What the heck is a snuffle mat?
A snuffle mat is simply a web of fleece strips that we hide yummy treats in. The strips are tied into a heavy rubber platform to keep them in place.
Dog’s (and even cats) will have to use their nose and brains to solve the puzzle and find hidden treats within.
It’s a strange-looking thing. But once you see it in action it’s actually quite clever (and easy to make at home).
We can increase the difficulty of the puzzle by using longer fleece strips, or by increasing the density of fleece. If your dog tends to get bored quickly then we’ll want a lower difficulty and to use less fleece.
Running a test with two very interested Wiener dogs I found the snuffle mat kept them occupied for about 5 minutes before needing a refill.
What are the benefits of a snuffle mat?
First and foremost, it keeps your dog occupied and tires them out by making them use their brains. Great for a rainy day activity.
Secondly, it’s an excellent tool for encouraging nose work. A study by dog researcher Alexandra Horowitz of the Dog Cognition Lab suggests dogs were more willing to investigate a stimulus of uncertainty, and may experience optimism in doing so.
Dogs who participated in two weeks of nosework games, but not dogs who had participated in heelwork, decreased their latencies to approach an ambiguous stimulus in the cognitive bias test — often taken as a sign of optimism in animals.2019. (Duranton & Horowitz). Let me sniff! Nosework induces positive judgment bias in pet dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 211, 61-66.
Also, it allows dogs to work for their food. It wasn’t too long ago that dogs (and even humans) had to work for their meal in the form of hunting. Food puzzles are more akin to their natural drive to solve problems in order to receive their reward.
To quickly sum up: snuffle mats are fun, challenging, makes dogs smarter, and keeps them occupied for a short time. Awesome.
Alright I’m Sold, How do I make one?
You’ll need a few things.
- 12×12″ rubber mat with holes (found at Home Depot, Walmart, or most hardware stores)
- About 1.5 yards of fleece (split into multiple colors to make it pop)
- Sharp scissors that can cut fleece
- A ruler
- Rotary fabric cutter
- Cutting Mat
Step 1: Cut Out Fabric Strips
For a 12×12 mat you will need a minimum of 116 individual strips.
Each strip will be 1.5 inches wide. Length is determined by the level of difficulty of the puzzle.
Lengths and Difficulty
- 12″ length = Easy
- 14″ length = Medium
- 16″ length = Hard
How do I choose which difficulty?
Does your dog go absolutely bananas when it’s dinner time? Do they have seemingly endless energy or always up for a new challenge? Then you can try medium or hard difficulty.
If your dog’s demeanor is a little more laid back – go for easy difficulty.
Tip: Cut one fleece strip perfectly with a ruler, then use that single strip as your guide. Lay the perfectly cut strip on top of your fleece, and cut along side it. This should make the process a little faster.
Make it fancy: You can make your mat pop by alternating colors. Divide your fleece strips into two or even three different colors.
Step 2: Tie Strips Into Mat
Flip the rubber mat upside down, and push a single fleece strip through two side-by-side holes. Flip the mat right side up and tie a single knot. That’s one down.
Now repeat the process (about one hundreds times). Once you get a rhythm down it goes pretty fast. You can easily watch TV while tying knots.
You can also alternate colors or create a neat pattern. Here’s an example of mine.
Step 3: Let’s Party!
Flip the mat right side up and lay on the floor, take a hand full of treats or kibble and spread it into the mat. Massage the treats into the fleece so the treats are well hidden.
Unleash the hounds and enjoy.
I guarantee from this point forward your dogs will start bouncing around with excitement when you pull the mat out.
On rainy or snowy days I’ll use the snuffle mat to serve dinner to burn off some energy. I’ll simply take their normal serving of kibbles, and spread handfuls out into the mat every 10 or so minutes (giving them small breaks in between.)
Depending on your dogs relationship with each other; I do recommend allowing just one dog to enjoy at a time. Multiple dogs may create some unhealthy competition.
How To Wash Your Snuffle Mat
Over time the fleece strips on your snuffle mat will get full of food and drool.
The good news is you can clean them.
However, I recommend against using the washing machine. The heavy rubber mat may cause problems on a spin cycle.
Furthermore, I recommend against using laundry detergent or other chemical soaps. Remember; your dog will be sniffing and eating from the fabric and may ingest small amounts of remaining soap.
Option 1: Hand Washing In Kitchen Sink
- Turn the snuffle mat upside down and shake vigorously to remove any remaining kibbles or treats.
- Use your hand to comb through the fleece strips.
- Fill your kitchen sink with cold water and a mild soap.
- Let the snuffle mat soak in the soapy water for an hour.
- Drain. Rinse mat very thoroughly with cold water until no more suds are present.
- Hang outside to dry. Ideally in the sun.
- Occasionally reposition the fleece strips to ensure air is reaching all areas. We don’t want bacteria growing in the moisture.
Option 2: Start Over
This is the option I personally use. Basically, once my snuffle mat starts to look old and crusty; I just cut out all the old fabric and replace it with brand new strips.
You can usually find cheap fleece at the thrift store from an old blanket or sweater. Or wait until there is a sale at the fabric store.