My Dog Sylvester

My Dog Sylvester

When I first posted his story in 2012, my dog Sylvester was a 6-year-old, pure-bred German Shepherd Dog; I speculate a West German Show Line. He was a wonderful boy and drop-dead gorgeous. He looked like a dog that just jumped out from a magazine cover. Sylvester joined my family in 2009. I adopted him from a local animal shelter. Anyone who thinks there are no great dogs at shelters should look at my boy.

When I rescued Sylvester, he was physically in good shape. However, he had never learned that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted when he felt like it. This is what got him into this place. Of course, that wasn’t his fault. Also, he had not been adequately exercised or trained. He seemed to know the ‘sit’ command, but that was about it. He pulled on the leash like a freight train. Sylvester was a strong dog!

How We Found Each Other

He was perfect for me! Exactly the dog I was looking for when I searched the shelters. I got really lucky. He was only surrendered by his previous owner 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? That was all in the past, 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 at Adlerhorst

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 quickly, and we started going on short walks a few days later. We started a regular walking routine a week after the surgery. Veterinarians usually recommend waiting for two weeks to be safe. But, many vets agree that one week is usually fine if there is no swelling.

I was planning on walking enough to tire him daily. But the working doggy’s energy level greatly exceeded my physical capacity. So, I put on my rollerblades, and we started rollerblading for 20-30 minutes every day before going for a walk. That became our routine. We rollerbladed first, and Sylvester got to pull me on my blades through the neighborhood until he got tired.

He got to run as fast as he wanted. The session ended once Sylvester got tired and fell behind me. He usually got tired after three rounds.

Our Routine

Sylvester at the Ski Hutt

Next, after a brief water break, we went out on our walk, which was another 30-40 minutes, and my somewhat tired Sylvester was now in an excellent state of mind for training. We did all kinds of loose-leash walking and obedience exercises. When we came home, I fixed him his breakfast. He deserved it after all that work. He was on a once-a-day feeding schedule, as that is healthiest. I cooked food for him once a week, and he had fresh food all week. I firmly believe in breed-specific nutritional needs and, as such, avoid commercial dog foods. Later, I converted this breed-specific recipe into a raw diet, even better for Sylvester. He LOVED his raw food!

At this point, Sylvester was 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 had been remarkable. My dog Sylvester used to become excited around other animals and looked at everything smaller than him as prey. He was always great with people and had no issues at the dog park or beach. However, my cats were a target, and other dogs on our walks were a problem. ‘Were’ is the keyword, though. We changed all of that through training.

A Remarkable Journey

Sylvester on Sierra Peak

We certainly had challenges as we worked through the issues. In 2009, I was still a reasonably new trainer and not as proficient in many things as I am today. But we managed and got where we needed to be. It was fun to see Sylvester develop his full potential. Well-bred German Shepherds are un-shockable in their focus and determination— I love that, but it posed some challenges along the way. Still, to this day, Sylvester is one of the most psychologically sound dogs I have ever had in my family.

We became a great team and set clear rules for the home. Sylvester learned to leave the cats alone and even ignored rabbits in the field that crossed our path—a remarkable transformation. I was so proud of my boy. Through persistence and training, I put Sylvester on the path to passing his AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification, which he received in April of 2011.

Over the Years

Sylvester on Mount Baldy

Over the years, our connection grew stronger and stronger. Sylvester always kept an eye on me and followed me everywhere. He made many dog friends over the years and ended up living with several other dogs in peace and harmony. It was clear that they all knew Sylvester was on top of the dog hierarchy. This 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 most fantastic adventure was to summit Mt. Baldy in 2016. We had to train to get up there. First, we went halfway only so I could see how Sylvester was handling it. He was 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 is the best dog I have ever had and could have ever wished for. He was a fantastic animal!

Life Happens

In 2019, Sylvester developed hip dysplasia and intervertebral disc disease. His mobility started to be affected, and our hiking trips had to end. We had done a lot together. Many adventures. Many hikes. A lot of great memories!

Sylvester 04-18-2020 Sylvester 03-24-2016 Sylvester 08-04-2018

In 2021, his mobility significantly reduced, and Sylvester had difficulty walking. I had to help him get around with his wheelchair and carrying slings. But, he was happy and comfortable. Nutritional supplementation and pain relief through cannabis oils significantly improved his quality of life. I cared for my loyal companion, spent time with him, and loved him just the same. But it was undoubtedly hard for both of us. Regardless, Sylvester was always a very important member of my family, and I would be there for him as long as he needed me.

All Good Things …

One day, he lost his appetite, and I knew where this was leading. He was sleeping most of the day, and that evening we sat together for quite a while. His head was in my lab, and we looked at each other. I could see him drifting. His time was coming quickly. I told him it was okay to go if he was ready. I told him I loved him and kissed him good night. He peacefully fell into his final rest in his bed early the following morning.

Sylvester had a great life. I have beautiful memories I wouldn’t want to miss for the world. I will always love him and miss him dearly. Rest in peace, my friend.♥

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Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.

Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.

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Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.

Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.