All your dog wants for Christmas is…a video game?

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All your dog wants for Christmas is…a video game?
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By Kim Gilliam

Can you imagine a day where you have to limit your dog’s screen time, telling them ‘Alright, that’s enough gaming Fido’? That day may soon become a reality thanks to Joipaw, a U.K.-based startup that is serious about making video games for dogs. What began as a way to keep the founder’s active dog from boredom during the pandemic could actually have significant health benefits for aging dogs.

“Imagine being informed early if your dog is showing signs of joint issues or dog dementia, signs that a human will have a hard time noticing quickly, but that can be sent to your vet to improve diagnostics and treatments,” Joipaw shared in a statement about their products. The founder realized the potential for a broader health impact after reading a 2017 study by European researchers that tested simple touch-screen games on nearly 300 dogs and found potential cognitive benefits for dogs with aging brains.

It makes sense – video games have been shown to have helpful effects on human brains when it comes to diseases associated with aging. But what is dog dementia? Also known as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, it is a cognitive disorder in dogs associated with effects similar to those of Alzheimer’s in humans. It’s a condition related to the aging of a dog’s brain, which leads to changes in behavior and primarily affects memory, learning and comprehension. Incredibly, clinical signs of dementia are found in 50% of dogs over the age of 11.

But how would this work with dogs? Canine competitors play with their snouts using a “saliva-resistant touch-screen” mounted on a platform that dispenses treats whenever the pooch does well at the game. One hurdle with Joipaw is getting a dog’s attention as dogs don’t naturally gravitate towards screens like we do. How do they try to pique their interest? By displaying an image of a dog favorite – peanut butter! So far, games include one akin to whack-a-mole and another where the dog guesses which image has more bubbles. The plan is to get more intricate games that utilize a motion sensor on the dog’s collar.

Research into touch-screen brain games for dogs is young but “very promising,” Clara Mancini, a professor of animal-computer interaction at The Open University in the U.K. and science adviser to Joipaw, said. She believes video games can offer dogs benefits that puzzle toys can’t, because they can be designed to become progressively more difficult. In addition to the hope that the tech can help dogs suffering from dementia, it could also be used to enrich the lives of those who are less active, such as shelter dogs, but she says more study is needed.

There’s no time frame for Joipaw’s release, but maybe next year this article will be about how doggie video games are the number one thing on your pup’s holiday wishlist!

The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.

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