Why Your Dog Needs Its Own Video Games, and How They May Even Be Good for Them

Click, click, woof

  • A company is making a dog video game system with treats and a touchscreen. 
  • Experts say dogs may benefit from the mental stimulation of video games. 
  • But one dog trainer warns that video games may overstimulate your canine companion.
Dog pretending to play video games with controller

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Dogs may like video games nearly as much as humans. 

The startup Joipaw is making a gaming console for canines. While video games for pups may involve more fetching and drooling than, say, your average human Call of Duty title, experts claim there's a method behind the venture. 

"These games can be of varying types, but all aim to achieve the same thing: giving the dog something visually stimulating to look at and react to," Patrik Holmboe, the head veterinarian for Cooper Pet Care, told Lifewire in an email interview. "The classic example is a tablet on the ground, which shows fish swimming in a pond. If the dog taps the fish with their paws, the fish will appear to move in a certain way or 'get caught.' Mental stimulation is important for our dogs."

Get Your Paws On

Joipaw has begun the process of making the canine console that features a touchscreen, a height-adjustable stand, an automated treat dispenser, and interactive puzzle games. The console will have a full HD camera, speakers, and a microphone. It's currently available for pre-order.  

"Our approach is based on years of experience in both software and hardware mixed with decades of research on dog cognition and animal-computer interaction," Joiepaw's co-founder Dersim Avdar wrote on the company's website. "Your dog can play stimulating video games tailored to their needs, and you can see how well it's doing—maybe even compete with your neighbor's dog."

Holmboe noted there's no question that the mental stimulation provided by games is important for a dog's mental health. He said that improving your dog's mood can lead to good behavior around humans. 

"And it is also clear that for many owners, simply having the time to play with and train a dog can be a major issue," he added. "Thus, while specific studies on video games for our pets are sparse, it is clear that improving technologies which help the mental well-being of our dogs can only be a good thing."

Video games for dogs that are designed to automatically teach certain behaviors already exist, albeit, in a primitive form, Holmboe said. For example, a simple, semi-autonomous example is a video or recording of a person continually saying "high five" and the owner giving a treat when the dog performs the behavior. 

"More advanced games involve a camera, AI to detect the movements, and [an] automatic treat dispenser," Holmboe said. "This allows full automation—a video shows a human saying "high five," a camera and AI detect if the dog performs the behavior, and an automatic dispenser gives a treat. Certainly, this is something which will become more and more widely used as the technologies improve and cost decreases."

There may be even science behind the benefits of video gaming for dogs. Sadie Cornelius, a spokesperson for Love Your Dog, pointed out in an email to Lifewire that a study published in 2017 investigated how video games could be used to maintain brain stimulation in aging dogs. The researchers found that touchscreen apparatus and developed software could improve the welfare of pet dogs and aged dogs in particular.

"The research into the benefits of video games for dogs highlights just how important it is to maintain brain stimulation in our aging canine companions," Cornelius added.

Too Many Video Treats?

Not everyone agrees on the value of video gaming for canines, however. Professional dog trainer Ali Smith said in an email interview with Lifewire that dogs can benefit from brain stimulation, but given that a dog's world is mainly based on its nose, a visually oriented video game would not work well for them.

"Yes, they can get some stimulation out of the visuals, but it wouldn't be as engaging for them as it would be for us because of the lack of engagement of the other senses that dogs thrive on, as well as an actual physical reward versus an inferred sense of achievement that drives us to hunt down all 200 pigeons in [Grand Theft Auto IV]," Smith added. 

Dog playing the shell game with her human

Photoboyko / Getty Images

Leigh Siegfried, the founder of dog training firm Opportunity Barks, said that canines could benefit from games that offer "biological fulfillment of species-specific behavior," like hunting and eye stalking. However, she said, video games might cause dogs to be overstimulated.

"For example," Siegfried added, "the use of laser pointers with dogs as a thing to chase can create OCD behavior in some animals and isn't recommended."

But, Siegried said, when used in moderation, other species like apes and parrots might benefit from video games as well as dogs, explaining how "enriched animals have a variety of enrichment experiences day to day, and [interactions] with natural environments [are] key to a happy, fulfilled animal," she added.

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