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 from a magazine cover. Sylvester joined my family almost exactly three years ago and—he is a rescue! I adopted him from a local animal shelter and have been rehabilitating him using Cesar's techniques since the day he came to live with us. Anyone who thinks there are no great dogs at shelters, should take a look at my guy.
Sylvester was physically in good shape when I rescued him but clearly had not learned the meaning of rules, boundaries or limitations. He clearly had not been exercised properly or trained. He seemed to know the 'sit' command but that was about it.
I got really lucky with him, as he was 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 doesn't get walked. Well, that's all in the past now and Sylvester won the lottery—we are living Cesar's fulfillment formula: Exercise - Discipline - Affection.
Sylvester was neutered at the shelter, before I was allowed to take him home. So I couldn't do the first day arrival walk Cesar recommends and I was hoping for. But he recovered fast and we started doing 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—when asked—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 walking energy exceeded my physical capacity quite a bit. So inspired by Cesar I put the rollerblades on and we started rollerblading for 20-30 minutes every day before the walk. That became our routine and is to this day. We rollerblade first and Sylvester gets to pull me on my blades through neighborhood until he gets tired.
I always make sure to follow Cesar's advice and end the rollerblading session with Sylvester following me, so he gets reminded of who the fastest and strongest animal in the pack is. After three rounds, he assumes that position all by himself as he gets worn out. I let him run as fast as he wants. It really gets him tired nicely.
After a brief water drinking break, we go out on our training walk, which is another 30-40 minutes and my tired Sylvester is now in a great state of mind for rehabilitation work. We do all kinds of loose-leash walking and obedience exercises. When we come home, I fix him his breakfast, which he really deserves after all that exercise and discipline 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. The last thing he has to do to get his food though, is to wait for it until I allow him to eat—he is very good at waiting in front of his bowl by now. It's all about the 'no free meal' policy in our house. Our dogs have to earn their affection, which is really harder on me than them. I just love to cuddle them but you got to be resolute when rehabilitating.
At this point Sylvester has fully mastered the walk. I had to correct three years of no rules, so I always knew it would take some time but the progress has been remarkable. Sylvester used to become really excited around animals of all sorts and looked at everything smaller than him that moved as prey. He was always great with people and had no issues at the dog park or dog beach but my cats where a target and other dogs on the walk were a problem. 'Were' is the key word though, it's all good now.
I did pick up a good number of things to look for in his body language from Cesar's shows and DVDs and so I learned to identify possible issues early but delivering an effective correction when he noticed something of interest, was quite challenging. German Shepherds really are un-shockable in their focus and determination—I kind of love that, but during rehabilitation it's a challenge.
Now, thanks to firm leadership, 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. He is really feeding of the energy of other animals. If they are calm, he is as well. If he is confronted with aggression however, he wants to address it. His drive is slowly subsiding as he learns to follow and surrender his responses to me.
With consistent application of Cesar's tools and a pack leader mind set, I put Sylvester on a path to pass his Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification, which he received in April of 2011.
My goal is to transform him into a service dog next year. We have our work cut out for us, but Sylvester is more and more accepting me as the sun in his universe. He follows me around everywhere. This transformation is a wonderful thing to witness. I have to bring him by the shelter we rescued him from some time. I think they'll remember us and probably will be very happy to see how Sylvester has changed.
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Ralf Weber is a certified dog trainer (IACP CDT, CDTA) and behaviorist. A professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) and an AKC evaluator for Puppy S.T.A.R., Canine Good Citizen, and Community Canine certifications.