Meet the spaniels sniffing out hotel bed bugs – and they find more than you’d think

Based in West Sussex, Merlin Environmental has a team of 16 spaniels who have been trained to sniff out bed bug infestations in UK hotels at high speed

Merlin Environmental uses spaniels as puppies for pest control
Merlin Environmental uses spaniels as puppies for pest control

A team of 16 Sniffer Spaniels have scoured hotels, planes and transportation for creepy crawlies that would make you leave one-star reviews.

While some people still believe bed bugs are a myth, just part of a fun nighttime rhyme to put the kids to bed with, for Merlin Environmental they’re a very real problem.

The pest control company’s founder, Adam Juson, revealed that his team does between 10 and 12 jobs a day and finds bed bugs on at least one of them every shift.

Adam, 45, has been in the pest control industry for more than two decades, but when he encountered a bed bug infestation on a plane, he wondered if dogs would play a part in the industry.

One of the Merlin environmental dogs checking a hotel’s laundry room for bed bugs


Merlin Environment)

He said: “I specialized in bed bugs as a pest technician. I was working on an airplane and I opened a seat and was hit by the smell of these things.

“I was wondering if we could train a few dogs to do this and turns out you can. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years.”

His team of spaniels help pinpoint bed bugs in as little as four hours, eliminating the need to use chemicals to treat a bed bug infestation.

Adam, from Crawley, West Sussex, has three retired trackers of his own as well as a litter of seven Sprocker Spaniel puppies who are currently being trained for the job.

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He said: “If the dog shows a behavior that pleases us, we give it an award. We start with tennis balls and fetch.

“Then, once they have the tennis ball and are playing with it, teach them to use their nose by throwing them in long grass to sniff the ball.

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

“Then we teach them that the fastest way to get the thing they want is to sit and stare at it.”

It’s a similar technique that police dogs are used to train to sniff out drugs, cash, and firearms, but the difference with bed bugs is that their pheromones are constantly changing, meaning the dogs must learn multiple scent components to identify an infestation to be able to recognize any point.

The dogs are also taught to distinguish between live and dead bed bugs, meaning that after 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 for an average city center hotel they need two dogs to get the job done in a day.

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

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

“They can exchange the dog after 30 to 50 rooms depending on external factors, such as: like how warm it is outside.”

One of the Merlin Environmental Spaniels searching a laundry


Merlin Environment)

When a dog indicates there are bed bugs, the area is heated to over 50 degrees, to a point where the bugs do not survive and die from dehydration.

Adam’s dog team then goes inside and checks to see if they got rid of the bugs.

Currently, Merlin Environmental has 16 dogs, along with four in training, plus the litter of seven puppies who begin training at three months of age.

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

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

Hector and Zippy are two of Merlin Environmental’s pest control dogs


Merlin Environment)

“We went to sites that had been closed for 18 months and now have an active infestation. The resilience of these bugs is quite spectacular. They literally shut down all functions when there is no food around, much like fleas do.”

Bed bugs feed primarily on human blood, and when they feed, they consume a massive meal of blood—roughly seven times their own body weight.

Unlike mosquitoes and fleas, which rely on blood pressure to push blood out, bed bugs can suck 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 being bitten, many will develop an itchy red welt. Others don’t respond or don’t.

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

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