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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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UK a step closer to ivory ban

News Story 1
 A UK ban on ivory sales is one step closer to coming into force, as the government has introduced the Ivory Bill to parliament. The ban covers items of all ages, rather than just ivory carved after 1947. Anyone breaching the ban will face an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

Conservationists have welcomed the bill, which comes less than six weeks after the government published the results of a consultation on this issue. Around 55 African elephants are now slaughtered for their ivory every day and the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth £17 billion a year.  

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