Let Your Dog Play Candy Crush

Dog Computer Interaction (DCI) – the future!

Okay, so a bit dramatic, sorry. I am just pretty excited to see a study focusing on improving the lives of dogs with technology. The objective of the study was to create mental stimulation in dogs, especially during aging, for better well-being! They did this by training dogs to interact with an iPad like device for a positive experience (treats!). In this post I am going to tell you about how they implemented this study, the tech behind it and the outcome.

So what did they just give dogs some iPads?

Credit: Lisa Wallis

Actually it was a whole, incredible thing. Over the span of a year, 130 dogs and their owners traveled to a lab for 30 minute weekly training sessions. Despite no financial compensation for the owners, remarkably, only 6 dogs dropped from the study. The training occurred in four phases. Let’ take a look at each of them.

Phase 1: Device Familiarization

This phase took about one to two visits. It essentially entailed introducing the dogs to the touchscreen device and the food dispenser. Once the dogs had no problem with approaching the device/feeder, they were introduced to the device software and phased up.

Phase 2: Screen Touching – Fixed Location (actually licking)

So maybe getting your dog to play Candy Crush might get messy at first. In this phase the dogs got plenty of snackies. They were brought to the device and observed an edible paste being smeared in a specific spot on the screen. When the dog licked the paste off, the machine beeped and dispensed a treat. Once the dog associated touching the screen with a treat, the dogs moved to the next phase.

Phase 3: Screen Touching – Varying Locations (with the NOSEY!)

This phase was much like two. They would smear paste on a spot on the screen and when the dog would lick it off, there would be a beep with a treat. Except, they practiced this with several spots on the screen and slowly reduced the amount of paste until the dogs just touched a stimuli on the screen without paste (with their cute noses). Once this happened they moved on to phase 4!

Phase 4: Discrimination Training

Here it is the final step, the dogs are ready for their big moments. Time for them to choose between two stimuli (I bet it was Candy Crush icons). When presented with the two choices, if the dog chose the positive stimuli, they got a nice beep and a treat. If they chose the negative stimuli, they got a red ‘time out’ screen for three seconds and a short buzz sound. Don’t worry, they immediately got another opportunity to do it right. So here we are, now the dogs are playing a game, and it went great. Of the 130 dogs, all but two passed this phase.

So Tell Me About The Tech Please!

If you are interested in a fabulous amount of detail, you can get that here. Otherwise the tech goes like this. Connected to a laptop, an infrared touchframe is attached to a computer monitor. The monitor is placed at head level for the dogs in a distraction eliminating box. Below the monitor is a treat feeder, think pellet dispense. (Note: there are instructions for excessive dog saliva making these monitors unresponsive 😂).

They employ CognitionLab (Version 1.9) software for their go/no-go experiments. This software can run on any operating system compatible with x86 architecture. CognitionLab uses a scripting language called Experimental Run-Time System (ERTS) created to document psychological reaction time experiments. It is said to be easy to use, and the code doesn’t looks so bad. Here is a sample from their site:

SCREENAREA 150 150

FONT STD Arial 6
FONT BIG Arial 10 1 bold
FONT Small Arial 4

PICTURE Inst_Title T Instruction
Instruction 
PICTURE Inst_Text Tl
Press left [SHL]-key when you see the word Left
Press right [SHR]-key when you see the word Right
...

So did the training make the dogs happy?

Oh heck yea! Well, the study found that the dogs had a positive association with the training, showing enthusiasm in anticipation of their weekly appointment. And, owners stated that the dogs would come home from the training and fall into a restful sleep, much like they would after a good exercise.  The study noted that the process of training the dogs revealed to the owners that their dogs could experience mental exercise, which prompted them to play mentally stimulating games with their dogs more. The conclusion of the study was that this type of training could improve the well-being of dogs, especially older ones, through cognitive enrichment.

So get your peanut butter and open up Candy Crush – it’s time to train your pup!

– The Coding Hotdog

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