Letting your dog get away with disobedience won’t benefit it during its old age, a new study has found.
Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna discovered that, instead, having your elderly dog play games on a touch screen might stave off cognitive decline.
The scientists found that brain training and problem solving can slow the pace of brain deterioration. But the older dogs that could benefit from the training are rarely introduced to it.
The study explains: ‘Unlike puppies or young dogs, 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.’
The researchers who conducted the study say that computer games are a good alternative to physical training, which many older dogs cannot complete. They claim these can help your dog stay mentally fit at the age when mental facilities usually decline.
According to the new study computer games paired with a reward system when dogs participate in them can replace demanding physical training and increase dogs’ brainpower.
This process was tested during the study in a laboratory, and researchers say the next step is converting it to a living room-friendly format.
The study compared computer games for elderly dogs to elderly humans doing Sudoku puzzles.
Study author Lisa Wallis explained that older dogs typically aren’t pushed to socialize or challenged with the same frequency younger dogs are.
The study says: ‘As the dogs get older, we increasingly – and unconsciously – reduce the level of regular training.’
But Wallis emphasized that this isn’t a favor to older dogs. She explained: ‘This restricts the opportunities to create positive mental experiences for the animals, which remain capable of learning 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.’
The researchers who worked on the study admitted that it was challenging to get dogs acclimate to touch screens. ‘But once the animals have got the trick they turn into avid computer gamers,’ the study said.
Scientists found that, even though touch screen usage is usually only evaluated among younger pets, it can be an effective training tool for older dogs.
Study author Ludwig Huber explained: ‘Touch screen interaction is usually analyzed in young dogs, but we could show that old dogs also respond positively to this cognitive training method.’
Huber said that rewarding dogs when they take part in such training is of the utmost importance, commenting: ‘Above all, the prospect of a reward is an important factor to motivate the animals to do something new or challenging.’
The authors said that the feelings dogs get when completing brain teasers on a touch screen is akin to the feeling older people get when they learn something new while doing something enjoyable.
Huber said: ‘Regular brain training shakes not only us but also dogs out of their apathy in old age, increasing motivation and engagement and thus maximizing learning opportunities.’
Scientists have not determined whether or not mental deterioration among dogs happens as a result of slower recollection powers or a lack of training.
But they now know that touch screen brain teasers can help.
‘The research team hopes that this study will not only motivate technicians and software developers but also interested dog owners to consider future cooperation,’ the study said.
Wallis expressed enthusiasm for the development, saying: ‘Our scientific approach could result in an exciting citizen science project to increase the understanding of the importance of lifelong learning in animals.’