All too often we come across clients, or potential clients who say, “We don’t trust the dogs. We heard they can false alert”. Are dogs capable of lying to us? Lying may not be the correct word to describe the behavior. A dog indicating it found odor with its trained final response (alert), when no target odor is present, is “false alerting”.
False alerts are a result of a bad training program and bad handling policies. Properly trained and handled detections dogs don’t false alert. They are happy in their job, they are given the amount of rest and water they require and there is no incentive for them to false alert.
Sometimes a great K9 team will have an alert and no bed bug is found. In general, these alerts are in areas where it is incredibly difficult to find a live bed bug or viable egg. Is the dog wrong or is the bug just hard to find? We classify these as an unproductive alert. In other words, it isn’t a false alert, it just didn’t produce a live bug due to the area of the alert. These are rare and the alerts happen in locations that make it obvious as to why we can’t find a bug.
Verifying alerts is the single most important part of being a K9 handler. It is the foundation for our training principal, and it is the reason we are hired to perform inspections. If we can’t verify our K9’s alert by a finding a live bug in the area they alerted they are not rewarded with their ball or toy.
Verifying alerts is the single most important part of being a K9 handler. It is the foundation for our training principal, and it is the reason we are hired to perform inspections.
Our no-bug-no-ball policy keeps our teams honest in the field. It also incentives our handlers to do their best to find live bugs so that we can reward the dog. We never want to not find a bug and miss the best part of our day, the dog’s reward. Seriously, finding live bugs is why we work so hard at our craft. Watching our dog’s excitement and producing the live bug to our client is what we enjoy the most.
A couple of past inspection stories can explain why it is so very important to only work with companies that verify their alerts.
Story 1: Pest control company calls and says a K9 team has come through their client’s home and alerted in 3 distinct areas and they can’t find a bug. Our team arrived, searched the entire home and had no alerts. Homeowner had no bed bugs. After our inspection was concluded we asked where the previous company’s K9 team alerted. The locations were so out of the norm of where we find bugs it made us chuckle. Keep in mind that this was a very clean, low risk, 5,500sq ft, million-dollar home. One alert was by the kitchen, on the baseboard. One was in an office by the printer and one was in a baby crib, in a nursery that was used about once every 3 months or so when the grandkids visited this couple. All easy areas to verify the presence of bugs. We ended up talking to the handler of that company a few weeks later. We asked her about her handling, and she explained that she was taught to, “Always trust her dog”. Her dog took full advantage of that trust and milked rewards. Dogs are smart like that! That company is no longer in business.
Story 2: Homeowner is getting what she believes to be insect bites. After a pest control technician searched her home and found no evidence of insects, he told her she should hire a bed bug detection company. The team she hired had “alerts” but never produced a bug. They offered her a treatment to get rid of the bugs (that they never found). The customer decided to shop the pricing of the treatment and hired a different pest control company to treat the bugs. The second company never did their own inspection. They took the word of the first company and the homeowner. They treated the home and the lady’s symptoms never got better. She eventually found out that she didn’t have an insect or bed bug problem but rather a dermatological condition and she NEVER NEEDED treatment. Two companies, neither one verified she had bed bugs both willing to treat her. The homeowner is now seeking legal action.
We have dozens of more stories like these. We could tell you about the hotel who hired a K9 team that said they had 59 rooms where the dog alerted. No live bug was found in any of those rooms. There was the time the lady didn’t believe our teams when we told her she had no bugs. She called a company out who said, they had alerts but couldn’t find a bug. My question to the client was, “But did he find a bug”? The answer was no. She ended up spending more money and called a third team in to confirm what we told her originally.
For the sake of our dogs, our clients and our reputation, we verify our alerts. We hope you’ll expect any K9 team you hire to do so also.