Arcon Method – Phases in the Training Process

Arcon Method – Phases in the Training Process



1 ) Exposed Chest

2) Concealed Chest


1 ) Introductory Rubbish Heap

2) Working Rubbish Heap


1 ) Two Buried People

2 ) Three or more buried people


The goal of this phase is to condition the dog to emit a bark towards a non-visible human located underground. The dog must have previously become accustomed to share play with unknown people, as well as the act of barking fluently, due to the simple natural impulse generated by the excited desire to share this play with a determined object. It should be pointed out that conditioning the dog to bark at any visible person to play should be avoided, as the dog might learn to bark to achieve goals in other situations. I also believe that the bark should not be conditioned to a prior order, which would generate in the dog a wrong expectation.

The dog would have previously been subjected to several days of deprivation of fun activities and exercise. By doing so, we foster the momentum needed to energise the execution of these first few guidelines while simultaneously increasing the positive effect of reinforcement. The extra (stuntman) must be a person that the dog knows (but not the guide), thus fostering the initial degree of trust and stimulation needed. From the start, the dog dissociates from the guide as a possible primary element-goal. The dog must previously become familiar with the setting where the chest is placed. We should use whatever motivator provides the most incentive for the dog (ball, roller, doll, stick, etc.), clarifying that this should only be used in the initial stage of learning with the purpose of dog associating its simple specific smell as the sole discriminatory stimulus it reacts to by signalling and thus avoid signalling towards the buried person, who will not have this stimulus. We should avoid working under adverse weather conditions (high temperatures, heavy rains, etc.) that could spur negative reactions or distraction in the dog.

The observers should place themselves at least 15 metres from the working area and avoid movements, postures or sounds that might distract the animals behaviour. In this initial phase, the dog will be especially susceptible to any type of distraction, yet it is fundamental for it to perform successfully.

For this phase, I feel a special predilection for the use of chests located on paved surfaces (asphalt, concrete, etc.) with no traffic. Obviously, with pavement we substantially minimise the potential presence of interfering olfactory stimulants, which nevertheless would be inherent in what we call the terrain. We should remove any object or material from the surface that hypothetically might erroneously draw the dogs attention (tools, clothing, excrement, etc.). At first a hard wood or plastic lid should be used, as they are more manageable and durable (with a handle in the middle). The dog should first be left in a zone away from the working area for a few minutes so that it may urinate, defecate and relax. This is a general rule in the entire learning phase. Bare chest: 1st step The guide with the dog on a leash should head towards a place around 20 metres in front of the chest (variable according to the motivational state observed in the animal).

During the walk towards the leash release point, is removed the guide must emotionally activate the dog, mentally warming it up for the job. The guide should not repress any possible valuable impetus shown by the animal by avoiding, for example, the use of extensible leads or pull backwards on the lead. The extra will be waiting for the guide halfway between the chest and the release point. S/he should make movements to incite the dog, showing the dog the motivator and making voices that truly stimulate it until achieving a positive effect of attraction on the dog.

When the extra deems that the dog has been provoked to a sufficient degree of excitability and impetus, s/he will quickly move towards the chest and will get into the chest, in plain view of the dog, repeating the stimulation moves before immersing him/herself fully in the hole and covering him/herself with the lid. The instructor should carefully observe the dogs behaviour outside and indicate to the hidden extra (by means of a transceiver) the right time to reinforce the emission of barking (even though the extra might hear the dog barking, s/he cannot know whether the barking is addressed improperly to the guide or another element, and thus whether or not s/he should stop the signalling based on the possible state of inhibition or another aspect in the dog. Thus, technical guidance from the outside is necessary). The extra should not verbally praise the dog precisely when s/he is indicated as this might dovetail with a silent pause. This praise should, to the extent possible, be simultaneous with the next bark issued in order to thus foster the required time contiguousness that allows for proper association and conditioning. Immediately afterwards the lid is removed and the extra immediately praises the dog by petting it and encouraging it to draw closer in order to thus heighten its level of confidence in this strange new situation. Now is when the guide may approach the dog to praise it and pet it as well. The extra may come out of the chest in order to share the euphoria and play with the dog alongside the guide.

The extra should always begin the verbal reinforcement from inside the hideout, rectifying as much as possible the delay that there might be between the signalling bark of the dog and the opening of the chest. The reason why the guide does not verbally reinforce nor draw close to the dog until the extra has done so is for the dog to clearly identify the extra(s) as the goal-element, and thus dissociate the guide with this role and with that of possible means for getting reinforcement. This is the main reason why the Arcn method does not include the possibility of the guide taking on the role of extra, even though this is quite a widespread practice in the initial phase. Thus we solidly manage to avoid the risk that in the accident the dog improperly leaves the localisation point and returns to the guide occasionally.

Additionally, we preserve the dogs invaluable potential for autonomy in the search process. .

