Tag Archives: senior dog care

Brain training for old dogs (touchscreens for dogs!)

Spoiling old dogs in their twilight years by retiring them to the sofa and forgiving them their stubbornness or disobedience, doesn’t do our four-legged friends any good. Regular brain training and lifelong learning create positive emotions and can slow down mental deterioration in old age. Physical limitations, however, often do not allow the same sort of training as used in young dogs.

In a new study, a team of researchers led by cognitive biologists from Vetmeduni Vienna propose computer interaction as a practical alternative. In the training lab, old dogs responded positively to cognitive training using educational touchscreen games. The aim now is to get the interactive “dog sudoku” ready for home use.

Touchscreen for dogs

Playing computer games might be the perfect “brain Training” for old dogs Credit: Messerli Research Institute/Vetmeduni Vienna

Lifelong learning is not just good for people, it is also good for dogs. Dogs are capable of learning even in old age, and constant brain training and mental problem-solving create positive emotions and slow the natural pace of mental deterioration. Unlike puppies or young dogs, however, old dogs are almost never trained or challenged mentally. Senior dogs are usually perfectly integrated into our lives and we often forgive them any disobedience or stubbornness. In addition, due to their increasing physical limitations, we usually spare old dogs the sort of training we might expect from young animals.

Cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna propose computer games as an efficient alternative. Simple mental tasks on the computer, combined with a reward system, can replace physically demanding training and still keep the animals mentally fit even in old age. First, however, the method must be taken out of the laboratory and transferred to the living room.

Tablet games like “sudoku” for old dogs

At obedience school or in private, puppies and young dogs are socialised and challenged using a variety of training methods to help them integrate smoothly into our daily lives. As the dogs get older, however, we increasingly – and unconsciously – reduce the level of regular training and challenges. “Yet this restricts the opportunities to create positive mental experiences for the animals, which remain capable of learning even in old age,” explains first author Lisa Wallis. “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.”

Under laboratory conditions, the training works using computer-based brain-teasers. It does take some preparation to get the dogs used to the touchscreen, but once the animals have got the trick they turn into avid computer gamers. “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.”

Mentally fit four-legged “gamers” – laboratory solution to be made available to the general public

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.

It is still not clear whether dogs slowly forget the things they once learned because of reduced powers of recollection or due to a lack of training in old age. The fact is, however, that lifelong learning with the touchscreen can help counteract this development. The research team hopes that this study will not only motivate technicians and software developers, but also interested dog owners, to consider future cooperation. “Our scientific approach could result in an exciting citizen science project to increase the understanding of the importance of lifelong learning in animals,” says Wallis.

Source:  University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna

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Eyesight in the older dog

The eyesight in our dogs changes with age.

English Pointer with Puplight

Researchers based at the Nestlé Purina Research Center in Missouri have discovered that our dogs become more near-sighted as they age.  Their results were published in the journal PLoS One.

This investigation used an instrument called an autorefractor to measure the dogs’ eyesight in indirect and direct lighting conditions. The study involved nine Beagles ranging in age from 1 to 14 years.   Before entering the study, the dogs were examined to confirm that none of them had cataracts.

Measurements were taken on three different days of the week for a period of six weeks.

The researchers found a remarkable difference between the younger and older dogs.  The older dogs had a much-reduced ability to see at longer distances (far-sightedness) compared to the younger dogs.  Younger dogs were also able to make larger accommodation changes from indirect light to direct light conditions, indicating a more flexible lens.

Humans are the opposite in terms of length of sight.  As we age it can become more difficult to read and see things at shorter distances whereas our ability to see at distances is often not affected (although some older people do have difficulties adjusting to night and low-light conditions, just as the dogs in this study did).

So if your dog is getting older and you notice that they can’t pick up on your body language and signals, there’s a physical reason for it.

Through my own experience working with older dogs, I recommend using a light that helps your senior dog adjust to low-lighting conditions.  See my post on the PupLight, for example.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Enrichment for the special needs dog

In my massage practice, I see quite a few special needs dogs.  These can be senior dogs who are slowing down for a variety of reasons, dogs who have been injured, and dogs who are terminally ill.  Some also have behavioral difficulties which exacerbate any physical limitations they may have.

One of the things I address with my clients is enrichment.

The dog may be physically limited in its abilities but is not impaired cognitively.  Like older people who have entered rest homes/nursing homes, or who are being cared for at home, these dogs need stimulation and variety.

Visitors, including other dogs, is just one example of an enrichment activity.

Another issue for owners in this situation is introducing variety by getting their dog out of the house.  If a dog enjoys car rides, for example, they may be happy just to take a drive to a new location with the windows down to experience new scenery and smells.

Kenny, a 13+ year old Bull Terrier/Blue Heeler cross, was taken to the beach recently - his smile says it all!

Kenny, a 13+ year old Bull Terrier/Blue Heeler cross, was taken to the beach recently.  He needed to be carried from the car to the beach but his smile says it all!

I know some owners who take their dogs for a take-out meal so they can sit in the car and enjoy it together – with snacks included.

Once owners have tried enrichment activities with their dog, they have universally reported to me an improvement in the dog’s disposition and general engagement.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Old dog face

What a lovely perspective on having an older dog…it does creep up on us yet they are a joy to have in your household – making you value time even more.

No Dog About It Blog

What is it that changes in a dog’s face that suddenly makes her look old? Is it the lightening around her muzzle? Or, the increasing milkiness of her eyes? Or, is it the way she smiles, flashing that toothy grin at us?

What is it that we first notice? Is it a moment or an accumulation of moments? It seems like one day we are looking at our dog and seeing a young and energetic face, and the next day we see an old one in its place. It always seems like a surprise to me when I finally see it.

A couple of months ago, I took a candid shot of Cupcake standing out on the patio. What I saw on my camera’s viewing screen made me stop and stare.  “Wait. What happened?” I thought, “That doesn’t look like Cupcake. That looks like an old dog.” And it was. It was my Cupcake, in all…

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Wet wipe management in dog care

Hitting the news this week has been an announcement from a number of local authorities in New Zealand warning about the disposal of wet wipes.  I and many other dog owners use these wipes; I’ve particularly found them useful for senior dog care when little accidents and dribbles happen on a regular basis.

I admit that I have dutifully bought wipes labelled ‘flushable’ like these thinking they were safe to flush.

wet wipes

And now I find out that wet wipes are clogging the public sewer system, increasing the costs to maintain the system and potentially raising the costs which will ultimately come back to us as ratepayers.

The problem is that, once flushed, these wipes aggregate together and clog around pumping systems and piping.

Clogged sewer pipes - thanks to wet wipes

Clogged sewer pipes – thanks to wet wipes (photo by Marlborough District Council)

Wet wipes clogging the pumping system (photo by Marlborough District Council)

Wet wipes clogging the pumping system (photo by Marlborough District Council)

 

 

 

 

 

So I’m putting up this blog post as part of the educational process.  All wet wipes -for babies, dogs and cleaning – shouldn’t be flushed no matter what the label says!

If you are buying ‘flushable’ wipes, maybe you can write to the company and ask that they stop marketing their wipes as ‘flushable’ since this description is misleading.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand