Man’s four-legged friends are making their mark in the control of bed bugs — and other pests.
PCOs and dogs have joined forces in recent years in successful business ventures aimed at detecting nuisance pests including bed bugs, geese, rodents and termites. The reason? Dogs and their incredibly sensitive sense of smell have, over the years, earned an excellent reputation for detecting the presence of hidden bombs and narcotics. This ability, according to Susan Hagberg, who runs two Chicago area companies — Canine Detection and Inspection Services and Wild Goose Chase — makes for a natural and profitable partnership for the pest control industry.
“Humans and canines have teamed up over hundreds and hundreds of years to hunt their desired prey,” Hagberg said. “Hunting is a complicated endeavor, and for dogs it consists of these steps: searching, tracking, locating, sharing information, stalking, chasing, catching, killing and finally celebrating. Dogs are meant to hunt,” she said.
But, Hagberg added, “The human part of the team chooses which of these steps the dogs are to perform and focuses them on surpassing what the human hunter can’t accomplish. We provide leadership for the dogs and guidance on how to perform their tasks safely in a modern, urban world that they sometimes can’t understand. Dogs are smart, but we humans add the intelligent planning and future thinking to the team.”
Hagberg pointed to the fact that urban areas are the perfect habitats for many creatures, and that expanding these areas has removed much of nature’s balance.
The Canada Goose.
An example of a pest that has taken advantage of nature’s re-balancing act is the Canada goose. After nearly becoming extinct in the 1950s, this species has made an amazing comeback. It’s now considered one of the most conflict-causing pest bird species.
Hagberg, because of her degree in horticulture and a previous career in landscaping, saw this problem becoming more of an issue with her clients. “As I dealt with these messy geese on their properties I started researching ways to humanely manage them. I knew that geese are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, so using a safe method of management was vital. I have a profound respect and love for dogs and read about border collies being used to move geese from properties without injuring them.”
That prompted Hagberg to create Wild Goose Chase in 1998, and as this business grew and expanded she was questioned about other problem species, especially gulls that were causing problems in nearby Chicago, Racine and Milwaukee. “We began looking at ways to manage them, too, and developed a canine program for beaches that has proven to dramatically reduce water quality issues manifested by their droppings and bacteria,” she said. “The year 2011 saw our first success at a beach in Racine.”
Border collies are perfect partners, she said, because of their predatory look and behavior. “They are persistent, intelligent, loyal and have an exceptional herding instinct. They retain all aspects of the hunting behavior except the ones we don’t want, such as catch and kill. We have our dogs start with the stalk mode when they approach the nuisance birds, giving them ‘the eye’ which makes them feel they are truly being hunted. That’s a far more threatening feeling than being chased by a happy dog out on an adventure in the park.”
That fear of being hunted keeps geese away from a property that would otherwise be their desired habitat. “Once the geese show their fear, we send the dogs on a chase. After the geese fly away, we call the dogs back for the celebration phase—in this case a treat.
“We then realized we could also use these dogs to successfully manage bed bugs,” she said.
A Dog Named Trouble.
Both Brian Taggart, general manager of A&C Pest Control, East Meadow, N.Y; and Steve Dodge, director of canine services, Pro Tech Pest Control of Springfield, Va., agree that canines are a great partner for pest management firms.
A&C’s Taggart had come to that conclusion and created the company’s bed bug division several years ago. “Today our division is home to four extensively trained bed bug-sniffing canines, plus one, a Jack Russell Terrier named ‘Trouble,’ who is trained and utilized in rodent detection,” he said. “We also subcontract our canine teams to other pest control companies in the areas that don’t have their own.”
A&C and a number of other pest control companies around the country that utilize bed bug canines maintain that their detection efforts are three times more accurate than human efforts alone. The dogs alert only to live bed bugs and viable eggs. Dogs that alert to dead bugs can’t confirm if an infestation has been eliminated.
“We do an initial inspection with the help of our canines to identify infested areas. And we’ll create and utilize a customized treatment plan. When that’s completed, we’ll do a post-treatment inspection to assure that the bed bug infestation has been eliminated.
“As training aids we keep vials with dead bed bugs in our office, as well as live rodents and rat hides,” said Taggart.
Large Rodent Populations.
New York City has one of the largest rodent populations in the country, which is primarily why A&C utilizes a rodent detection dog, according to Taggart.
“Human PCOs are long experienced in finding rats and mice, but we’re not perfect. Canines, however, can detect these creatures much faster and with much more accuracy. And because of them we’re able to better monitor our results. We can establish where we’ve achieved control and pinpont areas for more necessary control. By zeroing in on these areas, with the help of our dog, Trouble, we can therefore reduce the amount of rodenticide applications and reduce the amount of traps to place. That’s efficient and reduces the costs to us and the costs to our customers.”
He said that A&C puts Trouble to work in food plants where rodent issues can be big, as well as in banks, among other places. “In banks, rodents and bank alarms don’t mix. If you find such a problem you need to solve it fast.”
‘TADs.’ Pro Tech’s Steve Dodge uses termite and detection canines, also known as TADs, in his area. “Initially they were rented and used to detect termites, ants and other wood-boring insects. But eventually we saw an opportunity to use them profitably only for termite detection and then purchased our first and started to market that service,” he said.
Dodge pointed to the fact that several markets for potential business can be optimized by enterprising PCOs. “The use of TADs in residential, commercial, home buying and home inspection markets can initiate greater efficiencies and greater accuracies in termite detection, add to your revenue, and can enhance your company’s professional image,” he said.
For the residential market, income can be increased because liquid termiticides come with a warranty program, Dodge said. “Whatever you charge for that can be upgraded by including a canine inspection under that warranty. And speaking of inspections,” Dodge added, “if you wait six or nine months after a treatment and run your dog through the treated area again, you might find more termite activity to eliminate. That could mean additional income.”
Dodge added that purchasers of older homes often want a dog to inspect for infestations; he has successfully promoted canine inspections to that market. “As a marketer, we like to be in touch with the home inspection market. We are always in contact with inspectors belonging to the American Association of Home Inspectors,” Dodge said. “They usually know of areas where termites hide and will suggest to a buyer that bringing in a termite sniffing canine would be a good idea.”
The commercial market, too, has great potential, he said. “Managers of multi-family dwellings, for example, see the benefits of early termite detection when some of their apartments are vacant. Bringing in a dog to look for any termite pressure before they rent out an apartment can be to their advantage and that can be an effective selling point for you.”
The author is a contributing PCT writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.