A snuffle mat is an enrichment activity designed to tap into your dog’s sense of smell, providing mental and physical stimulation.
The action of sniffing out a treat is hugely satisfying and self-rewarding for your dog (just like barking, but not as noisy).
Some dogs just can’t get into interactive toys so a snuffle mat can be an alternative.
Teach your dog to use a snuffle mat
The first time you use it, just put 3-5 really tasty treats on the top of the snuffle mat loosely in the fleece and stay with your dog whilst they learn how to sniff out the treats.
If your dog starts to lift or pull at the mat then you can ask them to Sit or give them the ‘Leave it’ command so it can help with obedience training.
Encourage them to continuing sniffing by pointing out the treats on the mat to them. This sniffing behaviour will help your dog enjoy continuing to sniff for treats rather than picking the mat up, shaking or digging in it.
When the dog has found all the treats put it away. Repeat this exercise twice a day for the first few days. This will associate the sniffing activity with the reward of finding the treats.
Up the ante
After this you can make the activity more rewarding by hiding the treats deeper into the mat.
You can then mix the really tasty treats with normal kibble and progress to hiding just kibble with the odd tasty treat in the future which is a good way to feed fast eaters and is closer to how they would hunt for food in the wild providing mental and physical stimulation.
It can also help with teaching your dog some self-control around food by issuing the sit our leave it command. You can then give them a release command, such as ‘okay’ when you want them to start sniffing. You can also use the ‘Leave it’ command when you put the treats on the mat, before giving the release command.
Snuffle mats make dogs feel good
Did you know, 15 minutes of sniffing uses as many calories as an hours walk, so using a snuffle mat makes a great activity for puppies of highly active dogs.
The sniffing will also act as a calmer and directs excess energy into a different activity.
If you are crafty you can make your own snuffle mat, using a rubber safety mat that has holes all across it, threading strips of fabric through the holes and tying them into bows. Or, you can also purchase them online already made.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a NDTF certified dog behaviourist and trainer, petfood nutritionist and Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10. Lara also runs her own dog training and boarding business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of Eat, Play, Love Your Dog.