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In the last year or so, I’ve been inundated with vendors pitching me every kind of digital and battery-operated dog toy—from automatic ball launchers and Bluetooth-enabled bones to treat-dispensing toys that contain tiny cameras and speakers.
But earlier this year, just when I was almost convinced that high-tech gewgaws are as enticing to dogs as they are to people, I was reminded of something that observant caninophiles have known for millennia: Dogs just want to push their noses into stuff that’s stinky.
Dogs just want to push their noses into stuff that’s stinky.
How to Engage Your Dog’s Senses
For many dogs, this put-nose-in-stinky-stuff impulse has long meant pursuing a major in laundry bags, or a passion for exploring the crack between the sofa cushions, or an insatiable interest in (let’s be honest) your crotch.
But recently, a whole new kind of product has hit the market: snuffle mats. You can hardly get more low-tech than the toys in this “new” category, each of which is designed simply to hide dry food or kibble in various kinds of crannies and folds.
I’ve found they can keep dogs busy for very long periods, and the fact that they’re easy to wash and easy to transport makes them popular with humans. Here are some of my favorite “snuffle” products on the market.
Top 4 Dog Activity Mats and Snuffle Mats
This gray mat resembles a monochrome rag rug—indeed, you could probably use one as a bath mat in a pinch—but it’s designed for your dog’s rifling pleasure.
Simply dribble some treats or dry food in it, and let your pup go to town trying to find the bits and pieces hidden in its stringy tendrils.
An unexpected bonus: After mealtime, you might find your dog enjoys using it as a bed.
Available in three sizes, these soft, fabric activity mats offer an array of different kinds of obstacles for your dog to forage treats in, under, and through.
The nubby rubber backing helps keep it from sliding all over the floor, and I’ve found that the largest size (which takes up roughly 8 square feet) is sometimes big enough to be enjoyed by two dogs at once without them getting grouchy with each other.
Designed in Denmark, the Buster Activity Mat is literally hundreds of toys in one.
Its base is a mat outfitted with snaps; a variety of components can then be attached to it and folded and tied in a variety of origami-esque ways.
Go ahead and tuck dry or dehydrated food into its various attachments. You can even hide bully sticks in some of the large pieces.
Most of the pieces can be adjusted to be easier or harder for your dog to navigate, based on his or her skill level. The whole thing can be folded into an adorable blue duffle bag, making it a great travel toy.
There are several “makers” selling homemade snuffle mats on places like Etsy, but my favorite handmade products of this ilk are made by British animal trainer Sarah White.
In particular, I really like her “Challenger Cube,” which is a six-sided fabric cube in which you can hide lots of yumminess.
It combines the genius of a snuffle mat with the fun of a plush toy that can be kicked around. Have a specific color scheme in mind? She’ll make your Challenger Cube to order, upon request.
Make Your Own DIY Snuffle Mat
Of course… there are always DIY versions.
It’s not hard to make your own snuffle mat-style toy. One option is to cut up a bunch of old t-shirts and tie them all over the inside of a shallow milk crate, or to a sink mat (although I don’t suggest the latter if you have a heavy chewer).
Or, simply get a cotton mop head and mix a bunch of yummy things in with the strings. Hours of fun may ensue… no batteries or Bluetooth required.
If you’re a visual learner, check out this handy video on how easy it is to make your own snuffle mat.