The Snuffle Mat
What on earth is this thing?!
A shag rug? Dog bed? Nope! It is a bowl, of sorts. It is also an activity mat for your pet. These are most commonly used for pigs, house dogs and nose work dogs. You can also use them with your cats (although I'm sure some cats would have other plans than to have this in their house but surprisingly cats do adore them) and small animals!
But seeing as I don't have any pigs or cats I'll just talk about my experiences with my dogs and mouse.
I very often recommend these to my clients. These mats have such a wonderful purpose. For example I have a dog (Kylie AKA Monkey) who refuses to chew her food. Yup, no chewing. From day one she will shove her face in the bowl and just inhale. I started with putting tennis balls in her bowl to make this difficult, and of course, after I realized that they didn't slow her down, I spend hundreds of dollars on those funky looking "slow bowls."
Slow?!?!?! Are you kidding me? The only thing that they changed was how long it takes me to clean them.
Why does my dog need to slow down her eating speed? Eating too fast can cause gastric dilatation, or volvulus (AKA bloat). Bloat is a serious condition and can occur when a dog swallows too much air during a meal causing distension of the stomach and predisposing it to twist over on itself, I believe this was what happened to Marley, in "Marley and Me."
So I don't want that and I started looking into what else I can do besides picking up her bowl every so often. During my web surfing I discovered snuffle mats. My first impression was pure excitement. When I showed my mom a picture she looked at me like I was nuts. "Why would I want a rug?" To me I could see all of the training possibilities along with the safety benefits for my Monkey.
How do they work?
Here is the easy part. You just turn them on. Just kidding. You literally pour your dogs kibble or treats around on the mat. Thats it. It's just like putting the food in a bowl. The kibble will fall into the little pockets. Your dog will then start sniffing around to try and find the next piece.
Thats cool, but is that it? Heck no!
What this mat does is force your dog to use their beautiful canine instincts. This does wonders. Some breeds of dogs (pugs, bulldogs, etc.) don't rely on their noses as much as they could. This nose work is mentally stimulating and the perk is that mental stimulation can be as exhausting as physical exercise. Yep! That's right. What's more is that these mats are also used in nose work. For those of you who don't already know, nose work is a type of training that is used for search and rescue, drug detecting, and other jobs or games that dogs have to use their nose. Getting a dog to use their nose instead of their eyes is tricky when you don't speak the same language. Mats like this can help teach your dog that there is more to the world than what comes out of our hands, pockets or bags.
So let's review. Snuffle mats can save your dogs life, help with training, AND access their natural canine instincts mentally stimulating them! Right now you should be asking why you don't already have one of these.
How they are made
There are a few different ways to make them but the basics are all the same. I'll be using how I make mine as an example.
The mats are just a non slip rubber mat that you can get at almost any hardware shops as well as online. Seeing as I will be making these constantly I wanted a mat that was going to last and be big enough that I would be able to use it to make more than one snuffle mat. So I went with one that was 36x36 inches like this one and cut it up into 9 squares. The next material is fleece (polyester). I made a trip to JoAnn's and picked out the colors that I think would be generally liked. After I cut the mat into 12x12 squares and the fleece into strips (approx. 2inWx 11inL) I got started. You tie the strips in different directions through the holes in the mat. My 12x12 mats used about 150 strips. But that's it. It is simple enough but quite time consuming.
These mats are made of 100% rubber and 100% fleece (polyester).
How to clean them
Cleaning them is simple and super easy depending on where you live. So I live in Sunny Southern California which means most of the year is bright and beautiful. Why is this important? Snuffle mats need to air dry. So to wash them you just hose them off and then lay them out to dry. My dogs are big drool machines so they tend to get a little more ick on their mats than my moms little tiny dogs. So I use a spray made with a mix of a gentle detergent and water on the gross spots and then give it one last rinse and lay them out to dry and I wash them weekly, when I wash the dog bedding, unless they seem to be a bit gross (hasn't happened yet thankfully).
I have found a small group of people online who claim that they successfully wash theirs on a gentle cycle, as not to break their washing machines. I don't recommend this and have not tried it myself, but again, I haven't needed to. If you don't live in an area where you can easily dry yours off I recommend having more than one. That way, when washing day comes, you will be able to not stress over if your mat is still wet and if it will create a sticky kibble soup when your dogs next meal.
Introducing them to your dog
As of June 2017 I have not heard of anyone having any problems with their dog not understanding what they are supposed to do once you pour their precious dinner onto the mat and give them the cue to dig in. But let's say for some reason your do refuses to approach the mat, what do you do? This will take a tiny big of work but it's still super easy. Before you put your dogs dinner on the mat just put the mat on the ground, and the moment your dog goes from looking at you to looking at the mat give him a treat, verbally praise him while you pick up the mat and repeat a few more times. After a while you can leave the mat down longer and reward when the dog moves closer to the mat or touches the mat. Once your dog understands that you do your happy dance which equals a rain of treats, you can start putting the treats on the mat. From there you just start feeding him his food on the mat.
If your dog is getting faster at eating from the mat you can pet the mat to move the kibble further down to the mat instead of higher up the fleece strips. Doing this basically increases the difficulty of the mat. This mat would have saved me from buying more "advance" slow bowls after I learned the basic ones were no good for my crazy eating machine.