What do snuffle mats, pickpockets, lick mats, and fortune cookies have to do with dogs, dog training, and dog behaviour? These are just some of the most interesting canine enrichment – or brain games – I’ve seen recently.
The Oxford Dictionary defines enrichment as “the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something.” Now add “canine” to “enrichment,” and you can see that the goal is to improve our dogs’ lives by enhancing their environment in a more meaningful and rewarding way. It is not a replacement for your dog’s social interaction, but it can help dogs who have difficulty in social situations.
The key to using any canine enrichment activity or brain game is to start slow; keep your ideas simple at first. Allow your dog to proceed at their own pace, gradually building their confidence before adding more complicated exercises. Set your dog up for success!
For example, when using a snuffle mat for the first time, place your dog’s kibble or treats on top of the mat. When using a puzzle toy, make sure to start with easy access to the treats. If trying a lick mat, use sloppy food loosely placed in the crevices to encourage your dog to lick rather than chew the mat. As your dog gains confidence and starts using their brain, you can increase the difficulty level.
Dogs who find the exercise too difficult will often get frustrated and walk away from the activity or toy. A more confident dog may easily outwit the exercise. I learned my lesson a few years ago, when I gave my dog Molly a more complicated puzzle toy. Being pretty smart and confident, she picked the toy up, flipped it over, and all the treats came spilling out at once. We went back to building the puzzle part up one treat at a time. Eventually I presented her with the same puzzle toy filled with her kibble/treats, but this time though it took her about 20 minutes to complete – by using her brain and nose.
As with all toys, it is essential to always supervise your dog when you are providing a canine enrichment activity or brain game toy. If you are giving your dog a hollow toy, make sure there are at least two holes to maintain airflow. Be aware that when stuffing any toy, such as a Kong, you may end up blocking that second hole. Supervise, supervise, and delight in your dog’s enjoyment of canine enrichment.
How could something like a snuffle mat help your dog who practically inhales his food when eating?
A snuffle mat is made up of fleece strips tied to a rubber mat with holes in it. The loose ends of the fleece are a great hiding spot for your dog’s kibble, slowing down their eating habits and providing them with an opportunity to use their nose to search for hidden treasures.
Instructions on how to make your own snuffle mat can be found on the internet. One of my favourite instruction videos is by the Calgary Humane Society and can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJQY08LPfts. But do not fear, if you don’t want to make your own there are many small craft business owners who make and sell them online.