this and then bought and sold as trained bed bug dogs. I love all animals, and flirt with veganism myself, so I sympathize with my friend. However, I don't have much experience with dogs, so don't feel qualified to answer my friend's question. Dog lovers, trainers, and vets - what do you think about dogs being used in this manner? Do they like it, and is the business side of it an ethical minefield?
posted by analog to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm certainly not a dog professional, but from all of my experience with dogs, they *love* working. As long as their trainers are treating them well and are using non-aggressive training methods, I don't see a problem.

I would suggest her calling places and asking about their specific training methods so she can make a decision.
posted by zug at 5:14 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I am also not a dog professional, but from what I do know, and why dogs are so trainable, is that they love to feel useful and important. They like being given a task and then doing it, even if it's just to stay in one place for a while. So I would think being a trained bed bug dog is pretty satisfying.
posted by wondermouse at 5:22 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm not a professional either, but from what I can tell, there's no way to punish a dog for not finding a bedbug -- it didn't do anything wrong after all -- which means their training has to revolve around positive reinforcement. So I assume the dog's mindset it "holy crap if I find one of these little fuckers I'm getting hugs and treats!"
posted by griphus at 5:26 PM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

My mom trains dogs as a hobby. Most dogs love working, as the poster above said, as long as they get positive reinforcement. They like the structure, attention, and praise. I bet bedbug dogs do enjoy it!
posted by christinetheslp at 5:41 PM on November 23, 2010

Dogs love praise. Dogs get praise when they work. Dogs will do much, much more difficult and risky work than bedbug hunting in order to get praise. In fact, I should think that from a dog's perspective, bedbug hunting is one of the easiest jobs there is -- bedbugs have a specific odor, and they're just being trained to find that odor. They're VERY good at such things.

and what everyone else is saying along the same lines
posted by davejay at 5:56 PM on November 23, 2010

This is not an answer to your question: Bed bug dogs are not infallible detectors of bed bugs themselves. They merely are trained to find the odor of a bed bug, whether the bug itself is in that place, or if your suitcase had on in it during your flight to Vegas last weekend. Has she tried a visual inspection of her apartment?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:01 PM on November 23, 2010

Yes, she's done all of the regular inspection stuff. From what I've read, though, bed bug dogs are trained only to find live bugs and eggs, so that takes care of the 'were they ever there' issue.
posted by analog at 6:05 PM on November 23, 2010

I've never met a bedbug dog, but every working dog I have seen has looked not just happy, but smug. Service dogs and K9 dogs seem very pleased with themselves when they are working.
posted by galadriel at 6:06 PM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

I saw a piece on the news (60 Minutes?) about it. They had this trainer who trains his dogs so that they only get fed if they find a bed bug. Because of that, he has to keep a jar or baggie of live bed bugs for the dogs to "find" for when there are no wild bugs around. He keeps the jarred bugs alive by feeding them from his own arm.
posted by bentley at 6:08 PM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Pretty much the only way to train dogs for this kind of work is to make it a game, and consequently they love the shit out it.

"Dogs have fun finding this stuff because they work for a toy," McConnell said. "It's all fun and games for them."

Some concern in this regard for police dogs might be valid, because that requires enhancing/channeling their aggression, put sniffing for X is just rewarding them doing what they love, smelling stuff.
posted by NortonDC at 6:11 PM on November 23, 2010

Working dogs love to work.
posted by OmieWise at 6:12 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Although there may be a few unscrupulous individuals out there, dogs love being able to put their nose to work. Dogs that are trained to do scent work love it because it is a fun game for them especially because their sense of smell is one of their strongest traits. Scent tracking is actually being taught to non-work dogs as a form of recreation because it's a great way for owners to bond with their companion animals.

Your friend should ask questions when screening out potential companies to hire. She can ask how many hours the dogs work, where they live when not working, etc. Most handlers are very close to the dogs they work with and care about them a lot. You can also see that relationship in action when they show up for the bedbug hunt. The dog should definitely look healthy, well fed, and eager to get to work.
posted by Mz Martini at 7:10 PM on November 23, 2010

From what I've read, though, bed bug dogs are trained only to find live bugs and eggs

Might want to read this NYT article - the "dogs find bedbugs where there is no physical evidence" reads like that isn't the case.
posted by soma lkzx at 5:41 AM on November 24, 2010

I have no idea about the training that goes into this sort of thing, but I can tell you that my beagle mix dog (they use beagles a lot for things like this) would think she had died and gone to heaven if I took her to other people's houses and let her sniff around. And if she got fun toys and/or treats for finding something? Oh boy. This is the stuff from which her dreams are made, I'm sure.
posted by rosethorn at 12:13 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Most dogs love working. In my own experience, many dogs (specifically those descended from *gasp* working breeds) actually get depressed when they can't.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:26 PM on November 24, 2010

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