Picture this: a saliva-resistant screen slathered in peanut butter. On it flashes graphic images of cartoon moles popping up and down through holes in the earth. A pup stares attentively at the action, using his snout to bop each “mole” as it emerges from its bunker. When he’s successful, the special touch-screen console releases a treat.
Joipaw’s version of Whack-A-Mole was designed to keep energetic dogs occupied, but it may also help senior dogs stay sharp and stave off dementia.
Video Games for Dogs
Joipaw is a U.K.-based startup co-founded by lifelong gamer and dog dad, Dersim Avdar. He first got the idea for the canine video game console when he realized his own dog, Kawet needed more attention than he and his wife could give.
Avdar soon realized the game console could also be beneficial for seniors after reading a 2017 European study in which 300 dogs (and 20 wolves) played simple touch-screen games. The researchers found potential cognitive benefits for aging canine brains.
“I’m taking the torch that these researchers lit and bringing it further,” Avdar told Axios.
Ironing Out the Wrinkles
While they are far more simple than games designed for humans, it still takes a bit of coaxing to get most dogs to start playing. That’s where the peanut butter comes in. This is definitely an obstacle, but according to Avdar, it’s “the magic moment where you see the light in their eyes” that makes the project worthwhile.
The Future of Joipaw
Clara Mancini, a professor of animal-computer interaction at The Open University in the U.K. and science adviser to Joipaw says touch-screen brain games for dogs are a “very promising” innovation. Not only can they help keep senior dogs sharp, but they also have the potential to help shelter dogs suffering from institutional stress.
“The idea is to try and develop technology that starts to reduce the gap between humans and animals rather than increase it,” Mancini says.
The games—which also include a bubble-counting challenge—are still being prototyped. Avdar is currently working on one about avoiding a hedgehog’s spikes that would allow dog parents to play against their pups.
A timeframe for Joipaw’s release is yet to be determined, and Avdar is still working on a pricing model. The system will consist of the special touch-screen, treat-dispensing console, and a subscription service for purchasing games. Joipaw will also feature a leaderboard, so dog parents can track how their pups stack up against other competing canines.