DOC – A Freeshaped Engagement Framework

What is Doc?

DOC stands for Dismiss – Observe – Capture  and it is how we handle stable dogs in stable environments.

Handling a stable dog in a stable environment can be a difficult task for positive trainers in general and can seem near impossible for handlers who work with reactive or fearful dogs.

Positive training is about action. Shaping behaviors is very good for getting dogs to do new things and to be confident and experimental, but it is often not applied to managing a dog in a stable environment. This disconnect is why many trainers have a hard time handling their dogs in new environments. Shaping can and should be used for handling dogs in new environments and DOC provides a simple and elegant framework for doing exactly that.

Who is DOC for?

All handlers who use positive reinforcement for training should be familiar with the DOC protocol. It can be used with stable dogs for simple management and can be used to proof reactive or fearful dogs in challenging but not overwhelming environments.

For handlers with stable dogs, DOC provides the means to add value to the handler and to cultivate and shape desirable behaviors. As mentioned above, positive training and shaping is about action. While most trainers are familiar with creating behaviors with shaping, most are not sure how to manage behaviors using the principles of shaping.

For handlers of reactive or fearful dogs, DOC sets up the ability to shift gears from hands on active management of reactivity and fear (STARR Protocol) to a more passive approach for raising criteria and proofing the the dog’s behavior in challenging but stable environments. This is the missing link for working with reactive and fearful dogs.

Where and When Should I Use DOC?

As said above, DOC should be employed in stable or challenging environments and after any reactivity or fear issues have been brought down to a manageable level. It should only be employed when you are confident in the likelihood of success.

Why use DOC?

Standard positive training management techniques like focusing on the handler or reinforcement of incompatible behaviors means that it is the handler’s responsibility to manage the dog. This means that the handler has to be eternally vigilant and keep their thumb on the dog (or feels the need) to maintain control over the situation. This is essentially putting discipline on the dog. Remove the thumb or stop being vigilant and the dog is liable to do things that the handler doesn’t want them to do.

A better way to approach environmental management is to create a self disciplined dog. One way to create self discipline is to capture and shape behaviors and make the dog believe that the things the handler wants them to do is their idea and to prove that these good decisions work to their benefit. If the dog believes this they will perform because they believe it is good for them – self discipline, and not because the thumb is on them or their handler wants it to happen – discipline put on them.

Whom do you trust? The man who has had discipline put on him or the self disciplined man?

How do I do DOC?

Like all dog training, the degree of comfort, confidence and capability the dog has in the environment dictates how much control the handler needs to have in any given situation. You will need to take common sense measures to ensure that your dog doesn’t get into too much trouble. A leash, a barrier, the removal of overwhelming distractions, you know, simple effective dog training stuff.


Once the dog and the environment is stable, you will dismiss the dog,”Go Do Dog Stuff…”. Dismissal is just telling the dog that you are off limits and that they should occupy their own time (“Give Me a Break” from Control Unleashed). This should not be confused with your “we’re done working” cue or your release cue “you’re free”, and it does not mean they have to leave. It simply means that the dog should have no expectation of working with you at this time.


Once the dog is dismissed he will probably hang around a bit and then disengage and do some dog stuff. This is your opportunity to observe your dog. It’s funny, but most handlers have no idea what their dogs will do or like to do when they are left to their own devices. Because they constantly have their thumb on the dog; recalling, interrupting and otherwise interfering with the dog’s behavior in the environment. The environment becomes forbidden fruit and the handler becomes a pain in the… How would you like to spend your time? Tasting the forbidden fruit or hanging out with a pain in the…?

While observing your dog you will also be observing the environment. You will be aware of potential problems or stimuli that may set your dog off. You can keep an ear in the conversation with your friends while keeping an eye on your dog.


While you are observing your dog you will be watching for really nice behavior; a decision to not jump up and counter surf for instance, getting off the counter, a release of a trigger stimulus, the look or acknowledgment of a fearful stimulus.

You will mark and reinforce these captured behaviors, and reinforce on your person if you want the dog to be close to you or you want to reset and start over, or perhaps you toss a cookies to put the dog in a different position.

Resist the urge to recall or interrupt bad behaviors be proactive and head off problems before they start. This should not be a problem because you are already observing your dog. The more experience you get with this the better you will become at predicting the sequences of events that are going to cause you and your dog problems.

Once you’ve reinforced your dog for a captured, desirable behavior you can either immediately dismiss to repeat the scenario, do some work to keep the dog engaged and then dismiss, or leash your dog to protect them from having problems.

Wrapping It Up

Whether you have reactive dogs, you are struggling to manage your dog in new environments, or you are having distraction problems, this is the missing link. DOC is simple and elegant and it provides for a concrete and easy to verbalize methodology that you can use to discuss your training with others and to process and understand your training.


What could be easier than that? Questions, comments? Need more info? Just drop a comment in the section below.

Go Do Dog Stuff: A Dismissal Playlist

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  1. Thanks Ron for spelling things out again. I need lots of reminders on this stuff! While I have been doing the STARR protocol and other management tools regularly with Ember I don’t often get the chance to dismiss her. Do you think it would make sense to get her some ring time with a strange person outside the gates. Let her figure out her world and come check the person out on her own rewarding her decisions but at the same time keeping everyone safe and not putting Ember under a lot of pressure? I am working with a new, really supportive training center and I think we could work this out. Thanks for the help!

    1. Sure Lindsay. And you will use a leash then a longline to make it even more safe and provide additional control.

      It’s a really important part of the puzzle for a dog like Ember. She’s good when engaged

      We didn’t put enough controls on her in our work together. Bad teacher… 🙂

      Also you’ll need to address it not as work or a training session, but as living and life.

      Hope that makes sense.

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