Trainer Barbara Woodhouse; A field marshal for the dog world
New York — ''It may not be your dog that needs training, it may be you.'' That's what Barbara Woodhouse, Britain's gift to the world's dog owners, says. ''There are no bad dogs, only inexperienced owners,'' she tells me in a transatlantic phone conversation about her new special, Barbara Woodhouse Goes to Beverly Hills (PBS, Wednesday, check local listings for premiere and repeats on other days).
Miss Woodhouse plans to return to the United States in August to do a new dog-training series for American TV. Meantime there are records and videocassettes available of her training courses.
She is talking to me from her home in Rickmansworth, Herefordshire, England, where she has just returned from nine months of worldwide travel. She taught dog training (or owner training, as she would have it) in the US, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and Japan.
''I was the first person to take obedience training to Japan, they told me.'' I didn't dare ask her how the Japanese managed to control their dogs before she arrived. But she was already telling me that she taught the Japanese to say ''Sittt'' and ''Waittt'' and ''Walkies.''
''The hard 'T' is what the dogs seem to understand,'' she explains. And she prefers to use the work ''walkies'' instead of ''heel,'' which she finds an offensively harsh word. '''Walkies' is fun,'' she says, ''and fun is what having a dog is all about.''
''Anyway,'' she continues, ''it doesn't matter what you say, it is what you are thinking that matters. They seem to get the message by telepathy.''
Did she find that Hollywood stars make good dog trainers?
''The stars are very used to picking up instructions from directors in films, so they are terribly good at picking up what I told them to do.''
Did she find too much pampering of dogs in Beverly Hills?
''Well, I don't like too much pampering. Especially the extreme of buying wedding gowns for dogs, as they do there. But if the owner is happy, curiously enough, the dog is happy. It picks up its owners emotions so easily. If you are laughing and joking, the dogs may have no idea what you are laughing at, but they seem to get the idea and join in.''
Miss Woodhouse is pleased that she is known as ''the walkies lady'' wherever she goes. ''People know about 'sittt,' too. In a plane recently, the captain knew I was on board and said 'Crew, sittt' over the intercom, and everybody had a good laugh.''
Miss Woodhouse tells about an obedience clinic in Canada where people brought their dogs to be trained. She was allowed a maximum of 6 minutes per dog and managed to train 16 dogs in 35 minutes. ''In 30 years,'' she says, '' I've never found a healthy dog I couldn't train in 6 minutes.''
''The Woodhouse Road Show'' has been a huge success on BBC in England, and the star hopes it will be coming to America soon. ''I went down to five towns and issued a challenge for people to bring their problem dogs to be trained in less than 6 minutes. Then, in the afternoon, I trained impossible horses. There were also games with the dogs and the owners as well. Such fun!''
She doesn't believe in demanding too much of a dog. ''My motto is be fair - don't ask the dogs to do anything difficult for their particular breed; be firm - especially in the initial stages, but that doesn't mean being cruel; and have fun. We all love fun. Dogs, too. We laugh a lot in training sessions.''
Viewers, too, will laugh a lot at the ''Woodhouse Goes to Beverly Hills'' show. Especially when she goes on a dog hunt with the famous finder of missing dogs, Sherlock Bones.
Any final words of advice to dog owners in America?
Her laugh rings out across the ocean. ''Of course. I always have a final word. Train your dog young. When you get a puppy, start training him in the home immediately, don't wait until he is six months old and ready for school. My dogs have always been trained from the time they were eight weeks old.
''And one more word. The choke chains I saw in America shocked me. Some even had spiked collars, which must have hurt the dogs. Use a kind chain.''
As we bade each other farewell, Miss Woodhouse felt it necessary to repeat herself once more: ''Please, please don't forget to remind people about fun. We all love fun. And training a dog should be fun. For the owner and for the dog, too.''