Brain Training Can Slow Mental Decline in Older Dogs
He may no longer be itching to get outside to clear the yard of chipmunks, but researchers say your older dog may still appreciate a challenge to tackle now and then.
A team of researchers in Vienna are proposing computer-based interactions as an alternative way to stimulate your senior dog. In a lab, they used a touchscreen device to teach older dogs to interact with brain teasers. After the canines learned the ropes, researchers reported they had a favorable reaction from playing the game and receiving a treat.
It’s a bittersweet moment when it hits you that your best 4-legged friend is getting older.
But you don’t have to sit by helplessly as aging takes its toll. Discover the single nutrient that can help bring out the tail-wagging or purring “”youngster”” in your pet again.
Study author Lisa Wallis says that cognitive stimulation can help to counteract the natural decline in older dogs. “As is the case with people, dopamine production in dogs also falls in old age, leading to a decline in memory and motivational drive. But this natural mental deterioration can be countered with the specific training of cognitive skills.”
The researchers said a key motivator in the process was the reward. According to senior author Ludwig Huber, “…the prospect of a reward is an important factor to motivate the animals to do something new or challenging.”
Brain Stimulating Activities for Your Dog
Study authors are advocating for more research in the area of touchscreen games for canines, and hope a type of “doggie Sudoku” becomes a reality. But for today’s dog owners, there are ways to add mental challenges to your senior dog’s day. Using a motivator of treat, affection or favorite toy, try some of these ideas:
- Puzzle Toys: Store bought or homemade, a dog puzzle can work the mind with minimal impact on tired joints. This popular dog muffin tin game can be made with household materials. The Seek-A-Treat Shuffle Bone Toy Puzzle and Hide-A-Squirrel puzzle toy are also fun options.
- Work for a Treat: Make treat time more of an effort by filling toys with long-lasting substances, such as peanut butter or frozen yogurt. Purchase a Kong toy or make this homemade version to give him a chance to work for a treat. The IQ Treat Ball is also a great mentally-stimulating toy.
- Scent Games: Even in old age your dog’s sense of scent may be as strong as ever. Make up some sniff-oriented games — hide bits of high-quality dog treats around the house, or tuck a scented object under a cup, place it alongside some empty cups, and see if he can find the prize.
- Training: Most dogs enjoy training; if his joints aren’t limber enough for frequent ‘sits’ and ‘downs’, practice sedentary skills — give a kiss, shake paws, or speak. Think your dog’s too old for a little training? You’re in for a “treat!” Check out our article Study: You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks to learn more.
Maybe some day your dog will be barking at you, wanting to share your electronic tablet. Until then, be creative and use games to add some mental stimulation to your dog’s golden years. For more interactive mentally-stimulating toys for your pup, check out the suggestions below:
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer, published in numerous national and local outlets. An avid vegetarian, animal lover and reader, she loves learning about healthy eating and finding natural cures for everyday ailments.