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in the green | canine crusader gets the best of bed bugs
By Stephanie Davis
Bed bugs in Northeast Ohio beware: Dan Hernandez and his beagle/Jack Russell mix, Nips, are on a mission to track them down.
Their team effort is the focal point of Nip It Canine Bed Bug Detection Service. Hernandez, who is certified by the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association, is the handler. Nips, a trained scent detection dog, is highly skilled (approximately 90 percent accuracy) to sniff out hidden bed bugs in every place imaginable, from houses and apartment buildings to office buildings, nursing homes, hospitals, and even schools.
Based in Northeast Ohio, the company, which includes Hernandez’s mother, Liz Kilroy Hernandez, services clients within a 2.5-hour driving radius.
Even when Nips isn’t working a job, Dan spends a full workday training her in simulations. “Dan will set up a training situation that replicates what they might find in a real job, seven days a week,” Liz Hernandez, who handles scheduling and provides information about the company, says. “Sometimes the training will involve going through a house and not finding anything to help us in cases where a house or business might need to know they are clear of the bugs.”
The training protocol is simple, she says. “Be consistently inconsistent. You don’t want the dog to get used to certain patterns. It is alerting on a scent and needs to be a blank page when she walks into a situation,” she says.
The company originated after Liz Hernandez, who had a fulltime job in nonprofit housing, saw articles on how bed bugs were an increasing problem in residences. That led her to research how the issue was being addressed.
“Every now and then I’d find articles describing how bed bug dogs in places such as New York City were doing inspections and finding bed bugs in file cabinets and all sorts of places,” she says. “These articles were really touting the benefits of dogs for detection. At the same time, my son was looking to find his niche, and what I knew was that he loved working with dogs.”
Liz, Dan, and Dan’s brother, Luis, who handles the company’s marketing, started envisioning a potential career path. Their search of canine trainers to find just the right dog for their business brought them to J&K Canine Academy in Florida. The academy, which consisted of handlers themselves, had trained a number of detection dogs that had sniffed out everything from bed bugs to drugs and bombs.
By the end of Dan’s time with Nips at the academy in Florida, the bond was forged with the spunky dog. “It did take a little while to build a working relationship and to understand her behaviors,” Liz says.
“canines have the unique ability to identify exactly where bed bugs or live eggs are hiding.”
Nips is trained to detect the scent or odor of bed bugs and live eggs, according to Liz Hernandez. She is “intense,” according to Daniel Hernandez.
The dog’s approach is also environmentally friendly – no chemicals are used in the detection process. And the dog’s accuracy rate is better than mass fumigation, according to research.
“Canines have the unique ability to identify exactly where bed bugs or live eggs are hiding. Using that information, customers can identify exactly where to treat as opposed to spraying chemicals all over which makes it not only more green but more economical in the treatment,” Liz Hernandez says.
In addition, businesses are especially reticent to spray anywhere and are relieved to know of the green option. “Many of those facilities would prefer not to have chemicals being sprayed all over because of the effects not only on the environment but the detriment it could have on their business,” Liz Hernandez says.
Although Nips is a working dog and not a pet, she is still a “living breathing dog, not just a tool,” Liz Hernandez says. “There is a difference between a working dog and a dog that’s a pet. She has a great life – but it’s different – her love is working. For example, she jumps up and down and gets rewarded for finding bugs.”
But like her human teammates, she sometimes has a bad day. “We have to know right away if she’s not working. It rarely happens, but as a handler, Daniel must pick up the cues to offer the customer the best detection possible. One way of noting this is her energy level,” Liz Hernandez says.
Regarding expansion, it would be contingent on being to able to replicate the skills of the team of Nips and Dan. The company needs the right dog, properly trained and certified, and the right handler. With the company’s almost two years of Nips and Dan’s experience, the next team will have a less steep learning curve, especially because of the knowledge gained by Dan working with Nips in many different situations.