The dog learns to bark at the person hidden under the surface thanks to its basic mechanism of associative learning.

Exposed chest: 2nd step The release point is kept, but in this case the dog can make out the chest covered by a lid without the prior presence of the extra.

Concealed chest: 1st step

– The lid is partially covered with rubble. The instructor should control more or less covering when carrying out this next exercise based on the possible degree of inhibition observed in the dog before including the new concealed element, until reaching the point in which the dog signals confidently and fluently towards a lid that is totally covered in rubble.

– When the figure and guide reinforce the dog, they should bear in mind that it is crucial to convey to it the necessary degree of emotion, imbuing their movements, voice intonations and petting with the required excitement that will manage to intensely stimulate the dog.

Concealed chest: 2nd step – The signalling phase will end when the dog satisfactorily performs this exercise with another chest that is totally concealed and in a different location. Thus we should check whether the element rubble has acquired enough strength as a predictive stimulus for the dog. – The rubble used with the second chest should be different from that used with the first one, although obviously they will share similar basic features that will enable the dog to generalise. – One key factor to bear in mind when preparing these exercises is to always predict that the extra must be able to remove the lid covered with rubble without help. Thus, the weight and position of the elements lying on top of it must be controlled and the necessary trials at opening the chest should be held before the exercise. – With the actions with the concealed chest, all the extras must wear the appropriate protective helmet and any other safety gear required. The extra should partially move the lid to give immediate reinforcement. .

O During the signalling phase, the following techniques should be applied whenever necessary:

– Gradual autonomy technique by the mannequin effect

– Technique of innocuous re-establishment by sound insertion

– Feasible localisation technique by compensation negative factors

B) SIMPLE SEARCH (one buried person)


– An introductory heap of rubble is that which does not exceed an approximate surface area of 50m2 and has a moderate height. The emotional activation factor must be applied in all the search exercises, as prior stimulus is key during the walk (several metres) before releasing the dog. The distance from the release point to the rubble heap should not be more than 25 m. For the first cover of the hideout, a fragment of board or something similar should be used, and rubble should be placed over it until achieving a totally hermetic closure that prevents the dog from catching any glimpse of the extra (stuntman) or from reaching him/her.In the burials, you should also try to avoid any possible distinctive features that might foster in the dog any type of visual discrimination in the future work areas and their consequent harmful association. When the extra removes the closure it might be very harmful for the dog to get any sort of negative impact from any element in the rubble and thus generate the consequent negative conditioning in the animal.

This circumstance must be prevented and controlled by means of prior rehearsals, as mentioned above. The dogs should be in inside their corresponding transport cages, in the waiting area, without any possibility of seeing the working area. The extras (stuntmen) are still people who are familiar to the dog during the introductory rubble heap phase and the first search in the rubble heap training site phase in order to continue thereafter with extras who are total strangers.

The dog should not be allowed to become familiar with the training site in order to foster the ability to adapt to new environments. The dog should feel attracted at first by the simple sight of the rubble heap, which after the concealed chest phase should have become a powerful predictive stimulus. .

Occasionally it can be seen that when certain dogs perceive the source of the human scent of the buried person they urinate or even defecate after the unavoidable relaxation of the sphincters prompted by the consequent emotional reaction. In some dogs there is an impairment of their barking ability which they cannot properly control and that harmfully hinders the fluency of the barking signal. The sense of frustration or anxiety during the search may at times be expressed with repeated chewing of blades of grass or other items. Rubble heap training site

– The dog that manages to properly localise and signal the stuntman buried in the introductory rubble heap will then go on to work in larger areas, called rubble heap training sites.

– We should gradually push the dog to search further, beginning with a moderate distance from the release point to the buried person.

– Should the motivator be an object whose scent might be detrimental to the dogs search ability, it should be replaced by a simple stick or another innocuous item (with no scent), while striving not to diminish the intensity of the reinforcement. We thus avoid the future risk of possible avoidance actions when signalling buried persons.

– The source of human scent coming out of the rubble now becomes a powerful predictive stimulus for the dog. – Just like other species, dogs have the capacity to respond in the same way to different stimuli that bear certain similarities. For this reason, it is feasible for them to generalise when faced with any rubble heap or different human scents.

– In the rubble heap training site, the distance from the release point to the location of the buried person should gradually be increased, as it is the dogs own motivational state that will drive it to carry out the olfactory search for human scent molecules that will guide it towards the source emerging from the rubble, emanating from the buried extra.

– The instructor should determine:

– Possible suitability of the rubble area

– Location of the hideout

– Position of each dogs relase point .

