Sunday, February 21, 2016

What in the World is a Woodhouse Collar?

Often referred to but never explicitly defined, the "Woodhouse Collar" is an extinct training tool that is best described as a choke chain with bigger, noisier links. I had read glowing recommendations for this collar in training books in the mid-1990's, including a vague mention of the collar being attached in a manner that prevented it from tightening. Never had I seen such a thing in a store, nor could I figure out just what it was. Surely not a regular choke chain, right?

woodhouse collar choke chain
This is not a real Woodhouse collar.
Nope, it seems to be basically a choke chain. From descriptions it seems the links were not quite as big as on a "fur saver" type chain collar, which doesn't work very well as a correction collar because the links are too big to get a really good pop. Nor were the links as small as those found in a standard check chain.

The links in a Woodhouse collar were o-shaped, and big enough to attach a leash clip through. The live ring could be pulled until the collar was tight enough to not slip off, and then the leash could be clipped to both the live ring and any link along the collar to keep it at the correct size without tightening or loosening. Protection sport people still do this with fur saver collars.

I have not been able to find a picture of an actual Woodhouse collar, but I did manage to find a chain with big enough links to snap my Stibbar lead to both the live ring and a random link. I'm pretty sure this is how the Woodhouse collar was "buckled back on itself". That particular description threw me off for years though, as I kept trying to find a chain collar with an actual buckle.

The Woodhouse collar was designed by Barbara Woodhouse, a TV dog trainer in the 1980's that used very similar methods to a current TV dog trainer. I like to use this to explain how far we've come in the art of dog training, and how far the Dog Whisperer has set things back for the general public.

Barbara Woodhouse also wrote a book, No Bad Dogs, that was published in 1982. I read it in 1992 and even when I was fully-versed in dominance theory and bought the whole thing, I found her methods appalling. Her training strategy in the book could be summed up in a single sentence: "Put a choke chain on the dog, and pop the leash until the problem goes away." This was applied to such varied situations as teaching dogs to sit, to forcing them to conquer their fears. The part that has stuck in my mind for decades is the bit where she described taking a poodle that was extremely nervous around vehicular traffic, and standing on a divider of a busy road cranking the choke chain repeatedly until the dog stopped looking scared. Nope, nope, nope.

Nowadays we call that "flooding", as in flooding the dog with a scary stimulus until the part of its brain that can be scared just gives up and shuts off for a bit, coupled with aversion training to teach the dog to stop acting fearful and hide those feelings away to avoid getting hurt. Nobody well-educated in dog behavior would use this sort of method due to the possibility of the poodle ending up even more fearful of cars without giving any warning signs.

The Woodhouse collar fell out of favor and out of production sometime in the mid-90's, I believe. At least one book published in 1992 heavily recommended them, but the collar was largely unknown when I went looking for one in 2002.

If you came here to figure out what the heck a Woodhouse collar is, I hope you found the answer you were looking for. If anyone has a picture of an authentic Woodhouse collar, I would be delighted to share a picture with the world.


  1. The book "Good Owners,Great Dogs" has several images of a Woodhouse collar.

    1. Not every edition, apparently. This book is precisely what inspired my curiosity about the collar.

  2. Somewhere, I have a 'Woodhouse' collar. If I can find it, I'll take and picture and post it here. Have bookmarked the page.

  3. I have multiple sizes somewhere. I'm current looking for one for my 4 month old Lab. I loved those collars mostly for the non slippery action. I started 3 different dogs in those collars, all with very good results.