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Video games could help dogs stay young

Miley and Tiara don’t look like geeks addicted to their screens. These two short-haired collars have convinced researchers that video games can help canine brains stay young.

The two animals participated in a large scientific study at the Vienna Veterinary Faculty in which several hundred dogs, aged six years and over, were trained to use a screen from the tip of their nose.

Objective: to see if regular computer activities, stimulating canine neurons, can slow the degeneration observed with age.

The first results of the study, released last month, are very encouraging: “In the laboratory, old dogs have responded positively to cognitive training, willingly using screen games for educational purposes,” writes the university in a statement.

The dogs tested, even among the oldest, became familiar with the interactive screens and learned the exercises developed by the scientists.

The study opens up new perspectives for managing canine ageing, says the Viennese team.

“Sometimes we tend to think that we’ll leave them alone on the sofa to sleep all day with old dogs,” Lisa Wallis, one of the authors of the study, explained to AFP.

“But by doing so, we are not doing them any good,” says the cognitive scientist.

“The brain needs more stimulation and also problems to solve,” says Professor Ludwig Huber, one of the co-researchers.

Unlike dog toys, which are not very sophisticated, Mr. Huber sees in the screens an infinite possibility of stimuli and games, the complexity of which can be varied.

The test proposed to Miley and Tiara consisted, for both dogs, in aiming with their nose a round and a square shape on the screen. Each success is rewarded, which the researchers believe is an essential motivating factor.

Other tests consist in touching a moving shape, learning to distinguish between a “good” and a “bad” image.

At the end of 2017, a study conducted in the United States suggested that the daily exercise of video games has a beneficial effect on some seniors.

But if Viennese specialists are dreaming of future electronic dog tablets, they also know that the development of such products will take time. The technical challenges are many, not the least of them: Wet truffles will always be an obstacle,” admits Lisa Wallis.