Meet the spaniels who sniff out hotel bed bugs – and they’ll find more than you think


West Sussex-based Merlin Environmental has a team of 16 spaniels trained to detect bed bug infestations in UK hotels at high speed

Merlin Environmental uses spaniels as pest control pups

Image: Merlin Environment)

A team of 16 sniffer spaniels have searched hotels, airplanes, and transportation for creepy crawlies that would leave one-star ratings.

While some people still believe bed bugs are a myth, simply part of a fun night rhyme to sink the kids in – they are a very real problem for Merlin Environmental.

Pest control company founder Adam Juson announced that his team is doing between 10 and 12 jobs a day, and every shift finds bed bugs on at least one of them.

Adam, 45, has been in the pest control industry for more than two decades, but when he came across a bed bug infestation on a plane he wondered if dogs had a role in the industry.

One of the Merlin environmental dogs checks the laundry room of a hotel for bed bugs
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Merlin environment)

He said, “I specialize in bed bug pest control. I was working on an airplane and I opened a seat and got caught up in the smell of these things.

“I was wondering if we could train some dogs to do this, and it turned out you can. We have been doing this for over 10 years now. “

His team of spaniels helps to spot bed bugs with pinpoint accuracy within just four hours and eliminates the need for chemicals to treat bed bug infestations.

Adam of Crawley, West Sussex, has three retired sniffer dogs of his own and a litter of seven Sprocker Spaniel puppies currently being trained for the job.

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He said, “If the dog does something we like, we give it a price. We start playing with tennis balls and playing fetch.

“Then when they’re on the tennis ball playing with it, teach them to use their noses by throwing them into tall grass to sniff out the ball.

“Also, you take away the visual aspect and you start hiding the ball in a container and if they sniff it out, they are rewarded with another ball.

“We’ll teach them that the quickest way to get what you want is to sit down and stare at it.”

It’s a similar technique used to train police dogs to sniff out drugs, cash, and firearms, but it differs from bed bugs in that their pheromones are constantly changing, which means the dogs have to learn several olfactory components to an infestation. to be able to recognize some point.

Dogs are also taught to distinguish between live and dead bed bugs, which means that once an infestation has been found and treated, the spaniels can confirm whether it has been eradicated.

Adam’s team works across the UK, including Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, and the average downtown hotel takes two dogs to do the job in one day.

Adam added, “Some large hotels with around 900 rooms need a larger team of around six to eight dogs to do this in a day.

“It’s a really structured search to make sure you can find every room, so generally zigzag your way down the corridor to make sure you search every room on that floor.

“You can change dogs after 30 to 50 rooms, depending on external factors, e.g. B. how warm it is outside. “

One of the Merlin Environmental Spaniels searches a laundry
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When a dog indicates there are bed bugs, the area is heated above 50 degrees until the bugs fail to survive and die of dehydration.

Adam’s dog team then goes in and checks to see if the bugs have been cleared.

Merlin Environmental currently has 16 dogs, four in training, and the litter of seven puppies that begin training at three months of age.

During the pandemic, the team mainly searched hotels supporting the Nightingale hospitals where NHS staff were staying.

Adam said, “It was a pretty strange experience for us because experts said that in six months the bugs would be starved and there would be nothing left in the hotels.

Hector and Zippy are two of Merlin Environmental’s pest control dogs
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“We have visited locations that have been closed for 18 months and that are now actively infested. The resilience of these bugs is pretty spectacular. They literally switch off all functions when there is no food around, similar to what happens with fleas. “

Bed bugs feed primarily on human blood and when they eat they consume a massive meal of blood – about seven times their own body weight.

Unlike mosquitoes and fleas, which rely on blood pressure to push the blood out, bed bugs can suckle and filter the water out of the blood.

Merlin Environmental added, “Symptoms vary from person to person after being bitten by bed bugs. Within a day or so of the bite, many develop an itchy red spot. Others don’t or don’t respond.

“While bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, they can affect the quality of life by causing discomfort, insomnia, anxiety and embarrassment.”

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