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.
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With 200-300 million olfactory receptors, dogs' sense of smell is far superior to humans'. They 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 their remarkable nose a good workout as well as their brain.
Enter the snuffle mat! Available for sale online or in pet stores, these fun, interactive food game toys have taken the dog world by storm. While you can buy a pre-made snuffle mat for dogs, you can easily make your own as well.
What is a snuffle mat for dogs?
While there are many variations, a snuffle mat essentially 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.
Some people call a snuffle mat a dog feeding mat, a nosework feeding mat, or an activity mat. Whatever you call it, a mat like this enables your dog to have the experience of foraging for food, which is a great enrichment experience.
How to make a DIY snuffle mat
You can craft your own snuffle mat from just a few inexpensive items.
Things You'll Need
1- to 1/2-yards of lightweight fleece fabric in any color or pattern that delights your eye — your dog won't care as long as it's packed with food.
One rubber sink mat that is 12 inches by 15 inches is the perfect size for a medium-sized dog — adjust the size for your dog — readily available in the kitchen department of many stores, or order online.
Pair of scissors.
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 pet 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.
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 it so that the top of the mat shows the loose strip side up, and fluff your mat so the strips stand up like fingers.
Teach your dog to use the snuffle mat
A snuffle mat is not usually a huge learning curve for your dog, or you, but there are a few things to consider and tips that make the game more fun in a dog's mind. Remember, variety is the spice of life — for dogs, too! First, use treats that stimulate a dog's sense of taste, so he wants to find them, and change them up each time you play, to keep his interest. The last thing you want is for the game to become boring.
When you introduce your snuffle mat to your pup the first time, just drop a couple of treats on top — don't hide them. When your dog finds and eats them, praise them and do it again. Once your dog understands the pattern, gradually increase the "difficulty" by hiding the treats in between the fluffy folds of the strips right at the base where the strip meets the mat.
Snuffle mat precautions and maintenance
Even though dry treats and food are best (otherwise, you'll be throwing the mat into the washer 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 this 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.
Wash your snuffle mat regularly (most can be thrown into the washing machine and hung to dry) as bits of food can get stuck in it, of course.