This article about my dog Sylvester was first published in 2012.
As I am writing this in 2012, my dog Sylvester is a 6-year-old, pure-bred German Shepherd show dog. He is a wonderful boy and drop-dead gorgeous. He really looks like a dog that just jumped out of a magazine cover. Sylvester joined my family almost exactly three years ago, in 2009. I adopted him from a local animal shelter. Anyone who thinks there are no great dogs at shelters should take a look at my boy.
When I rescued Sylvester he was physically in good shape. However, he clearly had never learned that he can't do whatever he wants when he felt like it. This is what got him into this place. Of course, that wasn't his fault. Also, he clearly had not been properly exercised nor trained. He seemed to know the 'sit' command but that was about it.
How We Found Each Other
I got really lucky with him. He was only surrendered by his previous owner just the night before I walked into the shelter. I was probably the first to see him, as I was there early. The previous owner told the staff that his dog kept running away and he could not take care of him. What's a dog to do if he never gets out? Well, that's all in the past now and Sylvester won the lottery. Because I love German Shepherds, was looking for one, and was ready to give him a great life!
In the Beginning
Sylvester was neutered at the shelter before I was allowed to take him home. So he had to rest for a bit. But he recovered fast and we started going on short walks two days later and went into a normal walking routine a week after the operation. Veterinarians always recommend waiting two weeks to be safe. But, many vets agree that one week is usually just fine if there is no swelling.
I was planning to walk enough, to tire him out every day. But it turned out the working doggy's energy level exceeded my physical capacity quite a bit. So, inspired by Cesar Millan, I put the rollerblades on and we started rollerblading for 20-30 minutes every day before going for a walk. That became our routine and is to this day. We rollerblade first and Sylvester gets to pull me on my blades through the neighborhood until he gets tired.
He gets to run as fast as he wants. The session ends once Sylvester gets tired and falls behind me. He usually gets tired after three rounds.
After a brief water break, we go out on our daily walk, which is another 30-40 minutes and my somewhat tired Sylvester is now in a great state of mind for training. We do all kinds of loose-leash walking and obedience exercises. When we come home, I fix him his breakfast. He really deserves it after all that work. He is on a twice-a-day feeding schedule. I cook food for him once a week. I do firmly believe in breed-specific nutritional needs and as such have reservations against commercial dog foods.
At this point, Sylvester is great on the leash. I had to correct three years of living without rules. I always knew it would take some time but the progress has been remarkable. My dog Sylvester used to become really excited around animals of all sorts and looked at everything smaller than him as prey. He was always great with people and had no issues at the dog park or dog beach. However, my cats were a target and other dogs on our walks were a problem. 'Were' is the keyword though; it's all good now.
A Remarkable Journey
We certainly had our challenges as we worked through the issues. Back then, in 2009, I was still a fairly new trainer and not as proficient in many things as I am today. But we managed and got where we needed to go. It was fun to see Sylvester develop his full potential. German Shepherds really are un-shockable in their focus and determination—I love that, but it posed some challenges along the way.
Now, we've become a great team and set clear rules for the home. Sylvester has learned to leave my cats alone and today he actually ignored a rabbit in the field that crossed our path for the first time—a remarkable transformation. I am so proud of my boy. Through persistence and training, I put Sylvester on the path to pass his AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification, which he received in April of 2011.
Over the Years
Over the years our connection grew stronger and stronger. Sylvester always keeps an eye on me and follows me everywhere. He made a good number of dog friends as well. Something that seemed impossible when we first met. We started going on off-leash hikes in the hills and mountains of Southern California. My dog Sylvester's greatest adventure was to summit Mt. Baldy in 2016. We had to train to get up there. I first went half-way only so I could see how Sylvester was handling it. He was now 11 years old so we had to take things more slowly. Finally, after three conditioning hikes, we summited together! I was so proud of him. Sylvester above all is truly the best dog I have and could ever wish for.
In 2019 Sylvester, unfortunately, developed hip dysplasia and intervertebral disc disease. Now, in 2021, his mobility is significantly reduced and I am taking care of my loyal companion. He is still a happy dog but his movement is very limited. I am helping him be comfortable but it's certainly hard for both of us. Regardless, he is a very important member of my family and I will be there for him as long as he needs me. He's my buddy and I love him as much as he loves me.