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]

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.


  1. Patrisha

    So the dismissal means to go do dog stuff and we are not working for the moment.
    “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.”
    But then you mark and reward attention? Doesn’t this either pull the dog back into working mode or have the potential to teach the dog that “go do dog stuff” means move off and give attention?
    I like the idea of a nice dismissal but need some clarification please! 🙂

    1. Ron Watson Post author

      The key here is active work.

      The Ambient Attention I am talking about trying to capture is a very soft, non-manipulative kind of eye contact. It’s not Attention in front of the handler, or a huffy, expectant Down behavior we are looking for here.

      An example:
      Handler dismisses dog. Dog stands in front of handler offering Attention with nothing happening. Dog leaves and gets interested in the dogs next door. As a handler we’re looking to cultivate a strong release from the dogs. So we set our criteria at Releasing the dogs next door. Dog Releases and we bring them back in for a bit of work… A couple pieces of Attention for cookies, a hand target or two and “Go Do Dog Stuff”. Allowing us to repeat the reinforcement of the offered Release of the dogs next door. In addition to the Release, we can also cultivate Ambient Attention in a similar fashion which is kind of unsolicited, social eye contact at a distance.

      Once the dog disengages the handler gains the freedom of reinforcing just about any behavior we want to see again. It becomes freeshaping for environmental management.

      And the big question you asked, “Doesn’t this teach the dog that ‘Go Do Dog Stuff’ means move off and give Attention.” Perhaps, but only if the handler focuses on that one single aspect, or if they are impatient. Really what happens is that the dog learns that Dismissal means that work can not be expected, but might happen with nice, soft behavior: Ambient Eye Contact, Release of environment or Distraction, Checking In. This means that the dog will start to offer these soft behaviors in order to earn the opportunity to work with the handler. It becomes anti-waiting game – the dog performs soft, non-manipulative behaviors until you allow them to come back to work with you setting up an opportunity for variable reinforcement with no handler responsibility.

      Does that help at all?

  2. Barb Scott

    I want to move to Kingston, NY. Do you have room for one person and six border collies. I think we only learned half of the GO DO DOG STUFF concept.

    1. Ron Watson Post author

      Of course… apartments open up around here all the time and there are some sweet homes down by the water. 🙂

  3. Jessica Thorn

    Ron: We were just talking about using a release the other day. My boyfriend thinks it’s awesome to use “go do dog stuff” as a release. Loved the article and right on! 😀

    1. Ron Watson Post author

      A manipulative act is something the dog does specifically to get you to give them reinforcement. There is a difference between a down that is borne out of boredom and a down that happens because the dog thinks you are going to give them a cookie.

      Ideally during Dismissal you don’t mark those active, manipulative actions, and instead wait for more casual and easygoing behavior. You really want the dog to disengage.

      That said, I will totally reinforce eye contact at a distance even if it is manipulative, perhaps because it is manipulative, as I want my dog to know that behavior, Ambient Attention, totally works… If the Ambient Attention or any other behavior winds up getting in the way of the dog disengaging it should probably lose focus in terms of your reinforcement.

      Hopefully that makes sense.

      Thanks for the question Amy. Peace~

  4. Lisa

    So…when you say “I will totally reinforce eye contact at a distance even if it is manipulative” how do you do that? Clicker? a Yes word and then the dog comes in for the treat? what if you reward (or think you do) with a click or yes and the dog just goes back to sniffing or whatever and doesn’t actually come back to work with you?

    1. Ron Watson Post author

      The soft eye contact would be marked with a verbal marker, but a click will do as would a finger point.

      I will “click” and offer a cookie by hand if I want them on me or by tossing to where I want them to be. A toy could be used as well, as could general interaction with me or access to food, water, another dog, or another place. I offer food and toy reinforcement sharply to catch their eye and trigger prey drive.

      If they don’t take it I remove the toy or cookie sharply. The dog realizes that there was an opportunity and I clearly demonstrate that they missed it. Missed opportunity, especially in the face of boredom, is a great motivator. In a flat situation with nothing going on I would offer many times during dismissal even if they were not taking it. Usually after a few reps with nothing better to do the dog decides it’s better than nothing.

      Bring them in for a few reps of eye contact or targeting or something and repeat the process.

      1. Lisa

        Thank you! I have a “go sniff” cue..not quite the same..thanks for clarifying. Looking forward to reading more of your blog 🙂

        1. Ron Watson Post author

          Right on, Lisa.

          I have an upcoming blog post on Dismissal. I think most people use it as a Premacking device – “Go Sniff…” And while we do use it like that, it’s also able to be used for proofing, shaping, and creating default behaviors in various environments.

          Hope you enjoy the blog…

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