Barbara Woodhouse looks down over her glasses, lips pursed, fairly scowling at her interviewer.
"There's no such thing as a bad dog," she admonishes, patting the head of the Labrador retriever settled at her feet.
She should know. Barbara Woodhouse, dog-trainer extraordinaire, claims to have trained some 17,000 dogs in her lifetime (she's 72). Her BBC television program, "Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way," created such a furor in her native England that she became the subject of a "60 Minutes" feature and later her show was picked up and televised by PBS.
"Walkies," or more correctly "Wallkkeez," her trademark command, today can be heard in countless parks, sidewalks, and empty baseball diamonds--anywhere people are engaged in the often fruitless process of making their dogs into "Man's Best Friend."
Woodhouse, in America to "spread the gospel" as she puts it, (actually to promote her newest book, No Bad Dogs, Summit Books, $12.50) admits readily that "the dog lady," as she's called frequently, doesn't currently own a dog of her own.
"I don't keep dogs if I'm not there to see after them," she says firmly. She says she thinks one of the reasons she sees so many problem-dogs these days is that their owners don't have the time to look after them properly.
"So many people are inclined to buy dogs and then go to work. But what kind of life is that for a dog? You've got to face up to it like I do. I go home now and there's no welcome, no deep bark, no loving kiss. It's pretty heartbreaking, but if I can't give a dog the life it deserves, I won't keep one."
Of course, anyone who's ever watched her show knows that "Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way" is a misnomer. It's really training people the Woodhouse way. "I always say that for the first lessons, send the owners and leave the dogs behind," she laughs. "The dogs take only a few minutes to train, but the owners take a lot longer."
Dogs or owners, the key to the Woodhouse method is the three T's: touch, tone and telepathy. "The touch in your fingers--the great love and the great empathy that you have for your dogs goes through your fingers; there's no doubt about it."
As for tone, "It's much like an elocution lesson. You must use your T's, frame your words and speak clearly, bringing the tone up or down so that the dog understands the change in tone. And then, of course, there's getting on the same wavelength which means concentration, watching your dog's eyes, and generally getting simpatico, as they say in Spanish."
Easy? If you're Barbara Woodhouse. She estimates that she can train most dogs in under 10 minutes, and that 90 percent of the problem-dogs brought to her can be cured within an hour.
"You must use a firm tone of voice. You must signal firmly, you must speak firmly and then everything changes," she lectures, in very much the same tone she uses when training dogs. "You must have gentleness, peace and the will to succeed."
Pick a time for training, she advises, when "you're not harried. If the dog's not in the mood to be trained and you're in a bad temper, for goodness sake don't do it. Just give it a miss for that particular hour and have another go when you're calm."
While she's not fond of people who get dogs and then ignore them, Woodhouse does think it's important for children to grow up with animals. "It's something very lovely, that bond between children and animals, isn't it?"
She likes to tell of the time, when she was 8, that she went to London's Battersea dog shelter and spent her last pound adopting a bull terrier she had to smuggle home on the bus. "Of course I couldn't keep it because we already had dogs at home. But I did train it and find it a good home, which is why I took it in the first place."
Woodhouse still makes a point of stressing that shelter dogs can make good pets. "I took six dogs from the shelter and trained them on my show, and next day 300 got homes."
She says her fantasy (as yet unfulfilled) would be to rent out Wembley or Madison Square Garden, bring in 100 dogs to train at about 6 minutes per dog, and then "put them all to the 'down' together. Wouldn't that be something?"
Choosing a dog, says Woodhouse, is often a matter of finding something that clicks between you and your pet.
"I would choose a friendly dog; a dog with a big brown eye presumably two ; a dog that wags its tail. Never take a dog that shrinks away from you," she cautions, "because it's probably had some dreadful life, and it's going to be a problem getting it over its nerves. Also, don't take a dog that lies on its back with its feet in the air because that's submission and we don't like that."
As to whether a shelter mutt can become as good a pet as a purebred dog, Woodhouse says: "Better, I reckon, because they're so happy to be handled. I don't want people to think it's only pedigreed dogs I train. Any dog can do it. As long as it has four legs, nice brown eyes and a wagging tail."
She claims that while there's very little difference between dogs when it comes to training, the same doesn't hold true for the trainers. Men usually have an easier time training dogs than women, partly because their voices are naturally lower and partly, says Woodhouse, "because men are more used to giving orders and having them obeyed than women are."
Children sometimes have the easiest times of all because they are "such natural mimics. They can listen to me and get the tone of voice just right."
Woodhouse, who does not limit her work to dogs, is scheduled for a series of television programs about horses, in which she'll demonstrate her still-controversial method of breathing up a wild horse's nose to tame it.
The breathing-up-the-nose trick also works, or so she claims, in taming hyenas, giraffes, tapirs, llamas and cattle. "It's 'how-do-you-do' in horse language. After you do it they so love you that you walk away from the horse and it would follow you into your house."
Woodhouse denies that she can train "anything," although she did recently train a pig on live TV (in Britain) and she once trained a praying mantis in Africa.
"I'd never seen or heard of one," she says. "To me it looked like a grasshopper. But all the tourists wanted to photograph it and it was running all about. So I said 'sit and stay and bring your feet up.' And it looked up at me and brought its feet up. And I said 'bring your feet up higher.' And it did."
But back to dogs, Barbara Woodhouse's first love. What is it about dogs that so fascinates their owners?
"I think it's the deep adoration you get from a dog that's really trained and looks upon you as the be-all and end-all. There's nothing so flattering. It doesn't matter if your hair needs washing or you've got a sore throat or you're really ghastly to look at. It doesn't matter. The dog loves you.
"And isn't that nice?