22 January 2009

Barbara Woodhouse

The inimitable Mrs Woodhouse with a canine pal in the early 1980s.

Barbara Woodhouse was born in 1910 and always loved animals. She was known for her way with horses and cows as well as for being a dog trainer.

Having trained dogs to appear in films, Barbara became a celebrity herself in 1980 with her BBC series Training Dogs The Woodhouse Way.

Her commands to the dogs in her charge quickly became catchphrases, parroted across the land. "Walkies!" we shrilled and "Sit!" Do you remember the strange arm movement which went with the latter command?
The first page of my copy of Barbara's autobiography is signed by the great lady herself. My wife found the book in a second hand bookshop when I was in bed with flu, c. 1996.

I remembered Barbara as a somewhat starchy English "school marm" type character, standing around trilling orders in her sensible tweed skirts, and didn't expect to enjoy the book. But I was pleasantly surprised. Barbara's insights into training animals were fascinating, and she had a great sense of adventure, having travelled to South America to live as a young woman in the 1930s.

Some of Barbara's dog training methods aroused controversy - I remember much animated chatter about the use of choke chains, but nobody could doubt her genuine love for her canine students. And she was a great character. It came as no great surprise when she was voted TV Personality of the Year 1980.

The Daily Mirror reported on 2/1/1981:

The lady who orders dogs about, Barbara Woodhouse, spent Christmas in Switzerland and was in bed by 11pm on New Year’s Eve.

Switzerland was a real thrill for this lady who became a TV star in 1980: “Even there people were coming up to me and shouting ‘Walkies!’ "

From the Sunday People, November 1981:

TV’s doggie queen Barbara Woodhouse has been calling some of Hollywood’s superstars to heel. She’s been in California to train the canine delinquents of Beverly Hills and to teach their famous owners to “walk the Woodhouse way”.

Barbara’s TV series has made her an instant celebrity in America and she has had the top dog treatment from the start.

“I was treated like royalty, it was amazing,” said Barbara.

“Everywhere I went people greeted me with the word ‘walkies’.”

The results of Barbara’s American teach-in are to be shown in a Yorkshire TV special over Christmas.

Among the problem pooches she helped were those belonging to Zsa Zsa Gabor, David Soul, Dorothy Lamour, Wilfred Hyde-White, Britt Ekland and Bill Shatner.

Problem number one was Zsa Zsa’s nervous Alsatian.

“I trained it to sit and walk to heel,” said Barbara. “It only took me about five minutes.

“Zsa Zsa was delighted.”

Next stop was David Soul and some advanced training for his Labrador.

“The trouble was that the dog kept jumping into the swimming pool after rubber balls,” she said.

David Soul said he thought Barbara was terrific. “But my dog hasn’t changed much,” he said.

Then it was on to the home of William Shatner, Captain Kirk in the TV serial “Star Trek”.

“He had two Dobermans and seemed a little ill at ease at first,” said Barbara.

Another of Barbara’s calls was to Britt Ekland’s home where she trained two Elk hounds and a cat.

Barbara with Stefanie Powers and pooch.

Barbara wrote:

If any fortune teller five years ago had told me I should travel the world, with my husband, demonstrating my method of training dogs, to people whose welcome is “walkies” and “sit” when I arrive in their countries, I’d never have believed it. Yet it has happened.

I’ve trained dogs for the Singapore enthusiasts, and celebrated our meeting wading through a wonderful dinner of ten courses of rice, fish, chicken or other ingredients, and was assured that if it spilt on the tablecloth, due to my lack of experience with chop sticks, it was a compliment to the chef to have a dirty tablecloth.

I’ve seen a police dog crossing a wire tight rope in Pretoria wearing leather booties to save its paws.

I’ve not seen a flag raised on a flag pole, but a banner which read: “Welcome Barbara Woodhouse”. A Doberman Pinscher pulled the rope that raised the banner onto the flag pole.
I’ve trained the stars and their dogs in Hollywood including David Soul, Stefanie Powers, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Wilfred Hyde White, William Shatner etc; I found them quick and easy to train.

I’ve met Ray Berwick and his Cockatoo, Fred. I’ve met Ron Randall and his lovely horse, star of the film “Black Stallion”.

I’ve met Tippi Hendren and her husband Noel Marshall who made that fantastic film with the lions, “ROAR”. The lions roam uncaged around her estate and home. There, also, I got acquainted with a leopard who wandered up to me, lay on my chest and licked my hand before resuming his morning stroll.

I took a baby Cougar back to its mother without her attacking me. It is said that female Cougars are fierce and will attack anyone going near their babies.

I found all the dogs I met easy to train, or rather re-train if they had faults. The people I met in Australia, Canada, South Africa and the USA are full of love for their animals. The welcome for my husband and I was unbelievable.

Unless you’d known you’d flown thousands of miles, as we had flown, you could almost imagine you’d never left England.

Dog Training and the love of horses and ponies, I’ve found, will take me around the world to get to know the animal lovers who share my interest, knowledge and affection for their pets.
Barbara cautiously befriends a cheetah.

In 1983, Barbara appeared in a couple of amusing advertisements on the opening morning of TV-am, ITV's breakfast television service. The product? Eggs!

"Tell an eggshell who is boss. Let it know that you are...


Barbara died in 1988. Her fame had been brief, but her impact great. Even today, the doggy commands "Walkies!" and "Sit!" are still widely associated with her.

Two of the 1983 egg ads featured in commercial breaks on the first day of TV-am.

This Andrex Appeal advertisement dates from September, 1981.


Anonymous said...

WALKIES! I used to love Barbara's TV programmes. What a character!

DebbieS said...

I have read her books and they are now my "doggie bibles", I highly reccommend 'No Bad Dogs' and 'Dog Training My Way' to anyone who even THINKS about getting a dog. After all, its the owners who need the training, not the dogs!

Debbie S.
Saginaw, Michigan

Ken said...

Training Dogs The Woodhouse Way was required viewing in my household back in the early 1980s.

Maria said...

Barbara Woodhouse had a life-long love of animals. She was also wonderful with horses and cows. She wrote several books - beginning in the 1950s, and became a celebrity in 1980 with her BBC TV series. What a marvellous character she was - they don't make 'em like Barbara anymore!

Yvonne said...

Barbara Woodhouse was the first new TV star of the 1980s with her BBC show - along with Fred Housego, the London cab driver who won Mastermind in 1980.

Anonymous said...

hers was the best way to train dogs!

Y Gilbert said...

Thanks so much for a lovely post! Just one thing though, that's not a cheetah she's cautiously befriending, but rather a leopard :)Thanks again, was great to relive this blast from the past!