Duluth-based dog sniffs out bedbugs for pest control firm
Duluth News Tribune
Monday, May 30, 2011
A quick round of sniffing, and she had it.
Raising her paw, she tagged the spoke of the wheel that
contained a hidden vial of bedbugs and looked up at her handler,
anticipating her food reward.
It took only a couple of seconds.
Meet Shelby, a certified bedbug scent detection dog who recently
joined the staff of Guardian Pest Solutions based in Duluth to help
in their war against bedbugs. Even when the dog isn't working, she
is finding the parasitic insects in training exercises like the
wheel test to keep her sharp.
Dogs are the latest tool for pest control specialists dealing
with a growing bedbug problem, responding to motels, housing
complexes, theaters, private homes and schools to search out and
"Because of their incredible noses, they have the ability to
smell things you and I don't," said Missy Henriksen, a spokeswoman
National Pest Management Association, a pest control industry
group. "They've been proven to be effective."
Working for food, 1-year-old Shelby is the only canine bedbug
specialist based in the Northland, company officials said. She has
got her own employee file and a big territory to cover - northern
Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
While many breeds could be trained to find bedbugs, smaller dogs
like Shelby, a 13-pound Jack Russell-beagle mix, can get into the
nooks and crannies better, said entomologist Hao Yu, the company's
Although use of DDT all but wiped out the blood-sucking bugs in
century, they've been making a comeback in the past decade,
largely because of a more mobile society. They stay close to their
human hosts, congregating around beds and couches. But the crawlers
also are hitchhikers, latching onto suitcases, backpacks and other
items and then spreading to other locations.
Ten years ago, Guardian Pest Solutions would get fewer than 10
bedbug calls a year. Now it probably gets 100 inquiries a month in
its five-state coverage area, said Michael Johns, the company's
A human inspection using eyes alone isn't enough to find them
all, Johns said.
"A dog's sense of smell is so much more than humans," he said.
"The percentage of a dog's brain that analyzes smells is 40 times
greater than humans."
In the case of bedbugs, dogs can detect the sweet musty smell of
the wax coating that live bedbugs produce, which is different from
dead bedbugs, he said.
Before investing in the dogs, which cost thousands of dollars to
train, Guardian Pest Solutions wanted to make sure dogs can,
indeed, smell the difference between live and dead bedbugs. Now
For clients, using Shelby is optional, costing $180 per hour,
which is more than the human inspection alone.
"The dog works fast and they're motivated," Johns said.
Once a bedbug infestation is discovered, the company typically
uses high heat to eradicate them. Using a diesel generator mounted
on a trailer, they heat the premises to 135 degrees and hold it
there for several hours, which kills the bedbugs and their