Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Snuffle mats are an unexpected food puzzle option for dogs of any age or ability

Enrichment is super-important for companion animals, so as a pet care professional, I'm always on the lookout for ways to incorporate it during my visits. I'll make suggestions to my families, sure, and they often follow through with setting up their pets nicely. That doesn't stop me from using my intuition when I need to when stepping up my game is required: usually by day 4-5 in my care, dogs need a little extra help in keeping their minds and bodies busy, while for cats, they can always use some brain work

Today, I'm going to focus on dogs if that's okay. 

I hear the old adage, '...a tired dog is a good dog', but I'll admit it makes me cringe at times. It seems as though the focus is so honed in on the physical aspects of what a dog needs, that the mental and emotional part of their being goes ignored. Sure, activity is essential—appropriate for a dog's age and ability, of course—but is there a mental component to it that suits them? Not always. 

Food toys are a favorite tool of mine, but they're not all created equally—and nor do they need to cost much, if anything at all. Kongs are great for power chewers, as are Pickle Pockets. I've crafted homemade foraging toys from upcycled cardboard boxes and anything in between for average dogs, too. 

But one of my favorite suggestions to families are snuffle mats. Homemade or purchased, these gems provide a foraging experience unlike no other. 

Typically crafted from fleece or upcycled materials, a finished snuffle mat has tufts of fabric or sustainable materials. It's in between those tufts that kibble or dry treats are deposited and hidden for the lucky dog to root out. Using one is a brain game that is suitable for most any dog, no matter their age, physical ability or skill level. Because they're made from soft materials, I find them especially useful for dogs who are noise- or touch-sensitive and find other food puzzles to be to troubling. That softness, along with the fact snuffle mats lie flat on floor and stay put, make them my go-to choice for dogs with limited mobility or are in hospice. They're also great for second-story residents because, well, no noise. 

You can purchase one, like the Wooly Snuffle Mat in the video below, but if you're a DIY kind of family, you can easily craft one from scratch for your pooch. In either case, if your pet has a predilection to chew or destroy things, supervision during use is recommended. 

Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter, Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion, and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's also a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitters International, Pet Professional Guild, International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (supporting member) and Ann Arbor Area Pet Sitters. Lorrie can be found at lorrieshaw.com. She tweets at @psa2.

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