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Computer games for our furry friends

Several games for animals on touch screen tablets are now available. As with human children, these should not replace more traditional play.

Koira pelaa taulutietokoneella
Alpo usually plays for a few minutes, until distracted. Image: Yle

Pigs have been known to be able to play computer games for some time, as shown in scientific experiments that illustrate these social beings’ intelligence. Now man’s best friend is also entering the information age.

Alpo is one dog, who likes to play computer games. His owners recently uploaded a game for dogs onto their tablet. The mutt copped onto the game fast.

“It was a bit of a surprise when it got interested in the game immediately. First he just followed with his eyes what was happening on the screen, and tried to dig out the moving dog from the screen. Every now and then it had to go and look on the other side of the screen, whether it ran there to hide,” Alpo’s owner Vesa Ruusunen recounts.

The game has a simple idea. A virtual dog moves on screen. When Alpo touches it with his muzzle or paw, the dog makes a sound and disappears.

Protective cover needed

Alpo’s owners had some second thoughts about letting a dog play with such an expensive gadget. However, the fears proved unfounded, as Alpo knows how to use the tablet appropriately.

“He doesn’t play with it for more than a few minutes at a time. The device takes it surprisingly well. The protective cover for the screen shields it from claws, and no major damage has been done, even though teeth have also been used,” Ruusunen says.

Dog trainer Johanna Vanhatalo from the canine services company Koirapalveu HvväKäytös advises to first teach the dog how to use a tablet.

“If the dog finds the game rewarding, taking the tablet away is a punishment for it. So the device is taken away when it’s used in too rough a manner,” Vanhatalo notes.

Not for all doggies

Tablet games are not yet that popular among dog owners. Vanhatalo sees this changing, however, as games can offer an interesting diversion for dogs. Even though the chase is a virtual one, this can still be satisfying to the dog, Vanhatalo says.

“It’s rewarding to the dog itself when something happens in the game, like a sound effect or the target on the screen disappears.”

However, such gaming could be harmful for dogs with compulsive herding instincts, resulting in disturbed behaviour. Dogs also exhibit individual variation in terms of their interest towards games. Another dog in Alpo’s household, Helmi, showed no interest in the game, for instance.

Physical play crucial

Vanhatalo cautions against replacing more traditional play and outings with computer games.

“The dog needs a lot of shared activities and concrete things to do,” the dog trainer asserts.

Alpo, for one, is only allowed limited time on the tablet. The dog also makes sure to get its share of more traditional play.

“Traditional toys are clearly preferred, and it will move towards them immediately when these are offered. So there’s no danger that Alpo will become a game addict. The best games are fetching a stick and running after a ball,” Ruusunen says.

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