In the spotlight with Tuulia Liuhto

OneMind Dogs Coach Tuulia Liuhto gets to work with what she loves. Competitive Tuulia has grown from being very critical of herself into an agility athlete and a coach that succeeds among the world’s best and is inspired by her students’ lightbulb moments.

Tuulia, for whom anything is possible

“Anything is possible”, is one Tuulia’s many agility mottos. “I have always been competitive in everything, on my free time and in school, ever since I was a child. Competing motivates me to improve myself. I like challenges and the feeling I get when I succeed in something that felt impossible before. I took part in my first agility competition after few months of practising. Obviously we failed because my dog didn’t even know all the obstacles yet but that just gave me the kick to practise even more.” Tuulia has proven her motto several times. Reaching big goals, making the impossible possible, has given Tuulia the best experiences of her agility career:

"I have experienced countless fine and funny agility moments. The most emotional moment was when I qualified into the Finnish National Agility Team at the 2011 tryouts. The feeling of a dream becoming true was amazing. A personal silver medal at the FCI Agility World Championships is an achievement only rare people have the chance to celebrate. I don’t remember much of that day because it was dream-like. Luckily I have had the videos and photos to show me what happened at the Championships and how amazing the atmosphere in the event was. Only later have I understood what I actually did and still can’t watch the final course without shedding a tear. It also felt awesome to win the first team medal with people I had trained with for years at the Finnish Agility Championships in 2011."

Tuulia has worked a lot for her success. Being too competitive may become an obstacle for success but it is possible to find a balance between wanting to win and enjoying what you are doing.

"At some point being so result oriented became an obstacle for my development in agility because I was so hard on myself and could not take any failures. Trying to become perfect in everything is mentally burdening and takes up a lot of energy. Just performing and harsh self-criticism does not take you forward. I have had to work on this side of myself with a professional and that has made me better at practising and as a competitor."

In agility, as well as in other parts of life, Tuulia thinks it is important to remember that you can do everything with a serious mindset without taking it too seriously. “Enjoy what you do, enjoy the journey and keep your mind open. Challenge yourself and jump out of your comfort zone once in a while. Keep your focus on the things you can affect and people who you can trust. And remember, the results mean nothing to your dog.

Do what you love. Love what you do.

Why did you choose agility?

“In agility I was intrigued by the pace and constantly changing circumstances from the start. Practising is never boring when I’m always faced with a new kind of course and challenges. It feels like you can never be ready. Imagination is the only limit of how skilled your dog can become and how solid you cooperation can become. That flow feeling of just you and your dog on the course is totally addictive. Also, each dog is different and you need to find the best way to work as a team with that specific dog, so there will always be challenges.”

How did you get excited about agility and who did you start with?

"I took our neighbour’s Collie kennel’s dogs and many other neighbourhood dogs out for walks for many years before I finally got my own Rough Collie Rufus in 1991. Rufus and I attended to breed shows and obedience classes until in 1992 I went to the Kennel Club’s agility practise, just by chance after our obedience class was cancelled. Agility swept me off my feet and I forgot all about obedience. My dog was a lot more excited about agility than obedience and that motivated me as well. Rufus and I competed in class 3.

I got my first Border Collie Gini in 1995. At that time, you didn't see too many Border Collies on Finnish agility courses. After Gini there have been nine more Border Collies in our family. I have also bred five Border Collie litters for my kennel Promillen."

Has some dog taught you something special about agility?

"All my dogs have been my mentors in their own way. Each of them have taught me a lot and have a special place in my life. My own ignorance caused my to bang my head in the wall a lot with my first dogs Rufus, Gini and Sherry but luckily I got to experience the OneMind Dogs enlightment after which my mind and thoughts about agility, practising, competing and dog training have changed completely. Punssi and Pirtu are my first dogs that have been trained using the OneMind Dogs metholodogy from the start. They are on a whole different level both in agility and ordinary life and have taught me to adapt what I have learned and challenged me to develop myself."

Has some person made a big difference in your agility career?

"This one is easy, Janita and Jaakko. In 2006 I finally had the change to go their training and it was love at first sight. I had been frustrated with what I was doing and my own development for a while. I knew that things could click if someone could just guide me to the right direction. And then at Jaakko’s and Janita’s first session it happened. Finally someone was able to explain everything in a way that they made sense and taught me to look at things from the dog’s perspective. Changing my old ways and attitude towards agility and competing did not happen overnight but I got that kick I needed at the time to continue practising. And the rest is history. Janita’s personal investment in my and my dogs development has been a key to what I have achieved with my dogs."

What is important to you as an agility instructor?

"Nowadays I teach agility for living, which means I get to do what I love the most. Earlier I was an active member of a dog club and was coaching groups of many different levels. I was also involved in a process of getting one of the first agility halls in Finland, to Helsinki.

As an instructor, it is important to me that I can get the handlers understand the dog's perspective in agility. I want them to understand what agility is at its best. Because I got the chance to experience an "englightment", I want my students to be able to get the same chance. Our dogs are teaching us how they want to be handled and how we should communicate with them on a course. Understanding this fact opens a whole new world and perspective to a handler. We are not teaching our dogs, they are teaching us, if we only learn to listen to them. When you understand your every choice on a course, and can also tell why you choose to do what you do, agility is suddenly surprisingly easy. Getting to see the look of a "light bulb moment" on a face of one of my students is the best reward I could dream of."

What would you say to someone starting their agility career?

"Agility is a fun thing to do together with your dog. Everyone can do it at their own level and reach their own targets. It’s good start practising agility with a skilled coach because good basics, knowing the obstacles and techniques create a good a safe base to continue practising."

What would you stay to yourself as a child if you were to meet her now?

"When I was a kid I had tons of plush toy animals that I took care of and took with me everywhere but I did not like dolls at all. Today we have seven dogs and no kids. So I would say follow your intuition, it is correct. Except that kids don’t even know what intuition means. Or do they? :) "


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