A lot has changed in the way we view and combat aging. The idea of just laying back and conserving your health during your “golden age” is passe now days. I recently visited a family member at her retirement community and was amazed to see all the physical activities offered to their members. From aqua exercises, to weight training, to healthy cuisine classes, they were more active than I am. My family member told me that challenging yourself at her age actually makes you feel younger, healthier and mentally sharper.
Well it turns out that the same goes for older dogs, Vets are begging owners to stop spoiling your dog when they reach their “golden years.” They rather you challenge your older dogs and keep them active, which means less treats and more activities. And they stressed the need to challenge your older dogs with brain games as well. They stress that dogs, just like humans, must continually challenge their minds to keep themselves mentally fit.
Now vets are out to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The first thing they would like owners to understand, is that you are not helping your older dog when you spoil them or over look their disobedience. Rather, they would like owners to fight their urge to be sympathetic and force themselves to continue to train their dogs physically and mentally as they age.
One group of researchers have introduced new technology into the fold to help owners mentally challenge their aging dogs. Cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna are utilizing touch screen tablets in the battle against doggy aging. They use a series of computer-based brain-teasers, along with a reward system, to challenge older dogs. The idea is that as older dogs lose their physical abilities, we as owners need replace physical activities with brain activities to keep our dogs mentally fit.
With the rise of high quality touch screen tablets and computers, researchers are finding new and interesting ways to use the technology in the canine field. Now using tablets with your dogs is not new, there are many dog games available, but most of those games are made for puppies. Now researchers are looking to create new games for older dogs. “Touchscreen interaction is usually analysed in young dogs. But we could show that old dogs also respond positively to this cognitive training method,” says senior author Ludwig Huber. “Above all, the prospect of a reward is an important factor to motivate the animals to do something new or challenging.”
So according to Ludwig Huber, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Using simple tasks that can be solved through touchscreen interaction, followed by a reward, even old dogs remain willing to learn. “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,” says Huber.