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February 14, 2018

Want your pet to age gracefully? Study finds tablet games can help

by John_A

Messerli Research Institute/Vetmeduni Vienna

People will do just about anything for their dogs but spoiling our pets can often do more harm than good. Dogs need stimulation, discipline, and a reasonable amount of mental exercise, even in old age. The problem is as dogs mature, their humans tend to get lax on training and let their pets get away with lounging around and acting all stubborn.

Now, researchers from the Clever Dog Lab at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna are conducting trials on a high-tech way to keep dogs engaged into old age. In a study recently published on the ACM Digital Library, the researchers used tablet games and touchscreen devices as a form of brain training for dogs, which they say can help pets stay more cognitively alert.

“We have been training and testing pet dogs since around 2008,” Lisa Wallis, a researcher and first author of the study, told Digital Trends. “Dogs of all ages … and different breeds and mixed breeds travelled to the lab and were trained by researchers and dog trainers. Over the years we have perfected our training technique and protocol. Due to the fact that we had a project running on senior dogs, we used the touchscreen to look for age differences in cognitive abilities. Many of the dog owners who participated were very skeptical about whether their dogs could learn to use the touchscreen. Indeed, the older dogs took longer to train, but were able to learn the protocol and to complete the tasks we set them.”

Within the Clever Dog Lab, Wallis and her colleagues put pets to the test with tablet-based brain-teasers that challenged the animals to interact with a touchscreen and complete simple digital tasks. For example, selecting an icon with its nose would elicit a treat from the trainer. It may have taken them more time but even older dogs seemed to eventually get the hang of it.

“The fact that the older dogs were able to learn such abstract and sometimes difficult tasks was very encouraging,” she said. “Not only were they able to learn, but many owners remarked how much their dogs enjoyed their touchscreen sessions.”

Wallis said this makes her optimistic that pet-centric tools like Pup Pod and CleverPet may help young dogs mature and mature dogs stay youthful, and she hopes to see more interactive toys enter the market. However, Wallis cautioned that animals are individuals too and what might positively stimulate one dog might frustrate another.

“Therefore for any pet, it is important to monitor their behavior and look for signs of stress when interacting with technology,” she said.

But if your dog seems to enjoy it, let her play! After all, if humans can benefit from technology, why shouldn’t our pets?

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