Maintaining pack balance

Group of dogs outside

Pack Adjustment
It’s a common scenario. Parents give in to their kids’ pressure to get a puppy. They grow up together, the human child and the canine puppy. They become best pals. And as the child gets older and takes the right of passage from high school to college, he leaves home. For most families, that means the parents keep the dog.

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While it may be heart-wrenching for the young adult to leave his canine companion behind, it can be difficult on the home pack as well while they re-establish the balance and re-define the rules, boundaries, and limitations for the canine members of the pack. Whether it’s an extended vacation or summer camp or unfortunate circumstances, there are often times a human pack member leaves and the pack balance is shaken.

As the summer months come to a close and parents of college students prepare for the transition, Cesar addresses the issue, helping one family cope with a pack in disarray.


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Dear Cesar,

My son recently left home for University and our dogs are not happy about it! One of them, a 4-year-old Puggle has peed in his room every day since he’s been gone (she hasn’t had an accident in the house since she was a puppy!), and the other one, a one-year-old German shepherd, is pouting and moping around – a couple of days ago when we got home, he wouldn’t even get out of the car to go into the house. If he’s in my son’s old room, he won’t leave it. Cesar, what do we do?

T.L.J., Toronto, Ont.

Cesar Millan`s Answer

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Your dogs are going through the process of adjusting to the loss of (what to appears to be) a very important member of the pack. The role your son played is unclear from your letter – is he the one who walked the dogs? If so, the dog could be trying to attract your attention that she needs to go out more often. She’s eliminating in the place where your son’s scent is, as this was the person who triggered her when they went on her walk. Or, perhaps your son represented the dominant energy in the house.

The German shepherd moping around means that he is the weaker energy, so the Pug is taking the more dominant role in your son’s absence by marking her scent over your son’s. With the testosterone gone, the estrogen kicks in. The biologically and psychologically dominant role is in question, and since the German shepherd won’t take over, the Pug is doing it.

In Mother Nature, this is normal pack mentality to maintain balance. Also, you need to consider how you feel. What’s your energy? Like most parents, it can be sad when kids leave the house, and leave you feeling anxious. The German shepherd is picking up on that, and is likely more attached to you.

My suggestion would be to get these dogs into a program and a new routine. Try going to different areas with new smells – new parks, a different walking route, new activities. Triggering their most powerful sense – their nose – and getting them into stimulating new activities can help them and you to transition through this time. And most importantly, be aware you’re your energy. They are trying to tell you something. Work on your calm, assertive leadership!

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