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, which can be noisy or too difficult, so a snuffle mat can be an easy alternative to keep their brains and bodies moving.
You may need to teach your dog how to use a snuffle mat
For a dog that hasn’t encountered a snuffle mat before, it’s best to just start with a few of their favourite treats placed on top of the mat, so they are really obvious and easy to find.
Some dogs that like to chew or puppies that are still very playful, they may want to bite or play around with the mat, so if they do, your dog starts to lift or pull at the mat and you have taught them to sit and wait, or ‘leave it’, issue this command so they stop.
Reward this good alternative behaviour and then encourage them to continuing with their sniffing, by pointing out the treats on the mat to them.
If they keep going to chew or play with the mat, say a loud ‘no’ then take it away so they learn the fun ends if they chew or play with the mat.
When the dog has found all the treats, put it away. Try this exercise a few times a day so they learn that sniffing around on the mat will earn them treats.
Start to make ‘the game’ harder
Once your dog understands the game of sniffing out the easy to find treats, you can then start to hide them deeper in the mat.
If you feed your dog kibble, you can then also start to reduce the treats and start to use their kibble as well. You can then also use your snuffle mat as a way to feed them, rather than from their food bowl, which I consider a wasted opportunity to add some extra enrichment into your dog’s day.
How snuffle mats can help with behaviour
In the wild, a dog would spend their whole day hunting for their food, providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation and tiring them out.
Sadly these days, too many dogs are left languishing in their house or yard with nothing that works their minds, or not enough exercise to tire them out.
This is a often a reason for many of the common dog behaviour problems we see today such as barking, digging, destructive behaviour and anxiety.
Many dogs also gobble down their food before we have even walked away, so using a snuffle mat to feed them their kibble not only slows down fast eaters, but is a great way to add some extra stimulation into their day and keep their brains and bodies moving…not to mention that hugely satisfying action of ‘scenting’.
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 or 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. Check out the Snuffle Mats from Stylish Hound.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a certified dog behaviourist and trainer, pet food nutrition specialist, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of World of Dogs and Eat, Play, Love Your Dog.