Original post: March 12 2018
Welcome back for the second installment of EnrichMonday - bringing you tips, reviews and ideas to incorporate more mental stimulation in your dog's life through enrichment training! Last week I posted the DIY muffin tray puzzle toy - this week is another toy you can build at home.. So long as you have some spare time and aren't prone to tendonitis, repetitive strain injury, frustration, boredom, shoulder/neck pain, calluses, alcoholism or an inability to complete basic yet lengthy tasks. I bring to you my labour of love, the snuffle mat.
I curse the day I decided to make you.
I've been seeing these pop up over the last few months on Facebook enrichment pages and decided to give it a try. There are a lot of perks of using a snuffle mat - the densely packed fabric creates hundreds of little cavities to stash kibble or treats, making it a great puzzle toy to feed an entire meal. Not only that, the soft material makes it suitable for short-nosed breeds that struggle getting immersed in many store-bought puzzle toys, and the toy is "one size fits all". They can also look pretty appealing too if you use some nice colours and your scissor skills are better than a 2 year old wearing mittens (unlike me). There are a few available online and in local pet stores, but to make your own all you need is a few cheap products: a base (I used a Betty Crocker sink protector), some fleece blankets and a pair of scissors.
Start by cutting the fleece blankets into strips, around 1.5-2 inches wide and 8-10 inches long depending on how floofy you want the mat to be. Sounds pretty simple, right? IT TAKES FOREVER. My shoulders still hurt, and my wrists couldn't handle the repetitive motion. It took me a full week to make this toy thanks to years of meticulous laboratory research and part-time serving jobs ruining my hands and wrists. I'm sure able bodied, crafty folks will snort and call me a wuss, but seriously guys.. It huuuuurts.
So.. many.. strips..
Once you've got your strips prepared, it's time to start tying them onto the base. I went for two per hole, and it made a pretty dense mat. You can probably do less and save some time and materials! Simply loop the fleece through the hole, and tie like you would the first part of your shoelace. Loop and tie and loop and tie and loop and tie.. 420 times. It took 420 strips of fleece to make this. I'm glad I wasn't counting as I was making it..
Loop and tie and loop and tie and loop and tie
Since I live such an exciting life, I opted for three colours to add to the visual appeal of this toy for my colour blind dogs. As the mat builds, the fleece gets more and more densely packed, and my will to live decreases significantly.
It all started so well.. Full of enthusiasm, delusion and excitement. Excitement turned to reassurance that I could finish this.. Reassurance becomes exasperation.. Even in my sleep I was tying fleece.
Jokes aside, it is pretty satisfying seeing it come into fruition. It also became a great napping spot this week for Kupo and Brookie!
As the final layer was added to my tricolour triumph, I couldn't help but think how my time could have been better spent this week. In the time it took me to make this, I could have enlightened myself with a book, learned to play a new instrument, practiced my French (Bonjour!), taken an online course, learned to ski.. However, by combining craft time with mindless Netflix, I was pretty on point for my life goal of killing every brain cell I have. But in all seriousness, I'm really not sure the $20 saved making it at home vs buying it online was actually worth it.
I'm pretty sure the dogs could have made a more attractive toy.
As much as I'm complaining about the time taken here, the ultimate goal for this toy was to have a user-friendly feeding toy to slow down meal time and make the most of those little pupper noses. And since I'd do anything for my boys, that means there's only one opinion that counts: doggo.
"Mom would you hurry up and finish so I can use this thing already?"
Doggo Review: Two Paws Up
The boys LOVED it!! It made me smile so much to see their little faces buried in there, snorting around trying to get to their food. When bowl feeding, they're normally done within 1-2 minutes. I scattered half of their normal food onto the mat, and it took about 10 minutes for them to get all the pieces.
Use high reward treats and kibble scattered over the top of the mat for your first attempt.
Push the kibble further down into the mat to make it more challenging!
Remember your manners too - ask for a Sit Stay or Down Stay while preparing the feast! They are so happy with it, I guess I'll take the crippling body pains just to see them enjoying themselves!
All in all, I have to admit it's a pretty neat idea for a toy. However, one major downside of a homemade version (aside from the time and labour) is washability. The boys eat Acana Wild Coast, a fish-based kibble, and after just one practice session the mat STANK. If anyone has a pet-friendly way to clean or mask the odour, please feel free to comment! It would be such a shame to let the toy go to waste!
Whether you buy online or decide to make your own, one thing is for sure - snuffin warms the heart like seeing a happy, fulfilled doggo <3
As with any treat or toy, never leave your dog playing unsupervised. There are risks with any toy, so take necessary precautions to avoid choking or ingestion!