Brain training for old dogs
Researchers at one of Europe’s leading veterinary universities have suggested a surprising solution to slow mental deterioration in ageing dogs – canine computer games.
In a study, a team led by cognitive biologists from the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) have said spoiling old dogs in their twilight years – by retiring them to the sofa and forgiving them their stubbornness or disobedience – is not good for them.
Instead, researchers said regular brain training and lifelong learning create positive emotions, and can slow mental deterioration in old age and improve quality of life.
Physical limitations, however, often do not allow the same sort of training as used in young dogs, so researchers have proposed computer interaction as a practical alternative.
The team said simple mental tasks on a computer, combined with a reward system, can replace physically demanding training and keep animals mentally fit, even in old age. Under laboratory conditions, the training works using computer-based brain-teasers, though it took some preparation to get the dogs used to the touchscreen.
Senior author Ludwig Huber said: “Touchscreen interaction is usually analysed in young dogs. But we could show old dogs also respond positively to this cognitive training method.
“Above all, the prospect of a reward is an important factor to motivate the animals to do something new or challenging.
“The positive feeling created by solving a mental challenge is comparable to the feeling older people have when they learn something new, doing something they enjoy.”
Regular brain training also shakes dogs out of their apathy in old age – increasing motivation and engagement, and maximising learning opportunities, said Dr Huber. Researchers are aiming to take the interactive “dog sudoku” out of the laboratory and into the living room.