When it comes to raising a happy and healthy dog, most pet parents know physical exercise is essential. But, did you know mental stimulation is just as important? Like people, dogs get bored. And do you know what happens when a dog gets bored? Yup! They find creative ways to amuse themselves. (In ways we usually don’t like. Think: excessive barking, destructive chewing, digging holes, etc.)
Here’s the good news: There are many different ways you can fire up your dog’s mind:
- Go for a leisurely stroll around your neighborhood. One where your pup gets to smell around, check the pee-mail, and take time to soak in his surroundings.
- Work on new tricks. Training is a fantastic way to work your pup’s mind.
- Try agility training. A mix of physical and mental challenges? Now that’s a win!
- And, last but certainly not least, let your pooch play with various interactive toys and puzzles.
Let’s focus on #4! There are plenty of puzzles made specifically for dogs. They pretty much all include little compartments to stuff with treats, and then it’s up to your pup to figure out how to break the treats free! Along with the store-bought selection, you can also make your own stimulating doggy game. Enter: the snuffle mat.
What’s A Snuffle Mat?
A snuffle mat is a popular nose work, brain game. It consists of fleece fabric strips tied onto a sturdy backing. You hide dog treats inside the fleece — behind the many folds and even deep inside where the fleece meets the backing — for your dog to sniff out, find, and then eat.
The idea behind this simple yet genius game is to mimic the foraging and hunting activities our dogs’ wild ancestors engaged in on a regular basis.
From developing puppies to aging seniors, this enrichment toy is perfect for all dogs!
How To Make a DIY Snuffle Mat
While you can buy a snuffle mat from an online retailer or pet store, you can easily make one yourself. It’s inexpensive, fun to put together, and super rewarding when you watch your dog enjoying your creation!
Watch as I show you how easy a DIY snuffle mat is to make:
- Base – You’ve got a couple of options:
- A rubber sink mat (this one is the exact one I used in the video above) is perhaps your best bet because it’s sturdy and already has perfectly placed holes.
- If you don’t have a sink mat and would like to make this project today then you can use a cardboard box. Use a box cutter or scissor to carefully cut one solid piece of cardboard. Then, with a Sharpie, mark your cardboard with rows of dots, one-inch apart. Using a screwdriver, follow the dots and punch holes through the cardboard. Voilá — a makeshift base that works just as well!
- Fleece – I like to use two colors to create variation. The exact amount will depend on the size of your mat and the width of the strips you cut. I used some cheap fleece blankets, like THESE!
- Scissors – To cut the fleece into strips.
- Mini screwdriver, skewer stick, or capped pen (optional) – To help you easily push the fabric through the base.
Step #1 Cut the fleece into strips. Aim to get your strips 1″ wide by 6-8″ long. This doesn’t have to be perfect. Some can be a little longer or shorter than others. For my 12.5″ x 11″ sink mat, I needed 260 strips. (So, 130 strips of each color if you are following my same pattern)
Step #2 Weave the fleece strips through the mat, starting with a hole in the upper corner. Take one end of a fleece strip and push it through the hole closest to the mat’s edge. Then, push the opposite end through the very next hole. Flip the mat over and tie a single knot (no need for a double knot).
Step #3 Moving in the same direction, repeat Step #2 until the entire mat is covered with fleece. Up until this point, you’ll want to stick to one color.
Step #4 With your second fleece color, repeat Step #2 and Step #3 in the opposite direction. Since there will be a lot of fleece on the mat by this time, you may want to use a mini screwdriver, skewer stick, or capped pen to help you easily push the fabric through.
When you’re done weaving and tying, the front and back should look like this:
Teaching Your Dog to Use a Snuffle Mat
If your dog has never played with a snuffle mat before, place his favorite treats on top of the fleece strips, give it to your dog, and let him munch away. Then, on round 2, increase the challenge by burying the treats a little deeper into the strips. I promise your dog will get the hang of it in no time!
Like with any interactive toy, supervise your pooch while playing. Also, after your pooch is done playing, give the mat a quick shake to make sure no crumbs were left behind!
Need Treat Recipes?
If you’re a regular here then you know I’m a big advocate of ditching most store-bought, processed treats and making them at home. I love getting to control the ingredients that go inside my pups’ snacks.
For the snuffle mat, I recommend using a solid treat that won’t leave behind a fishy odor. You also want to avoid frozen treats that will just leave a melted mess.
Check out my biscuit recipes collection HERE! Plus, THIS chicken jerky would be another great treat for the snuffle mat. If your pooch has dental issues, my Banana Bread Soft Chew treats would even be a good option. You can get that recipe HERE!
If you want more healthy, gluten-free, and grain-free recipes, check out my cookbook, Proud Dog Chef: Tail-Wagging Good Treat Recipes.