photo by Liz Palika|photo by Liz Palika|photo by Liz Palika|photo by Liz Palika|photo by Liz Palika|photo by Liz Palika|photo by Liz Palika
DIY: Make Your Dog (or Cat) a Snuffle Mat
I love to play scenting games with my dogs.
Their sense of smell is so wonderful and so much more sensitive than mine I can't even imagine it. When given an opportunity to play scenting games, their enthusiasm is contagious and just makes me want to find more games for them to play. I've trained search and rescue dogs previously, taught my dogs to track, done nosework, hidden treats under inverted flower pots, and now we play with snuffle mats.
The snuffle mat is a homemade toy that provides the dog with an opportunity to sniff and search for hidden treats. The snuffle mat consists of fleece strips tied on to a rubber mat with holes in it. The loose ends of the fleece are on top and provide the hiding spots for the treats. I'd recommend using The Honest Kitchen's Proper Toppers or training treats.
Get the Materials Ready
1 Rubber Sink Mat. 12" by 15" is perfect for medium sized dogs—feel free to change it up depending on the size of your pet. You can find these mats in the kitchen department of most stores or order them online.
Up to Yard and a Half of Fleece Material. How much will depend on the size of your mat and the width of the strips you cut, but a yard and a half should be plenty. Fleece is sold in different thicknesses and weights. Don't get the heaviest fleece as that can be tough to knot when cut in short lengths. Instead, see what fleece is on sale and get that; the cheap stuff works just fine and your pet won't care how ugly it is.
Cut the fleece into strips about an inch to an inch and a half wide by six to seven inches long. Precision isn't necessary and in fact, I've found that having a variety of strip widths and lengths makes the finished mat more fun when the dog is trying to find the treats. For the mat I made, I cut 262 strips.
Making the Snuffle Mat
To make the snuffle mat, you'll take one strip and push one end through a hole in the rubber mat and then take the other end of the strip and push it through the hole next to the first one. Flip the rubber mat over and tie the strips once. Just one knot; no need to double knot it.
Take the second strip and push it through the second hole alongside the strip already there. Then take the other end of that strip and push it through the third hole. Turn over the mat and knot that strip. Continue until you finish one length of the rubber mat. Repeat on the second row of holes.
When you have two rows done, then take a strip of fleece and push it through the first hole in the first row. Then take the other end and push it through the first hole in the second row. Turn over the rubber mat and knot it. This strip is at right angles to the first two rows. Continue between the first and second rows until completed.
Repeat this process until the mat is completed. Then flip it over and take a good look at the bottom to see if there are any empty holes or missed cross strips. Fill in those spots and then turn the mat over, loose strip side up, and fluff up the strips until they are standing up.
Teaching Your Dog to Use the Mat
When I introduced the snuffle mat to my then 13 week old puppy, Hero, I put the mat on the floor and let him watch me drop some treats on top of the strips. I didn't try to hide them, just dropped them on top. Then I told him, "Hero, find it!" I use 'find it' whenever I want my dogs to use their scenting abilities. You can use and word or phrase you wish, of course. After he found those treat then I had him sit and hold still while I loaded the mat with more treats and this time I sprinkled some on top and I hid some in between strips. Then I let him go search some more.
For Bones, my four year old dog who has played many scenting games, I didn't scatter any treats on top of the snuffle mat as that would be too easy for him. Instead, I pushed the treats down in between strips so he had to actually hunt for them.
Most of the time I'll play this twice with each dog and then call it quits. As with any toy or game I don't want to play it until the dog has had too many treats or is bored. I also vary the treats I use to keep their interest high.
Most of all, have fun with this scenting game. I enjoy watching my dogs carefully searching through the snuffle mat and then when they're done, asking to do it again.
Monitor Your Dog
Unlike many food dispensing toys, this should not be left with your dog when he's unsupervised. Since the fleece strips will soon begin to smell like food or treats, many dogs will, if left alone with the mat after finding all the treats, chew the fleece strips and potentially swallow them. This could cause serious complications that could potentially lead to a need for surgery to remove the strips. This should then be used only when you can spend time with your dog and supervise him.