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My dog Walter, a spunky Dachshund, can be described as having two settings: on and off. To say he has energy is an understatement. Among the parade of toys, puzzles, and chews I’ve tried to keep him busy, one product stands head and shoulders above the rest: my snuffle mat.
By now, you’ve probably heard of snuffle mats—they’re the latest solution to everything from speed eating and lack of appetite to boredom and anxiety. For me, they’re an answer to Walter’s excitability and an integral part of my efforts to encourage calm, focused behavior through nosework. Plus, they’re really, really good at keeping him busy.
How Do Snuffle Mats Work?
Most snuffle mats consist of rows of fleecy fabric strips woven into sturdy backing to create a sea-anemone effect. Scattering treats among the fabric strips (and then giving them a good ruffle with your hands) effectively buries snacks for your dog to sniff out.
The basic concept is pretty simple—you can even make one if you’re so inclined!
I’m not very crafty, so I bought the Paw5 Snuffle Mat, and it’s been well worth it. It’s survived hours of play (something not all mats can boast), and it’s made from non-toxic, sustainable, and upcycled materials. Best of all, it’s machine-washable—a necessity given all the drool and crumbs that slip into its fleecy folds.
Dog parents love snuffle mats like this one for slowing down speed eaters and pups who cruise through dinner so fast they’re at risk of losing it. Others like them as distraction toys to keep a dog happy and occupied while something unpleasant happens (like grooming or vacuuming).
They also make nice enrichment tools that offer dogs much-needed mental stimulation. The section of a dog’s brain devoted to smell is 40 times larger than the corresponding section in a human brain and takes up more processing power than even our sense of sight. That makes sniffing games and nosework some of the best forms of entertainment for a bored pup.
What I like best about my snuffle mat is the opportunity it presents for training. With it, I’m teaching Walter to use his brain and his hunting instincts. We use “find it” as our nosework cue, and it helps him burn off energy—something I’m particularly grateful for when our walks are shorter due to busy schedules and weather. Any tool that encourages natural foraging skills is perfect for our pack.
Snuffle Mats for Senior Dogs
My 13-year-old dog, Bruiser, loves this mat too. Since his walks are a little shorter due to achy joints, the mat gives him the opportunity to fit in some much-needed sniffing time and cognitive stimulation—an important part of keeping him healthy.
Just ten minutes a day with a puzzle toy like a snuffle mat can make a huge difference for an older dog, especially a pup showing signs of cognitive dysfunction or dementia. Variety and interest are key—and a snuffle mat accommodates the need to change things up. It can take a wide range of treats, chews, and even soft veggies. Bruiser is a particular fan of snuffling for baby carrots.
That flexibility is the other reason I love my snuffle mat. My dogs have tried and enjoyed a lot of puzzle toys and interactive tools over the years, but I have to rotate them on a weekly basis or my pups get bored. Only the snuffle mat stays in the rotation every week—an unbeatable perennial favorite.
Tips for Snuffle Mat Success
My dogs have taught me a few things about using a snuffle mat to the greatest possible effect. First, while you can easily just throw kibble or treats on top of the mat, “hiding” treats in the mat makes it more challenging and offers greater interest. You can use your fingers to work the treats deep into the mat’s folds to give your pup a harder time. (Walter needs the ultimate challenge.)
It’s also a good idea to break your treats into tiny pieces. Small morsels scattered throughout the mat are harder to find than big ones, and they’ll extend the length of the game.
I recommend monitoring play with a snuffle mat, especially as you introduce it. I caught Walter starting to chew on the snuffle mat’s fleece once, which he would have ingested at some point. Parents of committed chewers should be cautious.
It’s also a good idea to watch out for territorial behavior if more than one dog is present. My dogs need to play these enrichment games separately so nobody gets “guardy.” They’re very good about waiting their turn behind the dog gate—but not so good about sharing.Find on Amazon
The bottom line? There are plenty of interactive puzzle toys to choose from, but I find this simple mat does the trick, especially when the weather turns and walks get shorter.
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