Dogs love to use their noses. They're always sniffing for dropped table scraps or checking out which dogs have visited the front yard. And dogs have amazing noses. To help them pick up scents, they have about 300 million olfactory receptor cells, while we have a measly 5 million.
Dogs also love to eat. Dinnertime is their favorite time, second only to maybe breakfast. Or anytime there's a treat involved.
So why not combine their two great loves into a homemade toy that lets them use their amazing noses to sniff for treats?
I sometimes play scent games with my dog where I hide treats under boxes or cups when he's not looking and then tell him "find it!" He goes bounding about, his nose going nuts as he searches wildly for those yummy bits of food. A snuffle mat makes that game so much more fun.
A snuffle mat is a pad with strips of fleece where you tuck in your dog's treats or his daily kibble. He has to go sniffing and snuffling in the mat to find each piece. It offers mental stimulation and teaches dogs to do a little tracking or what's known as nosework. It also slows down fast eaters so they can't scarf their food so quickly.
I made a snuffle mat for the little blind puppy I'm currently fostering. He can't see, but his nose works overtime. I thought it would be a fun way for him to eat his meals.
How to make a snuffle mat
You only need two things to make a simple mat:
A grid-style sink mat. I found one that was 12.5 inches by 10.8 inches for $5 at Target. Some people have used anti-fatigue mats from home improvement stores, but they are much larger (and more expensive) and you have to have them cut down to size.
Fleece. Depending on the size of your mat and how long you want to make your strips, you need about a yard to a yard and a half of fleece. I used a little less than a yard for mine. Because I didn't care what mine looked like, I bought half a yard each of two different patterns that were on sale for just $1/yard each. Try not to get a very heavy weight fleece because it's more difficult to work with.
Cut the fleece into strips about an inch or so wide and about 6-7 inches long. They don't have to be exact and you can vary the lengths and widths a little to make the mat more interesting.
Take a strip and poke it through a hole in the mat and poke the other end through the hole next to it. Tie it tight on the other side. There's no need to double-knot it unless your strips are really long.
Keep doing this until you've filled all the holes. Then look at your completed mat from the other side. If you see any spots that look sparse, go ahead and fill them in with extra strips. You don't want food to be able to fall through to the other side.
When completed your mat should look something like the photos above.
How to use your mat
Once you have your mat finished, it's time to bring on the dog!
With my foster puppy right now, I'm just scattering most of his kibble near the top of the mat and pushing a few deeper in between the strips. He finds the easy ones first and then goes snuffling for the rest. I say "find it!" when I put him down in front of the mat so he knows that he's hunting for something fun.
Of course, my dog Brodie is on standby, eagerly ready to step in and "help" the puppy if he can't find all the food. If I use this mat for Brodie, I would have to make it much tougher, pushing all the food deep down in the strips before he gets to play.
One note: Be sure not to leave the mat alone with your dog. Even the little puppy was so intensely working on his snuffling that he untied a few strips while hunting for food. He easily could've chewed off some fleece and eaten it if he'd wanted to. So this is a supervised game. Fleece covered in kibble and dog drool will start to taste yummy after time.