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Computer games could slow mental deterioration in dogs
Playing computer games might be the perfect 'brain training' for old dogs.

Researchers train elderly pets to play 'sudoku'

Computer games for dogs could help to slow down mental deterioration, a new study has found.

The research was led by cognitive biologists from Vetmeduni Vienna, who propose computer interaction as a practical alternative to physical training. In the study, elderly dogs responded positively to interactive touchscreen games, including 'dog suduko'.

Researchers say that simple, mental computer tasks, followed by a reward, could replace physically demanding training and still keep animals mentally fit. They now aim to take 'dog sudoku' out of the laboratory and into people’s living rooms.

“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,” explains senior author Ludwig Huber. “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.”

Puppies are typically socialised and challenged using an array of training methods. But as dogs get older, we increasingly - and unconsciously - reduce the level of regular training and challenges.

First author Lisa Wallis said that by reducing the level of training, we actually restrict opportunities to create positive mental experiences for our dogs:

“As is the case with people, dopamine production in dogs also falls in old age, leading to memory decline and motivational drive. But this natural mental deterioration can be countered with the specific training of cognitive skills,” she said.

The training works by using computer-based brain-teasers. While it took some time preparing the dogs for the games, they soon turned into avid gamers once they got the hang of it.

“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.”

Image (C) Messerli Research Institute/Vetmeduni Vienna.

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Nominations for 2019 RSPCA Honours Awards now open

News Story 1
 People across the UK are being urged to nominate a standout animal champion for the 2019 RSPCA Honours Awards.

The awards recognise those who have worked tirelessly to improve animal welfare, campaigned on behalf of animals, or shown true bravery. Previous winners include comedian John Bishop, who was awarded Celebrity Animal Champion of the Year, and 11-year-old Lobby Cantwell, who raised more than £1,000 for the charity through mountain climbs and bike rides.

To submit a nomination or find out more about the awards visit the RSPCA website. Nominations will remain open until 4 pm on Friday, March 15.  

Click here for more...
News Shorts
New £1m project to investigate dairy cow lameness

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is leading a new £1 million research project to investigate the causes of lameness in dairy cows.

One in three dairy cows are affected by lameness every day in the UK, costing the industry an estimated £250 milion annually.

The project will take three years to complete and is due to finish by November 2021.

Professor Georgios Banos of SRUC commented: “In addition to pain and discomfort to the animal, lameness is associated with decreased milk production and inflated farm costs.

“Among cows raised in the same environment, some become lame while others do not. Understanding the reasons behind this will help us develop targeted preventive practices contributing to enhanced animal welfare and farm profitability.”