EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY, AND IF you’re Sam or Woof, Whoopi Goldberg’s two Rhodesian Ridgeback puppies, you’re going to be spending more than a few of them with Matthew Margolis, founder of the National Institute of Dog Training. Why? The Whoopster is sick of cleaning up carpet crimes with gourmet balsamic vinegar.
For 25 years, Margolis has been reprogramming pooches for celebrity pet owners, including Elizabeth Taylor, Cher and Ed McMahon. Now, in his ninth book, Woof! (Crown, $20), a memoir cowritten with Mordecai Siegal, Margolis shares some trade secrets. “I train the dog from the dog’s point of view. I speak Dog-ese. I whine,” says Margolis, 53. “I never punish, hit or yell at a dog; it only scares him or makes him aggressive.”
One lesson Margolis has learned over the years: sometimes it’s harder to handle the owner than the pet. Pets may require stays of up to 14 weeks (at $395 per week) at the institute’s 110-dog kennel in Monterey Park, Calif., and some “mushpots,” as Margolis affectionately calls them, can’t take the separation. Sally Struthers, for one, “called every day asking if her Newfoundland puppy Haley was okay.” Other owners are made of sterner stuff. “I think people choose dogs that are like them in temperament,” says Margolis, who’s currently training Madonna‘s pit bull, Papito. “When you select a dog, it’s no accident.”
Margolis grew up in New York City, where his father, David, a cosmetics salesman, often brought home strays. Though Margolis planned on being an actor, a 1968 career aptitude test convinced him that he was less suited to chewing the scenery than to stopping dogs from chewing the furniture. After a six-week dog-training course, he opened his own business, and in 1976 relocated to L.A., where he lives with wife Beverly, son Jesse, 19, and two German shepherds. Those who have met the dogs, Ulli and Tillie, say that they are extremely well-adjusted, a testament to Margolis’s mastery of Dog-ese. “Matthew is as exuberant as a puppy,” crows Struthers, “and tempers his wisdom about animals with a great sense of humor.”