Dogs Detecting Termites

By Peggy Ussery

Cody barks excitedly at the sight of his red rubber Kong dog toy.

“This is what he lives for,” said Josh Jones, Cody’s owner. “This is his life.”

Jones uses a high-pitched voice to entice Cody into working. Find it, find it, find it, Jones repeats as he uses his hand to direct the 4-year-old sheltie. Cody sniffs and sniffs again. Find it, find it, find it. Cody sits. Show me, Jones commands. Cody nudges in the direction of a straw basket.

He found it — a bottle full of termites. Cody gets the Kong.

The sheltie is one of about 50 termite detection dogs around the country. Jones bought the dog more than a year ago from a training facility in Austin, Texas. Like narcotic, arson, bomb and other detection canines, Cody works by scent. Except in his case, it’s the scent put off by live termites.

“I had done the research and saw how effective they were,” said Jones, owner of C.O.P.S. (Customer Oriented Pest Services), a pest control company in Enterprise.

Is this for real? Yes.

Entomologists at the University of Florida in Gainesville have actually spent 10 years studying termite detection dogs. There’s even an association — the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association — that keeps a listing of training facilities and accredited “teams.”

Phil Koehler, professor of entomology at the University of Florida, said research shows dogs properly trained are more than 90 percent accurate in finding termites. In some cases, the dogs’ accuracy rate is as high as 96 percent. They had such impressive results on termites, the university’s entomology department began studying how effective scent detection dogs could be in finding bed bugs.

“The dogs are actually phenomenal,” Koehler said.

Typically, beagles and labrador retrievers are used for termite detection. As a sheltie, Cody is rare in termite detection and was being trained for arson detection when he showed a tendency for finding termites. Koehler said the university studies dogs trained with food.

Basically, the dogs don’t eat unless termites are nearby so they associate the scent of termites with food.

How such dogs are trained is important, Koehler said. A dog trained on wood with termite damage, for instance, might go into a home and hit on past termite damage even though live termites are not present. To minimize the risk of false positives, university entomologists use live termites and mix in cockroaches and ants to ensure the dogs can recognize different insect scents.

“That way when the dog finds termites, you know it’s an active infestation,” Koehler said.

Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs for National Pest Management Association, said termite dogs are expensive to purchase and maintain. And owners must be committed to training the dogs on a regular basis.

Mannes said termite detection dogs should be used with visual inspections by a licensed technician.

“We don’t recommend only one way for anything,” Mannes said. “We do know that there are termite inspection dogs out there … and as I understand they are relatively successful. To me, it’s another tool in our tool box.”

Cody could sniff out a single termite during his training, but Jones said the local response to a termite-sniffing dog has not been what he expected. People tend to think it’s an advertising gimmick. But with $7,000 invested in the sheltie, Jones hopes to use the dog more. Cody has mostly been used on existing contracts and renewals. There’s no extra charge for Cody’s nose.

When properly trained, however, Jones said the sheltie can detect termites before the bugs are even visible.

“Maybe he’s got a little bit of Lab in him,” Jones said.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: