New research has shown that to keep older dogs mentally agile and fit, look to teaching them computer games. (“Using simple tasks that can be solved through touchscreen interaction, followed by a reward, even old dogs remain willing to learn.” ) In the study, the older dogs, like younger humans, really took to the computers and actually became avid gamers. We can just see the national contests and television specials now. Researchers are currently working to make these dog-friendly computer games available for consumers for home use.
Lifelong learning is not just good for people, it is also good for dogs. Dogs are capable of learning even in old age, and constant brain training and mental problem-solving create positive emotions and slow the natural pace of mental deterioration. Unlike puppies or young dogs, however, old dogs are almost never trained or challenged mentally. Senior dogs are usually perfectly integrated into our lives and we often forgive them any disobedience or stubbornness. In addition, due to their increasing physical limitations, we usually spare old dogs the sort of training we might expect from young animals.
Cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna propose computer games as an efficient alternative. Simple mental tasks on the computer, combined with a reward system, can replace physically demanding training and still keep the animals mentally fit even in old age.
“As is the case with people, dopamine production in dogs also falls in old age, leading to a decline in memory and motivational drive. But this natural mental deterioration can be countered with the specific training of cognitive skills.”
-Dr. Lisa Wallis, researcher
Under laboratory conditions, the training works using computer-based brain-teasers. It does take some preparation to get the dogs used to the touchscreen, but once the animals have got the trick they turn into avid computer gamers.
“Regular brain training shakes…dogs out of their apathy in old age, increasing motivation and engagement and thus maximizing learning opportunities.” -Ludwig Huber, senior researcher
The research team hopes that this study will not only motivate technicians and software developers, but also interested dog owners, to consider future cooperation.
Journal Reference: Lisa J. Wallis, Friederike Range, Enikő Kubinyi, Durga Chapagain, Jessica Serra, Ludwig Huber. Utilising dog-computer interactions to provide mental stimulation in dogs especially during ageing. Fourth International Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction,, At Milton Keynes, 2018 DOI: 10.1145/3152130.3152146