Knut the Polar Bear - avoid the same mistakes with your dog

As reported in the New York Times, Knut the Polar Bear in Berlin, Germany is showing signs of anxiety when left alone. To the outcries of animal-protection groups, Knut was hand-raised by his handler, Thomas Dörflein. As the article reports, this was good for business and brought in more than $8 million in extra revenue last year by attracting the public to view the adorable little polar bear.

Now that Knut is larger and it is not the cuddly cub he once was, he is not getting the attention he once was. It is not clear in the article about the reasons for the change in human contact. I assume it is either a safety issue or the handler doesn’t have the time to devote. 

The experts weigh in about the current state of mind of Knut:

“With Knut, it’s clear that he has imprinted on humans, and when neither his keeper nor visitors are there he cries out,” said Thomas Pietsch, a biologist and expert on wild animals for the animal-welfare group Four Paws in Germany.

Peter H. Arras, a zoologist and animal-protection advocate put it more succinctly: “He’s a psychopath addicted to human attention.”

What can you learn from this to avoid separation issues with your dog?
I always tell my clients that I will nag them about making sure that they socialize their puppy properly. Part of the strategy for raising a dog that can handle being left alone is to teach him to learn how to adjust to the frustration he feels when he can’t gain access to you.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by using a crate with your puppy.

Crates are effective for housetraining, preventing destruction as well as helping increase the chances of avoiding separation anxiety. Unfortunately, even with all the proper steps dogs can develop separation anxiety when they get older. 

Some of my clients say that they feel bad that their puppy is in a crate. It looks mean, they look sad, they want to play with them, they feel bad that they are in there so much, etc. I don’t blame them for feeling this way, but I gently remind them that if their puppy does not get used to being alone, they are setting their puppy up for a lifetime of discomfort and stress when alone.

Unless your dog will never be alone and you will never leave the house, go to work or go on vacation, make sure your dog can be alone. Make a list of all of the possibilities that your puppy might have to get accustomed to and introduce him to these events on a daily basis, if possible, until he is 6 months old. Then maintain his socialization by periodically continuing the exercises throughout his life.

Learn from the anxiety that Knut is experiencing and don't make the same mistakes with your dog.
Create a dog training cue - a summertime example
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