The dog should get used to searching for buried people by sniffing. To achieve this, we should gradually try to reduce the possibility of it using existing traces on the terrain to head towards the target, and these traces should not be associated with key localisation signals. Sniffing is the only reliable procedure for searching for buried people after a cave-in. The people moving around the rubble area during the set-up when digging out the hiding place and hiding the extra should adhere to a pre-set route for entering and leaving this area. The release point should always be on the opposite side of this route. Another resource regarded as valid is to riddle the terrain with multiple traces in a premeditated fashion. Likewise, I discovered that certain dogs even used the traces left by the dog that went before them as a resource to guide themselves to the buried person.

This circumstance can easily be solved by a methodical control of the dogs turns at searching. Upon noticing that certain dogs presented symptoms of stress (lack of vigour, inability to concentrate, increase in salivation, etc.) in their a search behaviour without any apparent cause, I managed to detect that the origin lay in the previous capture of pheromones by the male that had been excreted by some female in heat in another place and time (aerially, in the urine, etc.).

This state can last up to several weeks, during which the dog should be withdrawn from any activity that requires psychological effort.

The hideout should not be used more than once by the same dog, nor should the rubble heap once the feasible burials have been done. Under no circumstances should the dog ever be upbraided in the rubble area, thus avoiding among other consequences the possibility that this area becomes a conditioning inhibiting stimulus for the dog, which might even slightly diminish its possible state of motivation or concentration.

I should point out that even though I am in favour of the dogs learning by certain direction orders (a relatively simple operation), I am steadfastly opposed to using these orders during everyday training, as it could harm the dogs initiative and autonomy to a greater or lesser degree, as it might harmfully identify the guide as a possible guiding resource during search operations and certain situations, thus visibly harming its required level of concentration.

O The following techniques are applicable in this simple search phase:

-Gradual autonomy by the mannequin effect -Techniques of Innocuous re-establishment by sound insertion .

-Feasible localization technique by compensation of negative factors.

-Support without request by restricted approximation.

C) CHAINED SEARCH (two or more buried persons)

– We should begin the chained search learning process with only two buried extras.

– The respective hideouts should be located in the rubble heap training site separated by an average distance of 50 metres.

– Once one of the two extras has been signalled by the dog, the chained search technique by mimicked dissuasion of the buried person should be applied, so that as soon as the extra who has been localised and signalled secondly is the one who reinforces the dog as described in the simple search. After reinforcing the dog and then withdrawing, the guide puts on the leash and takes the dog up to a middle point towards the second buried person, and releases the dog once again. In this way, we strive to ensure the dogs success in the second localisation and the consequent inclusion of this new work scheme in its memory and behavioural repertoire.

– The instructor should watch carefully in order to use the transceiver to warn the extra who should reinforce, as it will be impossible to fully predict which buried person the dog will capture and signal first.

– When it has been confirmed that the dog properly performs the chained search behaviour with two buried people, a third hideout and extra should be added, keeping the average distance of 50 metres from the other two.

– We should continue applying the same basic mechanism, mimicked dissuasion with the first two extras signalled and the reinforcement (especially pronounced) in the case of the third and last extra signalled. Following this pattern, several different search operations with variable numbers of buried persons (one, five, six, etc.) should be performed. The extra who gives the reinforcement should also vary, but always bearing in mind that the chained search comes to an end for each dog with the appearance of the main reinforcement (from the guide and extra).

– The dog gradually includes this new scheme of chained searches into its behavioural repertoire, developing the new expectation of the possible continuity of the search after a variable number of signalling acts, with the main reinforcement appearing in an unpredictable fashion. This type of circumstance actually becomes an added stimulus for the dog.

– The dog should gradually come to be released from the signal point itself.

– Before each search instruction, the dog will always be placed on the leash with the purpose of its gradually becoming used to restarting the search without ever having to await the guides order.

O The following techniques will be applied in this chained search phase:

– Gradual autonomy technique by the mannequin effect – Feasible localisation technique by compensation negative factors

– Calibrated reinforcement technique by triple control

– Chained search technique by mimicked dissuasion of the buried person

When the chained search behaviour is deemed to be consolidated in the dog, we should gradually subject it to different types of discriminatory trainings (olfactory, visual, etc.) and have it carry out searches with the presence of adverse factors (confinement, noise, etc.).

A moderate process of individualised intensification should always be applied. Once the initial training process has been completed, the dog will show an especially solid and effective level of autonomy, motivation and concentration in the searches.

From here on out, the following techniques should be applied constantly:

– Gradual autonomy technique by the mannequin effect

– Calibrated reinforcement technique by triple control

– Chained search technique by mimicked dissuasion of the buried person.

Approved by Legal Resolution No. 1998/41/12727 on 5 May 1998 by the Ministry of Education and Culture of Spain, in compliance with Royal Decree (1/1996, 12 April), that the Arcon Method, (including among other content, the set of innovative behavioural techniques, training phases and corresponding denominations), whose author is Jaime Parejo Garca, is duly registered and legally protected as scientific copyright in the General Registry of Intellectual Property under No. 23474.