You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks: Using Touch Screens To Improve Your Pet’s Health

old dogTouch screens are everywhere in modern day life. We use them to communicate with each other, to do our jobs, and sometimes to distract ourselves from that work. But have you ever considered using them to improve your pet’s health?

Certainly, most internet denizens are familiar with the entertainment apps available for pets that allow your cat or dog to chase fish in a pond or bugs across your screen. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction suggests that apps like this could be useful for improving the lives of older dogs.

Studies have shown that “aging seems to be slowed by mental and physical stimulation, thus stopping these activities might actually lead to faster aging in dogs.” That means that if Fido isn’t getting his enrichment activities, you could be cutting your time with him short. The researchers in this study suggest that touch screen stimulation could help fill this gap for older dogs by giving them a mentally exhausting task that requires very little physical activity.

More than a hundred adult or senior dogs over the course of six years were used in this study. The dogs were trained to use the touch screens in four steps. First, the dog was lured into interacting with the touch screen. This was done using treats and encouragement like training for any other trick. Then the dogs were encouraged use their snout to touch (or to boop in doggo language) a specific image on the screen that appeared in the same position in exchange for a treat. Once the dog mastered that task, the image was moved around the screen. Finally, the dogs were presented with two images, one that was familiar from previous training and one new. Only touching the familiar image would result in a treat. In this way, the dogs were taught to discriminate between images for a reward.

All but three of the dogs in this study were successfully training to accomplish these tasks. After completing each training session, owners reported that their dogs were noticeably tired, suggesting that the activity was mentally stimulating. The researches therefore hope that this stimulation could be sufficient to improve the well-being of older dogs as they age.

This is still very new research and there is much left to be learned about the implications of this type of training on the cognitive and mental well-being of the dogs in addition to how this training will affect the dog-owner bond. But maybe we’re are entering a future where touch screen training will be taught as part of the puppy training classes most of us went through with our own furry companions.

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