Meet Leanna. She is a 3-and-a-half year old black Labrador Retriever. She came as a “career change” dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind. She didn’t make it as a Leader Dog because she loves people so much – it’s really hard for her to focus when there are people around who might want to love on her and rub her belly. Her puppy raisers taught her wonderful manners, and she is your stereotypical Labrador.
What makes Leanna so special? She’s trained to sniff out bed bugs. And I am her handler.
I work for a multi-national company that has multiple operations, but we work in pest control. To date, Leanna and I have been working together for a little over a year. She lives with me and my personal dogs. For all intents and purposes, she is my dog, except for being a drain on my bank account; I always joke with my clients that I get all the benefits with none of the bills.
Yes. She and I spend our days looking for bed bugs. Let me tell you a bit about this really cool job.
First, What Are Bed Bugs?
This is important, because yes, bed bugs have a smell, or odor (scent detection dogs are trained to look for an odor – it’s training semantics). Bed Bugs resemble a flat apple seed when fully grown, but they are a small, pale yellow bug when they are first hatched. They go through 5 life stages before becoming a full grown apple seed-like bug, and they eventually turn a reddish brown from the iron in our blood.
Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs do not only come out during the night. They are a hiding bug, and want to hide most of the time. Most people get bit during the night because that’s when they are sleeping and are the most still. If you were to work midnights and sleep during the day, they would come out to eat during the day while you are sleeping.
No, bed bugs do not jump or fly. Like I said, they want to hide, so if you see bugs crawling around, it’s likely you have a bigger problem than just one or two bugs. (Honestly, I’m more worried about bringing fleas home with me than I am of bringing home bed bugs.)
This is where Leanna and I come in.
Sometimes we’re called in to check a building as a precaution. Leanna and I have some accounts that we do on a monthly basis to make sure that there are no bed bugs being brought in – hotels, libraries, foster group homes, hospitals, etc. Other times, we’re called in because someone saw a bug, and they just want to make sure that there are some or none, or no more after the building had been treated.
So, how do Leanna and I do our job?
Resident nose work instructor Sarah has already posted a fantastic overview of nose work that is worth the read. While Leanna and I essentially do the same thing, we were trained in a slightly different way. Our trainer is a former military K9 handler and customs officer, having handled narcotic and explosive detection dogs. Leanna was trained in the same manner as these military/police K9s, just with a different odor: bed bugs.
We are always training. On days that we are not scheduled for jobs, I am placing training aids (live bugs in vials) around different places – including open grassy fields, lobbies of various buildings, warehouses – and we are always “skills building.” When we are working, I am still placing training aids so that Leanna can be rewarded, whether we find bugs or not. If she isn’t finding bugs, she doesn’t get rewarded, and she will eventually just stop looking because she isn’t getting paid. You probably wouldn’t do your job without a paycheck, would you?
A couple videos of us doing work in a library. The descriptions of the videos, as posted on Facebook, give a basic breakdown of what I am trying to do with each hidden training aid.
Even having worked together for a year, Leanna and I are still a young team. We are always working to better ourselves; I am always working to make finding those bugs harder for her, because it’s not always easy out in the real world. I work for a great company who supports us, and I am lucky to have a wonderful trainer I can turn to for help.
Feel free to post any questions you might have. I will do my best to answer them – I am sure between Sarah and myself, we can answer any question you might have!