Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dog talk with Uncle Matty: Diary of a breeder, Part I

From page A6 | January 31, 2014 | 1 Comment

There is no one right way to go about finding your dog. This week, let’s shine a light on the work of responsible dog breeders and the impact it has on the dogs they bring into the world.

Steve and Kelly Porter of Aldergate breed Corgis. This is their philosophy, in their words, and it explains why they are among the best:
“From the moment puppies enter the world, they begin to learn and understand. At Aldergate, we work to get newborn puppies to be confident and comfortable with their surroundings. The result, we believe, is a firm foundation for training, which will ensure a happy, mentally healthy and eager-to learn-dog.”

How do they build this confidence in their pups?

“We concentrate on exposing every pup to as many textures and sounds and experiences with people, animals and objects as possible — all in an effort to increase each puppy’s self-awareness and confidence.”

The whole process is hands-on — literally. Every day involves some degree of physical handling of the pups. Here’s a snapshot of what the first few weeks of a pup’s life look like in the hands of a responsible breeder:

Week 1: It’s all about sound. Puppies can’t hear at this early stage in their development, but they can feel the vibrations. Soft music at night, talk radio during the day, light vacuuming around the “whelping box” are all techniques put to use at Aldergate. During this week, they also begin gently placing the pups on their backs, while not keeping them away from mom for too long.

Week 2: More handling! Daily activities include counting toes, trimming the hair between pads and toes, rubbing ears. This is the time to “vacuum, clean, sing, talk, turn that radio up!”

Week 3: This is where things get really fun, according to the Porters. “Add ‘toys’ to the whelping box and change them throughout the day — an empty plastic bottle, a small log, a rope with knots tied into it. Make the whelping box an interesting place. Encourage them to explore. Make time for each puppy to be the only puppy in the world. We start with cuddle time and singing while rocking the puppy in our arms — close to your face with eye-to-eye contact.”

Week 4: The cuddling, singing and rotating of toys continues. Plus, it’s umbrella time — open and close it over the whelping box! Also, add a new play area for the pups to investigate. And finally, actual food! The Porters call it “puppy gruel,” and they make sure “slow eaters get their fair share.”

Week 5: Purposeful handling. “This is when puppies begin to gain confidence and trust in you,” say the Porters. We “gently place them on their backs, making sure they become calm before setting them back on their feet. Each pup should have solo time with you. Switch the time of day each puppy gets time alone and mix up the playgroups so that only a few pups at a time are in the playground.”

That’s just a glimpse of the first five weeks, but it’s a gauge to go by when looking for a breeder. If you choose to get a dog from a breeder, you want one who devotes the time to these small and meaningful gestures. You want one who, like the Porters, recognizes that “from Day One, you are raising a dog, not a puppy.”


Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is the co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and the host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at, and visit him at Send your questions to or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

Matthew Margolis


Discussion | 1 comment

  • Eden HalbertJanuary 31, 2014 - 6:16 pm

    I'm always thrilled when I hear of breeders really devoting time and effort to ensuring puppies have a very enriched environment and start getting socialized early to sounds, touch, people, handling, etc., and I'm happy to see such a breeder being featured. One point of clarification, however: it is not necessary or even desirable to hold the puppies down on their backs until they stop struggling; rather, it's important to make handling so pleasant and everyday an occurrence than the puppies LIKE being handled or positioned, so they do not feel the need to struggle. They are enjoying each step of the process, feeling safe and able to make choices. This teaches them gentle confidence rather than learned helplessness and powerlessness. It sounds like this is basically what these breeders are doing, but the old-fashioned idea or myth of holding them down is so common that I thought it was worth clarifying.

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