Man’s Best Friend Sniffs Out an Enemy

Times Staff Writer

Most termite inspectors depend on their own two eyes to detect the little wood-eating pests. Some use high-tech stethoscopes that amplify the sound of the insects munching on wood. A few use powerful fiber-optic cameras to locate the voracious vermin.

And then there’s Belmont, Calif.-based Tadd Services Corp.--a company that depends on man’s best friend to locate the destructive bugs.

“A dog’s hearing and sense of smell are far better than the human eye,” says Tim Johnston, vice president of Tadd Services. “They can sense things that people can’t, and they can get into areas that are inaccessible to a human inspector.”


No common Bowser can become a “Tadd dog”: The 100 or so pooches being used by termite inspectors from Rhode Island to Hawaii are all pure-bred male beagles who have weathered a nine-month training program that Tadd Services operates in a secret location.

Only 70% of the beagles who enter the training program eventually “graduate,” says Johnston, which means the ones who are sniffing out termites today are the pick of the pack.

The dogs have several advantages over human inspectors, Johnston says. Not only can they squeeze into places where people can’t, but their keen sense of hearing and smell allows them to locate termites that hide behind walls, cabinets and in other areas where the creepy-crawlers can’t be seen with the naked eye.

That’s important, says Johnston, because the typical termite inspection report only covers “accessible” areas: Even if the property gets a clean bill of health, it doesn’t cover parts of the house that an inspector can’t see.

Since a Tadd dog checks out every nook and cranny with his nose and ears, says Johnston, “no disclaimer is necessary. If we say the house is termite-free, then it’s termite-free.”

All the dogs are owned by Tadd Services. Most are leased to other termite-inspection companies, although a few are used by the firm’s own inspectors. The company will enter the lucrative Southern California market next year, when it opens an office in Orange County.


Each inspector/handler, as a Tadd’s master is called, spends four weeks in training before taking the dog out on a job. The inspector brings the pooch home at the end of the day: Like police officers who work on K-9 squads, says Johnston, “an inspector and his dog are ‘round-the-clock partners, even when they’re off-duty.”

A typical inspection with a Tadd dog lasts three to four hours, compared to an hour or so for a conventional job. The cost ranges from $75 to $225, a bit more than the charge for a conventional inspection.

Taps Walls

The dog’s inspector/handler first goes into the house by himself and looks for evidence of infestation, such as damaged wood or termite droppings.

He also taps the walls and other areas with a special tool to get any hidden pests moving about. “That makes them easier for the dog to hear,” says Johnston.

The inspector then goes back to his van and gets Tadd.

The dog first checks out the crawl space under the house. Then he enters the home and begins “working a pattern,” sniffing and listening for termites and other pests.

When the beagle smells or hears “pest activity,” he starts pawing at the spot where the insects are working. And, notes Johnston, Tadd isn’t a one-trick dog: In addition to finding all sorts of termites, he can also locate powderpost beetles, wood-borers and even the nests of carpenter ants.

Policy Covers Mistakes

Johnston says the 10-year-old company has a $1-million insurance policy that backs each inspection, and that only one of the 30,000-plus clients who have had a Tadd dog inspect their property has ever filed a claim.

Questions about that single claim can raise the hackles on Johnston’s back. “Technically, it was the inspector/handler’s fault--not the dog’s--but our policy covers mistakes by both the inspector and the dog.”

Despite the company’s impressive record, some inspectors who use traditional detection methods are skeptical about the bug-sniffing beagles.

“We would never use a dog to look for termites,” growls Chet Smith of Terminix International’s Costa Mesa office. “We just don’t feel that the animals are reliable enough.”

Nothing But Praise

Sniffs Tim Harris, sales manager of an Orkin inspection shop in Glendale: “I don’t know if these dogs can really differentiate between a termite and a cockroach, especially if the (insect) is behind a wall. I can see the difference between a termite and a roach, but I’m not so sure a dog can really smell the difference.”

Still, most of the people who have seen Tadd dogs in action have nothing but praise for the pooches’ proboscises.

“I saw the dogs at a convention last year, and they sniffed out some termites right at the hotel,” says Joel Paul, a spokesman for the National Pest Control Assn. in Dunn Loring, Va.

Paul says several of the 2,400 pest-control companies that his trade group represents use the dogs. “Everybody I’ve talked to is happy with them,” he adds.

The dogs even passed muster with David Horowitz, whose syndicated “Fight Back!” program has made him one of the most popular consumer reporters on television.

Termites Found

“We took the dog over to my producer’s house, and he started sniffing around,” recalls Horowitz. “Pretty soon, the dog was riveted to a wall.

“The wall didn’t have any sign of infestation. But when we dug into the area where the dog was scratching, there they were--a bunch of termites.

“This isn’t an endorsement of the dog or Tadd Services,” Horowitz says. “But the bottom-line is, it worked when we tried it.”

Word-of-mouth has even reached Hong Kong, where some building owners have agreed to fly a team of the dogs and their handlers over to combat an invasion of devastating Formosan termites.

“They’ve got a real serious problem over there,” says Johnston. “They’re hoping the Tadd dogs can find the termites before it’s too late.”