...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Making Sure "The Nose Never Lies"

by Susan Kroupa 

"The nose never lies" is a favorite phrase of Doodle, the narrator of the Doodlebugged mysteries. Doodle trusts his nose completely, but, in Out-Sniffed, he fails an odor recognition test and the humans around him wonder just how good a nose he has.  
Odor recognition tests? Probably not a familiar term unless you're in a business or organization using sniffer dogs. Then they're crucial, because a dog/handler team that can obtain a certification from a reliable organization has proven skills. Or, as Josh Hunter, Doodle's "boss" puts it, certification for a dog/handler team means "I'm not just a guy with a dog and a business license." 
The tests are designed to make sure that dogs properly alert on the target scent. Whether a team searches for narcotics, mold, explosives, dead bodies, food or contraband (for US Customs), or, yes, bed bugs, the team must take odor recognition tests to verify that the dog finds the target scent. And—just as important—that the dog alerts on nothing else. 
The trick in the certification tests is to make sure that there are protocols to ensure the accuracy of what is being tested. For example, the World Detector Dog Organization (WDDO), and the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association (NESDCA) require the targets or "hides" be placed in the exam area for at least 30 minutes before the test, to allow time for the scent to pool enough that it can be detected. 
The test must be double blind, with neither the handler nor the proctor knowing where the hides are placed. Remember Clever Hans, the horse who seemed to be a math whiz but actually was adept at reading his owner's body language? The double blind test seeks to prevent that. In addition, the handler is not allowed to touch or move anything in the room, or indicate to the dog through body language where to look other than to make sure a dog thoroughly clears a room. A sure sign of an improperly trained dog is one that does not independently search but keeps looking to the handler for guidance. 
Some of the hides must contain distracters, often termites or other insects, sometimes food, to make sure the dog isn't alerting on anything but the target.  A dog must only find live bugs. Dead bugs don't count. The find has to indicate a current infestation, not the residual scents from a past one. And pseudo scents—commercial products that mimic a scent and are used for training—are not allowed. Finally, the test proctors, or judges, must be experienced in scent detection and have no financial or other interest in the outcome. 
Of course, all these rules make a mystery writer immediately wonder how one could get around them. Because any organization can have members who are crooks.
"So how can you fake a test?" was one of the first questions I asked Doug Summers when I interviewed him as part of the research for Out-Sniffed. 
Summers, along with Bill Whistine, helped train one of the first bed bug detection dogs in the U.S. (in 2005) and has first-hand knowledge of the protocols, issues, and controversies surrounding odor recognition tests for bed bug dogs. 
I wanted to know how a test could be manipulated either to pass or fail a team. In a highly entertaining interview, Summers told me funny and sometimes hair-raising anecdotes about the life of a scent-detection dog handler. And he gave me several ingenious suggestions that made their way into the book. 
You can watch a video of a dog/handler certification test on http://www.wddo.org/certification/.
And, if you'd like to find out just how such tests might be compromised, read Out-Sniffed, on sale this week. You can find links to copies in most formats at http://susankroupa.com/books/ or on http://www.laurelforkpress.com, or on my Amazon Author Page at http://amazon.com/author/susankroupa.


  1. Loved your story. I had no idea there was such a thing as sniffing for bed bugs!! Thanks for sharing this information!!

  2. Sheri, thanks! There are sniffer dogs for bed bugs, termites, mold, and, I'm sure, many other things we wouldn't think about. :)

  3. I will read anything that Doodle, oops, I mean that Susan Kroupa, writes!

  4. Waverly, can I just say that both Doodle and I LOVE you? :) :) Thanks so much!