The Florida Canine Academy has dogs with special abilities, finding bed bugs

9:15 AM, Feb 10, 2011   |    comments
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Safety Harbor, Florida - Some dogs fetch and others shake, but there are some skills that go far beyond just tricks. 

At the Florida Canine Academy in Safety Harbor there are dogs that have noses for trouble. They find the bugs that have us going-ugh!

"If you get bed bugs, it's a very frightening thing for people," says dog trainer Bill Whitstine. Whitstine partnered with the very first arson dog in the state of Florida and he knows their noses. "They can find a baby's teardrop on a football field."

Whitstine trains dogs to sniff out just about anything-cocaine to peanut butter-and right now finding bed bugs is big business. The academy has sold dogs and trained handlers from around the world. He says a trained dog and the week-long training session for handlers runs close to $10,000.

Whitstine uses live bed bugs ($3 a bug) for his training sessions with the dogs. They're kept in mesh covered vials, so their scent can escape.

The academy facility includes a mock hotel room, where bugs can be hidden in not only beds, but drawers, vents and floorboards. Whitstine urges the dogs to sniff around the room with the phrases "seek" and "show me". When a dog in training finds the bugs and signals by sitting and nodding its head, they're rewarded with a crunchy treat.

"We call it work, but to them it's a lot of fun," says Whitstine. "It's just like a drug dog or an arson dog or a mold dog-it's a game."

You might think it takes an extra smart breed to do this type of work, but Whitstine finds most of his dogs at local shelters. He says the work requires an energetic dog, one that might not always make a good pet. "From doggie death row to bug detective...these dogs I feel have a sense of gratitude."

When it comes to finding these creepy crawlers, Whitstine says the big advantage to using a dog is speed. It might take a human hours to search, tear apart and put back together a hotel room, but a trained dog can do the same job in just minutes. "That's exactly why we use them for arson, bombs and drugs-because of their accuracy and their speed."

Researchers at the University of Florida have tested dogs with bed bugs and they say a good dog with a trained handler is about 97% accurate.

And with bed bugs becoming resistant to various pesticides, Whitstine expects no pause in these patrols with paws.

Kathryn Bursch

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