Go Do Dog Stuff: Seven Simple Ideas for Effective Dismissal

What Is Dismissal?

Dismissal is the opposite of Attention. Practically speaking, it means that the handler is not available at this time. It does not mean “we’re done working”. It does not mean “you may stop doing that”. It means I (the handler) am not available now and you may amuse yourself for a while.

We call this “Go Do Dog Stuff,” at Pawsitive Vybe, that’s the actual cue. Sure it sounds corny and it’s a little silly, but it’s super playful and fun. It’s really clever when you say,”Go Do Dog Stuff,” and your dog goes and pees on a tree or chews on a bone or something – it makes people smile.

Puppies Playing while DismissedIt’s also really hard to say in an angry or harsh manner, which I think is important because Dismissal is not about punishment. It’s about taking a break from active work for a bit and if you are going to use it effectively it can’t come off harsh or mean.

Dismissal is a big part of installing an off switch in your working dog and can be leveraged to manage drive. If you turn it on you need to be able to turn it off, right? That’s not always an easy task as some of us know, and it’s pretty vital to a healthy relationship with your dog.

Dismissal can also be leveraged to manage drive and create value on the handler.

Seven simple ideas for effective dismissal:

It Means what You say it Means – Actions and Words

If you tell your dog to “Go Do Dog Stuff” you only say it once. Otherwise it clearly doesn’t mean what you say it means. A handler that is not available does not repeat the cue. Give the cue once and then zip it.

Your actions should also communicate that you are unavailable. So no absent minded petting, fondling of your treat sack, and make sure that other reinforcement doesn’t creep in and give your dog the idea that there is work and reinforcement to be had through active work on the handler.

Dismissal = Disengage ≠ Leave

One of the big misconceptions about Dismissal is that the dog must leave the handler. The dog doesn’t have to leave, although they often do, the important thing is that they disengage from active work with the handler. There will be a very clear disengagement,”Oh well, must be something better to do…” or an,”Aw shucks!” Sigh… “Oh well, I’ll just lay here and wait…”. It’s usually very clear and distinct.

Don’t feel like you have to chase your dog away from you or anything. Once they start to disengage from you they will start to stroll around the environment a bit more and give you some distance.

Eye Contact Is Cool, But It Won’t Work.

DSC07818One of the biggest problems with installing Dismissal on a dog is when the handler tries to avoid all eye contact. Handler’s craning their heads and going through contortions to avoid eye contact. It’s unnatural in terms of communication and sends the wrong message.

Here at PVybe, our dogs are conditioned to offer Attention pretty much forever, and it almost always works, but once they are given eye contact, or allowed to give eye contact and they are not reinforced for it, multiple times, they move on to something else, probably Down or whatever we’re currently working on as a team.

Once the dog has given up on the pawing, Attention, Sit, and Down, they’re pretty much out of the game and they disengage.

Allowing but not really acknowledging or reinforcing eye contact after your Dismissal cue makes it much easier to get your dog off of you and deliver the initial idea that you may really not be available at this time.

Reinforce the Release

Once your dog is out there chilling out on their own, doing dog stuff, this is your moment. What are you going to do?

Resist the urge to call your dog’s name for a recall or as an interruptor. Watch things develop. When your dog gets interested in something, wait for your dog to look off towards you – to Release the thing or the environment that has their interest. Capture that Release and deliver a cookie or a toy where you want the dog.

When installing the Dismissal, you probably want your cookies to be delivered from the hand. This will help to reinforce your Recall (come when called). The hard part of a Recall or of hooking up with the handler is that initial Release towards the handler. The value added to the handler through a strong reward history on the Release the environment and reorientation towards the handler combined with the dog actually earning the opportunity to work with the handler is just amazing.

So often handlers miss this Release, leaving it unmarked and unreinforced. It’s the hardest part of the skill and instead of reinforcing this critical piece, people place all of the reinforcement on the arrival at the handler or the eye contact after arrival. This is helpful for the back chain of the retrieve, but it’s gotta be one heck of a back chain to compete with a squirrel…

Placing a strong reward history on the Release of something interesting in the environment is a great way to build a bulletproof Recall. Try to place a reward history on each behavioral link of your recall:

[icon_list style=”font-size:24px; color:#ffba00; margin-bottom:0;”] [icon_list_item type=”circle”] Release the Thing[/icon_list_item]
[icon_list_item type=”circle”] Approach the handler[/icon_list_item]
[icon_list_item type=”circle”] Get 1/2 or 3/4 to the handler[/icon_list_item]
[icon_list_item type=”circle”] Arrive at the handler[/icon_list_item]
[icon_list_item type=”circle”] Get in position[/icon_list_item]
[icon_list_item type=”circle”] Give eye contact[/icon_list_item]
[/icon_list]

On any given Recall or Dismissal situation you can mark and capture any one of these behaviors and they will work towards a stronger Recall, but the Release comes first.

Reinforce Ambient Eye Contact

Ambient Eye Contact is soft eye contact at a distance. Your dog is sniffing around somewhere out there and stops to look at you. It is sometimes a manipulative action, it’s sometimes a question. This is an incredible concept to cultivate in your dog and is easily done using Dismissal.

Here’s how you do it:
You watch your dog and catch them looking at you. Mark it and give them a cookie or a toy. Throw the cookie towards them if you want them to maintain their distance. That’s it. Huge skill.

dog on leash at farmer's market

You Can Dismiss on Leash

Most of our clients are surprised to find out that they can Dismiss their dog while on leash.

Well you can, and it’s awesome. Dismiss your dog during loose leash walks and talks with friends. It will give you both a break and will make walking next to the handler eating cookies much more special.

Dismiss on Entry and Exit

After you cross a Threshold with your dog, when you go in our out of a space or area, Dismissal is a nice way to kind of skate in or out of a situation.

I usually Dismiss my dog into new environments and let them check things out, reinforcing and hooking up via the Release of the environment or Ambient Attention.

I Dismiss when leaving places and reinforce and hook up with the dog after they hit Heel position as I walk away.