Could Touchscreen Games Help Cognitive Ability for Senior Dogs?
8 February, 2018
computer games for older dogs

As in humans, it is important for us to challenge our senior dogs mentally to help with their cognitive ability. Touch screen computer games might help.   Regular brain training and lifelong learning create positive emotions and can slow down mental deterioration in old age. Physical limitations, however, often do not allow the same sort of training as used in young dogs.

A new study from Vienna proposes that computer interaction can help a dog’s cognitive ability

In a new study, a team of researchers led by cognitive biologists from Vetmeduni Vienna propose computer interaction as a practical alternative. In the training lab, old dogs responded positively to cognitive training using educational touchscreen games. The aim now is to get the interactive “dog sudoku” ready for home use.

Lifelong learning is not just good for people, but dogs too

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 can slow down the natural pace of mental deterioration. Unlike puppies or young dogs, however, older dogs are almost never trained or challenged mentally. Senior dogs are usually perfectly integrated into our lives and we often forgive them any disobedience, stubbornness or laziness.

Cognitive biologists in Vienna think computer games can help

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.

Tablet games like “sudoku” for older dogs can help mental acuity

As the dogs get older, however, we increasingly — and unconsciously — reduce the level of regular training and challenges. The author Lisa Wallis explains. “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.”

Positive rewards also motivate older dogs to learn computer brain games

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 dogs got the trick they turn into avid computer gamer.  Of course, the prospect of a reward is an important factor to motivate the animals to do something new or challenging.”

It is still not clear whether dogs slowly forget the things they once learned because of reduced powers of memory or due to a lack of training in old age. Either way, lifelong learning with the touchscreen can help counteract this development.

What’s the takeaway?  Computer games might not work for all older dogs, but the idea behind this study to mentally challenge our dogs even as they are seniors is a good one.  You can read the full study here:  Cognitive Training in Older Dogs

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Photo Credit: Messerli Research Institute/Vetmeduni Vienna

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