Snuffle mats are some dogs' favorite toys: perfect for brain games and giving treats.
When I get the snuffle mat out of the cupboard where I keep the dog supplies both of my dogs, Bones and Hero, come to attention. The snuffle mat is one of their favorite things aside from perhaps their food bowls. Even chew toys suffer in comparison to the snuffle mat.
What is a Snuffle Mat?
A snuffle mat is a brain game made from a rubber sink mat with fleece strips knotted through the holes of the mat. You can make one yourself quite inexpensively as the only things needed are the sink mat and the fleece material. You can also purchase them already made, but since they do take a couple of hours to make you will pay more for one made by someone else. If you'd like to make your own, here are some step-by-step instructions.
The mat by itself is strange looking (all those loose pieces of fleece) but your dog doesn't care about those. What gets his interest are all the bits of treats or food that you will hide among the pieces of fleece.
Use some tasty treats with a good smell. The odor is especially important as your dog is learning the game. His sense of smell is great, but an appealing odor will provide motivation for him to search. You can use any of The Honest Kitchen's small, bite-sized treatsbut I prefer to use the Wishes fish filet treats. Even though these are made for cats, they make great snuffle mat treats as they are easily broken and have a great smell that attracts dogs.
photo by Liz Palika
It's All About the Nose
Your dog's sense of smell is his most important sense. Dogs prefer to investigate their world using their sense of smell, so it's easy to see why dogs love the snuffle mat so much. As he sniffs for the hidden treats or food and then eats them, well, in your dog's mind life doesn't get much better than that.
If your dog likes to use his sense of smell, this game is going to be incredibly satisfying for him. Since we often ask our dogs to cooperate with us, especially in regards to household and social rules, it's great to have a game that's about making him happy.
Find it is Great Fun
When you encourage your dog to find the treats in the snuffle mat, use a word or phrase that will come to mean, 'hunt for something.' Initially he'll be hunting for those treats hidden in the snuffle mat.
Later, though, you can use that word or phrase, such as 'Find it,' to mean 'hunt for other things,' too. Perhaps you can send your dog after your kids or help you find the family cat. You can teach him to find his toys by name. The concept of finding those hidden treats can be the foundation for many other things, from tricks to useful actions.
Sneak in Some Obedience
A common phrase used by dog trainers is, "Dogs repeat actions that are rewarding to them." Since hunting for treats in the snuffle mat is such a wonderful game, use that to reward an obedience exercise or two.
For example, once the snuffle mat is loaded with treats hidden among the fleece strips, ask your dog to sit and stay. Place the snuffle mat on the floor. Then go back to your dog, praise him, and release him from the stay. Encourage him to go find the treats in the snuffle mat.
You can do the same thing with the down stay. Or ask him to do a trick or two and use the snuffle mat as a reward for those as well.
When I bring out the snuffle mat, I don't just load it with treats, give it to my dog, and then walk away. No, I stay close and cheer him on. "Yeah! Good boy! Find some more!"
Both of my dogs love to find treats, so they don't need me to cheer them on—but I want to be a part of their fun! I get to load the treats, give them the mat to search, and then I provide the colorful commentary. That way I'm a part of their fun. I find it great for our relationship—and hey, laughing with my dogs as they enjoy themselves is a wonderful part of dog ownership!