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My dog Walter, a spunky Dachshund, can be described as having two settings: on and off. To help us all out, I’m focusing on training “calm” behavior through hunting techniques and nosework. And one tool, in particular, has been a lifesaver: a snuffle mat. Elegantly simple, it’s just the thing to keep Walter busy.
The snuffle mat consists of rows of fleece strips in which treats can be hidden. Using one of these as my training tool, I’m teaching Walter to use his brain and his hunting instincts. This helps him burn off energy, and I’m particularly grateful for it when our walks are shorter due to busy schedules and weather. Any tool that encourages natural foraging skills is perfect for our pack.
I’ve tried and reviewed a lot of puzzle toys, and this one remains among our favorites. It easily fits into our routine. I typically swap in new interactive tools every week or the dogs get BORED, but the snuffle mat stays in the rotation.
Snuffle Mat Options
Honestly, the basic concept behind these mats is pretty simple. You can even make one if you’re so inclined! This is a great DIY Snuffle Mat video we made here at Rover. This is another guide I liked, as well.
I’m not very crafty, so I bought the Paw5 Snuffle Mat from Amazon. It’s been well worth it. It may seem expensive, but I’ve found that it’s stood the test of time over countless hours of use. I can’t speak to the quality of cheaper alternatives, but there are certainly many snuffle mat options on the market now that you can test out.
Dog trainer Annie Grossman has also written in some detail about her favorite snuffle mats.
This sturdy classic is worth its price thanks to its handmade, hardy construction and non-toxic, sustainable, and upcycled materials. It’s machine-washable to boot—necessary, given all the licking and food contact it sustains. Be sure to supervise your dog while they play with this snuffle mat, especially if they’re enthusiastic chewers.
Using enrichment tools like this means that when the dogs are bored, they don’t look for ways to entertain themselves and get in trouble. I just fill up the snuffle mat with treats and each dog gets their turn (while the others wait behind the baby gate). The mat can take about 10 minutes of focused play.
Tips for Snuffle Mat Success
- You can essentially just throw kibble or treats on top of the mat. However, “hiding” treats in the snuffle mat makes it harder for your dogs, and my Walter needs the ultimate challenge.
- Break your treats into tiny pieces. It’s easy to make this hunting exercise last for a while if you hide a lot of really small treats throughout the mat.
- This game should be monitored. I caught Walter starting to chew on the snuffle mat’s fleece once, which he would have ingested at some point. Not every dog would do this, but Walter also chews blankets…
- We use “find it” as our nosework cue, so that’s what I use for this game.
- 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.” I doubt two dogs can share the snuffle mat nicely.
My 13-year-old dog, Bruiser, loves this mat, too. Since his walks are a little shorter due to achy joints, the mat is an important enrichment tool for him. In general, it’s a great option for dogs with cognitive issues. We’re trying to work with Bruiser now to ensure the aging process is easy on him.
According to this article on Ohio State University’s Indoor Pet Initiative, “‘[Teaching] an old dog new tricks’ has been shown to improve learning and memory” for senior pets, particularly those with cognitive dysfunction.
In other words: 10 minutes a day keeps the doctor away! Try an interactive puzzle toy with your senior for just 10 minutes daily and your senior dog will love you for it. You can even try tossing some soft veggies in the snuffle mat, if they like them. Bruiser enjoys baby carrots in his snuffle mat.
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.