The Hot Zone Game was created by Susan Garrett and is part of her awesome Recallers! program. If you have the time and the money, I highly suggest participating!

When the Hot Zone Game is mastered, the game will give your dog a great behavior that has clear expectation for him, no matter what distractions life presents.
Imagine being able to go to the park for a picnic and your dog patiently relaxed quietly nearby, so that you could enjoy beautiful sunny days out with family and friends. Or opening the front door to receive a delivery and have your dog automatically choose to sit calmly away from the door. Think of that freedom, and of never worrying about misbehaving dogs when having people over.

Equipment Required: Tasty treats that your dog LOVES (broken into small, bite size pieces), and a target to use as a ‘hot zone’ for your dog (a yoga mat, blanket, bedsheet, ETC). Start with a LARGE target, so that your dog can easily ‘find’ it. Something about 3 feet by 3 foot works well for most dogs. Larger dogs may need a larger target.

How to Play:

Present the target (blanket or mat) that you have chosen for your initial Hot Zone training. Spread it out on the floor, and move so that you are on the opposite side of the Hot Zone from your dog.

Reward your dog with treats for “finding” the Hot Zone. When he touches the zone, mark by clicking (or say “yes”) and feed him a treat.

Release your dog by saying “Release!” and throwing a treat a little way away from the zone, in front of your dog. You want to throw it just far enough away they have to leave the Zone, but not so far away they get lost on the way back! I suggest about 12 to 24 inches, depending on how big your dog is. Saying Release will later be the cue to your dog that they are free to leave the zone, and it lets them know they can go hunt down the cookie you threw!

Let your dog make choices: If your dog ‘stalls’ or does not immediately go to the Hot Zone, resist the temptation to help him. Allow him the opportunity to figure out what you want. Dogs are brilliant!

Don’t forget to put the Hot Zone away when you’re not playing for the first few weeks!

Up the Ante

Advancing the Game: When your dog is showing understanding about being in the Hot Zone (he should be successful at finding the zone on his own 4 out of 5 or 5 out of 5 times after you release him) you can make the game more advanced by making the target smaller and keep playing. Fold your zone so that it is 1/3 smaller than before. Then, after a few days, 1/2, and so on.

The next step is to reward your dog in position on the mat with a few of the tasty treats. Drop 3 to 4 tiny bits of treat on the floor in front of your dog, one piece at a time. This make being on the mat more rewarding, and helps them stay on the mat for longer. To ‘release’ him from the mat, say “release” and throw a cookie off the mat for him to chase. Start throwing the cookie further and further away.

Increase the Complexity: In the next stage, put your Hot Zone mat in a dog bed or something similar. This will increase the complexity of the game for your do, so if needed, repeat the steps from the beginning.

When your dog is finding the ‘new’ Hot Zone (successful at least 4 out of 5 times) move yourself away from the mat to increase the difficulty. Remember to let your dog ‘think’ and make choices when you make a change. I suggest moving half a step at first, then one full step, then two, and so on.

When your dog comes back to the Hot Zone, continue to reward him in the Zone. Remember to release him with the word “release” and a cookie throw. The next step is to take the mat out of the bed, and let him find the bed as his Hot Zone!

Take Action

Commit to playing this game over the next 7 days. Maybe invite a friend to join you in playing this game with their dog, too! Your friend will be your accountability buddy. Share your training in our free Facebook group or on our Facebook page!

Troubleshooting: If you struggle to get your dog to offer getting on the mat,

  1. make sure there are not too many distractions in the environment.
  2. Set your dog up for success by tossing the treats to the opposite side of the mat from you, so that when they come back, the are headed straight for you.
  3. Try better treats!
  4. Play this game when your dog is hungry and eager to interact with you
  5. Make the target bigger
  6. Send me an email if you need hep figuring where you’re going wrong!