Can Fido Find Bedbugs? Some Question Dogs' Accuracy

Some question accuracy of bedbug-sniffing dogs.

November 12, 2010, 1:02 PM

Nov. 15, 2010— -- Are dogs really the four-legged champions of the quarter-billion dollar bedbug extermination business?

Some people are questioning those claims.

Eric and Jessica Silver of Brooklyn spent more than $3,500 to treat their home after a dog detected bedbugs. But the bugs kept biting, so they called in another exterminator.

"And you know, it turns out that we didn't have bedbugs at all," Eric Silver told "Good Morning America."

It turns out the dog had smelled something else entirely -- rodent mites. The dog's finding was a false positive, something that's reportedly on the increase, according to published reports.

"Ninety-five percent of the time I go behind a canine, there's no bedbugs," said John Furman of Boot-A-Pest, a West Hempstead, N.Y., pest control company.

The problem of bedbugs has surged in recent years, in part because of the frequency of international travel -- allowing the bugs to be transferred from one place to the other. Also, the bugs apparently are resistant to pesticides that are better for the environment, but far less effective in controlling in the hardy critters.

The bugs had been virtually eradicated in the 1950s due to the widespread use of DDT, but the federal government banned the chemical in 1972 because of its toxicity to wildlife.

The bugs are now showing up in homes, schools, offices, upscale retailers, movie theaters and swanky hotels.

The bedbug-afflicted have been willing to spend thousands of dollars on treatments that include exposing the bugs to extreme heat, extreme cold and various kinds of insecticides.

Roscoe Passes Bedbug-Sniffing Test

Using specially trained sniffer dogs to detect the bedbugs has been heralded as a breakthrough. But in the pandemonium over the parasites, some people are wondering if dog owners are cashing in on people's fears.

Owners are quick to defend their dogs.

"They are really the most accurate tool the industry has for detecting low-level infestations," said Jennifer Erdogan of Bell Environmental Services' bedbug division.

The Parsippany, N.J., company allowed "Good Morning America" to give one of their dogs a quiz. The dog, Roscoe, was shown several containers, each holding a different insect.

He passed the test with flying colors, going straight for the bedbugs.

He did well because he's trained every day.

"The upkeep is really important as well. It's a daily responsibility, maintaining their training," Erdogan said. "It's a big responsibility."

But reports of false positive readings from bedbug dogs remain troubling.

Animal experts say there could be many reasons for the incorrect readings, including that some dogs are eager to please their human partners -- so much so that they will sometimes behave in a manner that results in a positive response from that human.

ABC News' Jim Hickey contributed to this report.

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