By Suzanne Denk, Dip.FBST, Animal Enrichment Specialist
Our pets’ sense of smell is far superior to our own. Sniffing is not only a natural behavior for them but it is also enriching and stimulating for their mind. A sniffing mat can also promote relaxation after physical activity.
The sniffing mat can be a rag rug, fleece or t-shirt strips tied together, a shag carpet square or any fringed mat in which treats can easily be hidden. You can make your own mat with a plastic sink mat. Simply cut 6-inch strips of a t-shirt or fleece and tie a strip securely through each hole in the sink mat.
Knowing your pet’s individual personality will determine how you introduce the sniffing mat activity to them. For example, you will want your dog to understand that this is a sniffing game and the mat is not a toy. Introduce the mat by placing a trail of treats leading to it that your dog will follow with their nose. This will engage their sniffing instinct! Scatter the treats throughout the mat and let your dog search. Cats can be more visual than dogs and may need time to master the sniffing mat. Place the treats where they can easily be seen on the mat. When your cat has learned the mat means they will get treats, hide a few treats in the fringy strips for them to find. Rabbits who are not enticed to chew the fabric can also forage in a sniffing mat. Always pick up the mat when the game is done so that it is not chewed in frustration when there are no treats left.
The sniffing mat is a perfect activity before bedtime because sniffing is hard work and can be tiring. Allow your pet to sniff the mat even if you know all the treats are gone! The game is over when they walk away. Be sure to supervise your pet during this activity, as with all play. In no time, the sniffing mat will be a favorite activity for your pet.