Media Technology MSc

Digital Gameplay Can Lower Stress in Dogs (2015)

It is a well known fact that dogs are social animals, wired for life in a pack. However, throughout time dogs have been domesticated and humans have created artificial living environments for them. Most dogs have adapted well to this modern situation, and we dare even to leave them at home while we go to work.

However, this isolation from their owner is a major stress-inducing factor for dogs. So much, even, that it may have an impact on the well-being of our domesticated dogs.

For her graduation thesis, Annika Geurtsen studies whether a digital interactive game for dogs, requiring no human interference, can reduce stress response in socially-isolated dogs.

Cortisol hormone levels

Although digital games for cats and dogs are quite common nowadays, Annika developed a very simple interactive digital game for dogs to study if it could lower their stress. Three dogs were studies in their home setting being isolated from their owners. Each dog was studied 5 days without the game, and 5 days with the game present. Each morning and evening, Annika would collect saliva from the dogs and measure levels of cortisol hormone in it. Cortisol is a major indicator for stress in dogs, and humans... Furthermore, she collected video obervations of the dogs in isolation from which she made ethograms, formal descriptions of their behaviour.

From all this data, she concluded that digital interactive gameplay can lower stress responses in socially isolated dogs, but that its effectiveness depends on the dog's personality. Annika presented her study at the 2015 International Conference on Entertainment Computing in Trondheim, Norway.

Creativity and lab work

One special aspect of this graduation work is that Annika did all the lab-work to measure cortisol hormone levels in saliva herself. Although her bachelor degree was in Graphic Design, she was not afraid to teach herself various lab-methods, and ask the Biology department for use of their labs.

Clearly this research question was creative: it was never studied before. But more importantly, Annika was creative also in how to organize and execute her graduation project.