Foraging for something delicious to eat has always been a favorite pastime of dogs — both wild and domestic — for survival, and to satisfy their innate desire to hunt. Blessed with 300 million receptors in their snouts, dogs possess the unique ability to detect scent and determine its source, which is why they've been trained to work in a number of specialized fields. So when you're looking for an entertaining, interactive game for your dog, consider one that gives his remarkable nose a good workout as well as his brain.
What is a Snuffle Mat and Why Does Your Dog Need One?
Enter the snuffle mat! Available for sale online or in pet stores, these fun, interactive food game toys are taking dogdom by storm. While you can buy these handy-dandy, super-fun mats premade, you can easily make your own. Your dog needs one if he scarfs his food down too quickly or needs to burn off some nervous energy and alleviate boredom. And you may just find, that once you start using a snuffle mat for not only hiding treats, but also to feed your dog his meals, it will soon become a favorite in your doggy toolkit.
What is a snuffle mat?
Snuffle mats are commercially available in every conceivable color combo, size, and configuration you can imagine. It consists of fleece fabric strips tied onto a rubber mat with holes in it. You hide the treats or kibble inside the curly folds of the strips and where the fleece strips join the top side of the rubber mat. It's a simple, yet ingenious design that you can easily replicate at home for a fraction of the cost of buying one.
Snuffle mats smartly combine a scenting game with mental stimulation for your dog. With an extraordinary sense of smell up to 100 million times more sensitive than humans, your dog's nose is a work of art! Dogs noses know no bounds and your dog's world revolves around aroma, from the messages she receives from sniffing the ground more than 33 percent of her waking hours — and other places we find inappropriate, but guide her next move — to the food she eats.
Having to hunt for her food like her ancestors and think how she can outsmart this fluffy thing that's packed with goodies is like doggy nirvana! And your dog's enthusiasm for the snuffle mat is contagious. You'll marvel at how adept she is in finding a treat or kibble and quickly moving on to the next, and the next in short order. The joy you'll get from just watching her do what comes so naturally may even inspire you to find more nosework games you can play together.
How to make a snuffle mat
Cut the fleece into 1- to 1-1/2-inch strips by 7-inches long and vary your strip widths and lengths to make a fuller mat that's even more amusing for your dog. For example, you'll need about 260 or more fleece strips to complete a 12- inch by 15-inch size snuffle mat.
To assemble your snuffle mat, push one end of the first strip through a hole anywhere on the rubber mat and take the other end of the strip and push it through the next hole. Flip the mat, and tie the strip into a single overhand knot. Take the second strip, push it through the second hole beside the existing strip, and push the other end through the third hole. Flip the mat, and knot that strip.
Continue pushing the strips through the holes in the same sequence and knotting each until you finish one length of the rubber mat. Repeat for your second row of holes. When you're done with these two rows, take a strip of fleece and push it through the first hole in the first row, then push the other end through the first hole in the second row. Turn the mat over and knot this strip, which is at right angles to the first two rows.
You will continue this sequence between the first and second rows until completed, then continue until the entire snuffle mat is finished. Flip it over, and check that all the holes are filled with a knotted strip, and fill in where necessary. Finally, flip your mat loose-strip side up and fluff your mat so the strips stand up like fingers.
Teach your dog snuffle-mat etiquette
Snuffle mats are not a huge learning curve for your dog, or you, but there are a few things to consider and tips that make the game and mealtime tons of fun for him. Remember, variety is the spice of life — for dogs, too! First, the treats need to be extra tasty to pique his interest, and change them up each time you play, to keep his interest. The last thing you want is for the game to become boring. If you're using the snuffle mat for main meals, try a few flavors of a kibble brand he's accustomed to eating so he never knows what to expect for dinner.
When you introduce your snuffle mat to your pup, just drop a couple of treats on top — don't hide them. Then say your dog's name followed by "find it" or something similar. When your dog finds and eats them, praise him, then have him sit still and wait while you load the mat, hiding each treat or kibble in between the fluffy folds of the strips right at the base where the strip meets the mat, plus sprinkle a few on top he can see and eat without any effort, before he hunts for the others that he can only smell.
Snuffle mat precautions and maintenance
Snuffle mats and dogs need to be monitored. Even though dry treats and food are best (otherwise, you'll be washing the mat often to remove odors and bacteria), over time, the odor and flavor of the food will become infused into the fabric and may tempt your dog to chew the fleece fingers. For this reason, always carefully supervise every mealtime or treat session with the snuffle mat and never leave your dog on his own with a snuffle mat nearby where he can grab it.
Safely store your snuffle mat in a place inaccessible to your dog, such as a locked cabinet or upper kitchen cupboard. Should they be ingested, the strips present a swallowing hazard and could potentially require surgery to remove them.
Snuffle mats and dogs are a match made in heaven, and used responsibly, they are a boon for keeping dogs happy, calm, and mentally stimulated. Also, slowing down those lightning-fast eaters so they're eating their kibble one piece at a time, makes it less likely for a meal to cause bloat in deep-chested dogs.