Spoiling your old dogs in their twilight years by retiring them to the sofa will not help, instead, letting them play games on a touchscreen may boost their brain skills and stave off cognitive decline, finds a study. Similar to humans, regular brain training and lifelong learning create positive emotions that can slow down mental deterioration in old age.
While physical limitations often do not allow the same sort of training as used for young dogs, researchers at the journal ACM Digital Library suggest computer interaction as a practical 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.
Old age “restricts the opportunities to create positive mental experiences for the animals, which remain capable of learning even in the advanced age”, said lead author Lisa Wallis from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. “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,” Wallis added.
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, the researchers said. Although, it takes some preparation to get the dogs used to the touchscreen, but once the animals have got the trick they turn into avid computer gamers.
“Touchscreen interaction is usually analysed in young dogs. But we could show that old dogs also respond positively to this cognitive training method,” said Ludwig Huber from the varsity. “Above all, the prospect of a reward is an important factor to motivate the animals to do something new or challenging,” Huber noted.
“Regular brain training shakes not only humans, but also dogs out of their apathy in old age, increasing motivation and engagement and thus maximising learning opportunities”, Huber said.
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