Principles of Psychology in Action

A Dog trained to sniff out crime

"Acorn is always in charge,” Westchester County Police Detective John Peters said to John Jay High School’s AP Psychology students. He was referring to his partner on Westchester County Police Department's Arson Detection Team, a frisky black Labrador retriever.

“Acorn has been trained to find an accelerant, such as gasoline or oil, that may have been used to start the fire, as fast as possible,” explained Detective Peters. “When Acorn finds what he’s looking for, he sits. That’s passive indication.”

Officer Schlosser, Vincenza Guiliano, Officer Peters & Acorn

Students Love Acorn, the arson detection dog

practical application of conditioning techniques

 “Officer Peters explained how the principles of operant and classical conditioning were used in the training of Acorn to detect accelerants,” said teacher Vincenza Guiliano. “This is what we have been studying. He also described Acorn’s role in an arson investigation including what happens during a fire, after a fire and finally the prosecution of a case.”

The highlight of the visit was the live demonstration of Acorn’s ability. Officer Peters placed one drop of accelerant on the grass, then let Acorn out of the van with the command “seek.” Acorn quickly found the spot where the scent was left and sat down. After his reward of food, the students were able to pet and play with him.