Lick Mats! They're becoming all the rage these days as owners work to have mentally stimulating options at home for their K9 companions. Some of you may be thinking, Well, what the heck are they?!
Here's a basic guide to help you learn what they are, how to use them, and some handy tips and tricks to get you started.
What is a Lick Mat?
A LickiMat is a grooved mat that encourages the act of licking. Usually made of TPR rubber or silicone, most lick mats have individual patterns and textured surfaces that create a grazing maze. These textures and patterns help lock food in so that your dog actively licks at their meal or treat, as opposed to the normal chomping and gobbling.
Why use a Lick Mat?
Using a lick mat encourages the act of licking, which releases pleasure endorphins in your dogs brain. These endorphins can help calm dogs down in stressful situations. Lick mats can:
Provide mental stimulation.
Can be great calming/ positive reinforcing tool for activities like nail trimmings and baths (see below where we used our lick mats to create positive association during our dogs' Rexspecs training).
Encourage slower eating habits.
Create mental stimulation for dogs on restricted exercise.
Types of Lick Mats
LickiMat Classics - Playdate, Buddy and Soothe
These Classic variations are all TPR rubber based, each with a different grooved pattern. Each pattern works to keep food locked in to encourage licking.
The LickiMat Tuff is a sturdier variation of the Classic LickiMat. The LickiMat Tuff is meant for pups that may have a chewing streak, or dogs who may have a tendency to ruin their toys (out of love, of course!).
The LickiMat Slomo is built like the LickiMat Tuff in terms of make, but has different patterned options on the same mat - making it ideal for liquids and soft foods.
The LickiMats Wobbles are great for interactive feeding. The little divots and curved bowl are great for wet ingredients, and the shape is a great option for raw feeders since the contents of the bowl is more contained. See below, where I introduced the LickiMat Wobble for the first time to our two dogs.
The LickiMat Splash has one cool feature that has endless possibilities: A suction cup on the base! The suction cup is a great option for those looking for positive reinforcers for nail clipping, baths, vet trips, and so many other potentially stressful circumstances.
Where can I find one?
Tips and Tricks
Have a Notorious Mat Flipper? Use a Tray!
One great tip when it comes to lick mats is to place the mat inside a baking tray or tin when feeding. This helps discourage pups who are notorious for picking up their lick mats and trying to flip them over.
When it comes to cleaning, lick mats can be tricky. All of those little maze crevices make great spots for extra food to lodge itself, so I usually soak my mats in warm, soapy water after use. I then use a scrubbing brush to dislodge anything left behind. Most lick mats are also dishwasher safe (bottom rack, leaned up against a plate). LickiMat has a quick post on why, here.
Creating Boundaries & Teaching Proper Use
Another great tip when it comes to the lick mat is to create boundaries to ensure that your dog gets the most out of their treat. I always put my lick mats away once the dogs are finished foraging to discourage any rough play with the mats.
Like anything else, your lick mat should only be used when you're around to watch your dog use it. Certain dogs when finished will flip the mats or try and tear at the sides, so making sure you're there to supervise and stop this behavior will ensure that your lick mat lasts more than a few meals. If your dog pulls at the mat, redirect this behavior so that they know how to use the lick mat the correct way.
Things you can use in your Lick Mats:
Wet dog food
Natural peanut butter (xylitol free)
Pure pumpkin puree
Veggie purees (such as green bean or carrot)
Plain greek yogurt
Gelatinous bone broth (like this recipe)
*Tip: Using a squeeze bottle like the one below will make lick mat prep a breeze. I use an upcycled honey squeeze bottle, but any squeeze bottle will do.
DIY Lick Mat - Create One at Home
Unable to get your hands on a lick mat? If you're looking to create a lick mat at home, you can create a food puzzle that encourages the act of licking through the use of muffin tins. Check out how, here.