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Pet Column: Top pick toy for canine enrichment

Olive and Bandit enjoy sniffing out the treats in their scuffle mats. Photo by Elle Williams.

By Elle Williams, CCPDT-KA  
Pet Columnist, Canyon Lake Insider  

The scuffle mat is by far one of the least talked about dog toys that deserves way more exposure. In a nutshell shell, scuffle mats are mats you lay down for your dog to sniff around and find hidden treats or kibble. 

Most mats use felt cloth to create obstacles and hiding places for treats and kibble. Some resemble tall blades of grass where your dog must sniff among the felt to get to their dinner. Others are intricate, with pockets, folds, cups, and cutouts resembling flower pedals and other beautiful designs. 

On Etsy I have seen some really talented artists come up with beautiful designs, I almost feel bad placing kibble in and among the mat. Luckily the mats can be thrown in the laundry machine when they need a good cleaning.

The obvious use for scuffle mats is to slow down your dog while eating, but there is much more to these clever mats.

Slowing down your pup while eating also means working their mind. Mental enrichment using food as a motivator is by far one of the best ways to work a dog’s mind. So how is it a mental workout? One-eighth of a dog’s brain is devoted to analyzing smells. It’s a whopping 40 times larger than a human’s. Working a dog’s nose means working a dog’s mind.

With folds and pockets as obstacles, a dog not only has to find the food but also figure out a way to get to it, adding an extra challenge—much more fun than being given a bowl of kibble.

There’s another benefit to scuffle mats, the mat provides a sniffing activity that calms a stressed-out dog. 

Recently, I was working with a dog who has a fear of dog trainers. She had a bad experience with a trainer who used adverse training methods. Even me reaching into my treat bag made her uncontrollably bark at me. So I took out a scuffle mat, hid a bunch of her favorite treats among the folds, and let her use her nose to scuffle around. When she was barking she wasn’t using her nose, but when she was finding treats, her nose did all the work and allowed her mind to settle, which made it easier for me to get close enough to gain her trust while she relaxed due to the soothing nature of sniffing.

So there you have it, the amazing scuffle mat. Clam a stress-out pup, slow down a speedy eater, and work out an energized mind. 

Elle Williams is a local in-home dog trainer and the owner of Give a Sit Dog Training. She is certified in dog psychology, nutrition, and grooming, and specializes in basic and advanced obedience, puppy prep, and behavior adjustment training.

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