The approach might stave off mental decline.
Just like people, dogs need lifelong learning to keep their brains sharp, researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna say.
And educational touchscreen games appear to be well-suited to the task, they found.
The researchers say regular brain training can slow down mental deterioration in aging dogs, according to a press release. But few families give older dogs the same types of training they'd give their younger counterparts.
“Yet this restricts the opportunities to create positive mental experiences for the animals, which remain capable of learning even in old age,” said first author Lisa Wallis. “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.”
Cognitive biologists found that simple mental tasks on the computer, combined with a reward system, can replace physically demanding training and still keep the animals mentally fit.
They used tasks that can be solved through touchscreen interaction — and the dogs quickly became "avid gamers."
“The positive feeling created by solving a mental challenge is comparable to the feeling that older people have when they learn something new, doing something they enjoy. Regular brain training shakes not only us, but also dogs out of their apathy in old age, increasing motivation and engagement and thus maximising learning opportunities”, said senior author Ludwig Huber.
The aim now is to get the interactive “dog sudoku” ready for home use.
The research team hopes the study will not only motivate technicians and software developers, but also interested dog owners, to consider future cooperation, according to the press release.
“Our scientific approach could result in an exciting citizen science project to increase the understanding of the importance of lifelong learning in animals,” Wallis said.