Humans don't have any trouble smelling an angry stinkbug. But insects with less noticeable odors often go undetected by humans until they've done their damage.
Increasingly, pest-control companies rely on trained dogs to help them find termites and bedbugs, for example. In the case of termites, humans sometimes see the damage the pests have caused to a structure, but have trouble finding where the termites get in. That's when a termite-sniffing dog can save the day by finding the entry point as well as bugs and their eggs.
As the bedbug problem grew in the U.S. early in this century, people turned to dogs for help against them. One problem with bedbugs is they are so tiny — about the size of an apple seed — that they can go unseen until they reproduce enough to become a problem. In urban areas, there's a growing demand for bedbug inspections in real-estate transactions.
By 2010, a bedbug-sniffing beagle named Roscoe working for an environmental company in New Jersey had gained considerable fame, even appearing on network TV shows. But as the use of bedbug-sniffing dogs grew, so did controversy over their effectiveness, as reports came in about dogs raising false alarms.
Research has shown that dogs can smell bedbugs and termites, but a lot depends on how well a dog has been trained and how good its handlers are.
In the late 1990s, Jose Peruyero, a former police dog handler, began collaborating with entomologists at the University of Florida to improve training for bug-detecting dogs [source: UFL]. The National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA) has been formed to set standards for insect-snigging pooch programs, and some states are considering certification for pest-control dog teams.
Stay tuned on this one.