Downeast Dog News

Snuffle Mats!

Nov 01, 2020

Q. I have a really active pup that needs tons of exercise. If he doesn’t get his long walks, he is into everything. I am worried about this winter when it is icy, and we can’t go out. Any suggestions?

A. All our dogs to some degree need to be exercised physically, mentally, or both. Sometimes you just can’t get out for a long hike. There are mental games you can do inside that will tire your pooch without having to buy a treadmill. In a past article I talked about nose work games. Today I am going to talk about the benefits of snuffle mats.

What is a snuffle mat? These are mats made of polar fleece. They are thick like a shag carpet. You take treats or kibble and bury them deep into the pile. The dog has to search the mat to get the treat. Simple and fun for the dog, but how does this help?

This all goes back to the dog’s nose. Dogs smell at least 10,000 times more than we do. When you take your dog for a walk and let them sniff everything along the way, they are reading the world around them. This process takes energy and concentration. The snuffle mat does the same thing. By the dog concentrating on searching for bits of food deep in the pile he is stimulating his brain and breathing deeply to catch all the information his nose can find. You can equate this to our reading a complicated book. Remember how tired you can get from concentrating?

You can use the snuffle mat to train your dog to do other things. Use the word “find it” and send the dog to the mat. Later you can use the command to find other things. Also, the mat can be the reward when training other skills such as stay, wait, sit, down and so on.

Another big benefit of snuffle mats to the dog is the deep breathing they are doing while searching the mat. Since COVID, one of the recommendations to stay healthy is to do breathing exercises. Besides filling and expanding your lungs, these exercises decrease stress, and actually stimulate your immune system to be stronger. There is a lot of research on the benefit of deep breathing bringing oxygen down to the cellular level stimulating the cellular energy needed to keep us healthy. This is happening in the dog when it uses its nose.

This exercise with the snuffle mat doesn’t need to be a long process. Just like any other nose games your dog engages in, the whole exercise can be done in minutes depending on the amount of treats hidden in the mat.

You can buy the mats already made on Etsy, Amazon, and some pet stores. Making one is easy and cheaper than buying one. All you need is a rubber sink mat about 12 by 15 inches, and about a yard to a yard and a half of cheap fleece, don’t get the thick fleece that is too hard to knot. Cut the fleece into 1 inch by 6-inch strips. You will then knot the fleece strips through the holes in the sink mat. There you have it!

One word of caution: to make this work, you need to use smelly tiny treats to start and push them deep into the mat so the dog has to work at getting them out.

Have fun!


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine