Editor’s note: On June 1-3, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) hosted the first ever National Canine Conference in Philadelphia. Michael Goldman, president of Purity Pest Control and Common Scents Solution, Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, attended the conference and filed the following report for PCT.
PHILADELPHIA — It seems as though the City of Brotherly Love also has a soft spot for four-legged friends. Philadelphia hosted the first ever NPMA National Canine Conference, which was attended by more than 200 human delegates, plus some 50+ dogs that were there for certification.
NPMA had three objectives for the conference, explained Jim Fredericks, director of technical services, NPMA. "Our first objective was to provide an educational forum for canine handlers and business owners about the science, legal issues, training methods and business models behind canine scent detection," said Fredericks. "Secondly, NPMA wanted to provide a centralized location where canine teams had the opportunity to become certified by third-party evaluators in accordance with the NPMA Best Management Practices. Our final objective was to provide an environment where handlers, trainers, business owners and academics could informally exchange ideas about the future of canine scent detection and ways that our industry can maintain its high level of professionalism. All in all, I think we succeeded in achieving all three of our objectives and we were very pleased with the outcome of the meeting."
For many years PCOs have been deploying dogs, using their amazing sense of smell to detect termites, carpenter ants, mold and — for the past seven years — what is arguably the pest management industry’s greatest challenge today, bed bugs.
NPMA’s Canine Insect Detection Division (CIDD), made up of member companies that have an interest in using canine teams to detect pests, was charged with developing a set of minimum standards for K-9 trainers, K-9 teams and a fair and impartial certification process for trainers, dogs and handlers. "The Canine Division was instrumental in providing guidance for the Blue Ribbon Bed Bug Task Force as they worked to develop the canine-related sections of the Best Management Practices," said Fredericks. "NPMA’s new president, Ray Johnson, expanded the division for 2011-2012 and we expect the members to continue to expand the conversation about canine scent detection over the next year."
There is more to a well-oiled canine team than just a human, a dog and a leash. "The handler and dog must be a cohesive team working in tandem," said Jim Rutherford, head trainer of Action K-9 Institute, Manistee, Mich. "The handler must train with the dog on a daily basis and be able to interpret the dog’s behavior when searching for the target odor and when the dog has picked up the scent or is on odor. A dog is just a dog and a handler is just a handler until the two are joined as teammates. Once properly certified to industry standards, the two can be considered a team."
One of the great things about this conference was that it brought together delegates from all corners of the U.S. and Canada, including trainers, PCOs who already own detection dogs, and those considering purchasing a dog. Additionally, many people who were not associated with pest management but wanted to work with bed bug dogs attended, as did a number of vendors ranging from those that provide educational services to companies that offer products and services to the pest management industry.
Some of the notable conference highlights included:
• During the CIDD meeting on the morning of day one, attendees stressed the importance of educating the industry on NPMA’s Best Management Practices. For example, it is important to communicate that dogs are not 100% accurate and should not be marketed this way. However, until something comes along that is better than the 95% accuracy documented with dogs, they are a far better choice than a human inspection. NPMA’s Fredericks introduced the new CIDD Chairperson, Eddie Connor, Connor’s Pest Protection. Fredericks also thanked last year’s president, Louis Witherington, Falcon Termite & Pest Control, for his hard work and recognized the contributions of CIDD members. It was also noted that PestWorld 2011, to be held this October in New Orleans, would include "The House of Learning," a set constructed on stage for K-9 demonstrations.
• The session "Getting Started, Canine Scent Detection 101" was for individuals and companies considering the K-9 detection route. How to choose a trainer and what kind of dog is best for you was discussed.
• The day one opening session was a look into the proverbial "crystal ball" on the future of the insect K-9 detection industry. The theme was the call for mutual respect within the industry. "Stick to the science" was the overriding theme. Professionalism will be one of the key determining factors for the success of canines in the pest management industry.
• The last session of day one dealt with the science behind the dog’s nose and research that helps explain how and why dogs are able to discriminate separate odors so well. Emphasis was also placed on looking after your dog’s health and why some dogs retire early. A genetic study is underway by Dr. Cynthia Otto, University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, to find the answers.
• On day two, Dr. Larry Myers, Auburn University, educated attendees that "good science" and not "pseudo science" should be acknowledged, and that reliability of the dog — rather than the dog’s accuracy — should be highlighted. Also discussed were many of the 21st Century K-9 jobs, including detection for peanuts, bugs, bombs, endangered species and arson. Of interest was the fact that dog’s have the ability to notice certain changes in their human partners and can help detect epileptic seizures before their onset.
• Dr. Terry Fleck, a deputy sheriff and retired canine handler from the Lake Tahoe Police Department, discussed the importance of setting standards with respect to training and certification and the potential for conflict of interest. He also stated that if you plan on inspecting a bus, you should train on a bus first.
• In the "Fine Tuning Your Team" session the importance of documenting the training sessions and actual deployments were discussed. "If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen" was the rule of thumb.
• In "Training & Upkeep of Your Teams," Eldon Presnell, Green Collar K-9’s, Greensboro, N.C., made the point that "training for the sake of training is not productive." In order to prevent false alerts you should train in as many different scenarios as possible in order to get the most out of your team. Allowing the dog to false alert, not rewarding the dog and then taking him to the target odor and then rewarding is a good way of preventing false alerts in the future.
• The session "Factors Complicating K-9 Scent Detection" was well received because in the scent detection world and when working with dogs, "Murphy’s Law" presides. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Trying to inspect the home of a hoarder becomes a real challenge to the K-9 team. It was a chance for current and soon-to-be teams to realize that the unexpected will happen.
• Fleck explained that litigation will eventually happen to the best of us and shared what K-9 handlers need to know when the time comes. What you do now with respect to training and maintaining your teams will help with your credibility in court.
• Day three began with a panel discussion featuring representatives from various pest management companies that have successfully integrated K-9 detection teams into their businesses. The panel shared their secrets to success. The general theme was the importance of striving to "raise the bar" for your company’s inspections.
• The conference concluded with tips on how to market one’s K-9 business. Social media is a very powerful tool if used correctly. Venues such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can make a huge impact on your bottom line. Market, market, market your business!
FINAL THOUGHTS. In summary, from comments I heard, the first ever NPMA Canine Conference was a huge success. I did not hear any negativity and every delegate went away with tidbits of information to use in their day-to-day operations. For more information on NPMA’s Best Management Practices or the CIDD Committee visit www.pestworld.com/best-management-practices-for-bed-bugs.
The author is president of Purity Pest Control and Common Scents Solution and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.