Ann Ouchtherloney’s story of agility joy despite physical limitations

June 15, 2023

At OneMind Dogs, we believe that agility is for everyone. In a recent episode of our From the Dog’s Perspective podcast, we spoke with Ann Ouchtherloney about her experience overcoming her own physical limitations to thrive with her dogs.

Ann worked with IBM for over 30 years, but 8 years ago, she and her husband retired and moved to Florida. They were able to buy a house with a large yard, so she could start training her dogs every day in agility. She says that it’s been a dream, and living with her four dogs makes every day a joy.

She’s currently working with her 3-year-old Sheltie, trying to compete in agility trials.  Rafa undoubtedly learned a lot from his older siblings (including Ann’s 15-year-old retired agility dog!).

Getting started in agility

“I wanted a dog growing up as far back as I can remember,” Ann recalls. She started with German Shepherds and got into agility because she had a fear-aggressive dog who needed greater confidence to overcome her reactivity.  

Ann had never heard of agility before, so she sought out a trainer. Her first attempts didn’t work well because she couldn’t find anyone to work with her shepherd. She worked privately with her, but she could never compete with her.

It wasn’t until she got another dog that she was able to train more seriously. Except this dog had her own ideas about what to do on the course. She would leap out of the ring whenever she didn’t want to stay on track!

With her third dog, who is now 15, Ann was finally able to compete. Indy had been a show dog, and whenever he got confused, he would freeze and resort to a conformation stance suitable for the show ring. This itself was a unique challenge that was a major learning curve for Ann.

Now, she’s another show dog reject who adores competing in agility courses. 

What motivates you to train? 

“I love coming home from work and having something greet me and be absolutely thrilled,” Ann says with a laugh. Her passion for working with her pups is simple; she believes that life is just better with dogs in it.

Ann describes her love for dogs with unbridled enthusiasm. “No matter how your day is, the dog loves you. It loves to be there and work with you,” she says with a smile in her voice. 

Agility is Ann’s favorite dog sport, even though she’s also tried obedience and some tracking as well. She’s especially been overjoyed training her current dog because she started training at 8 weeks old. They have built the foundation skills from the start, and they both love the game. 

Now, her little partner is able to play with her and connect on the course in a way her other dogs often struggled to. 

Ann’s story is amazing because it reminds us that no matter how old your dog is, what their history is, and what their challenges are, they can still find joy in agility. It can also be just as therapeutic for the handler as it is for their pup.

For Ann, training took place at her local club for a long time. Her coach recommended OneMind Dogs, and she was fascinated by our philosophy. She would watch videos and try them at home, and was “hooked” on the process and results.

Being able to connect with your dog on such a deep level is the spark of the OneMind Dogs magic. 

What was your biggest “Aha!” moment?”

Ann says that her biggest lightbulb moment came from obedience training. One of her dogs was frustrated and completely ignoring her cues. Her instructor asked her to throw some treats at the dog’s head. 

She wasn’t expecting to see a difference by throwing a piece of cheese at her dog’s head. But from that moment forward, her dog was always focused on Ann. Her instructor told her that the dog’s perspective wasn’t the same as the human’s perspective.  

While Ann believed giving a treat to a dog that was ignoring her would be seen as a reward for bad behavior, the dog’s perspective was very different. As her instructor explained, the dog’s perspective was:  “Wow! I almost missed a treat because I wasn’t paying attention!”

By using something the dog really cared about (treats!), Ann realized that her dog’s perspective was what really mattered when it came to training success. 

“From the dog’s perspective, it was the opposite of what I thought was going on,” Ann says. “I realized it may not be at wall what I think is going on. They can be thinking the total opposite!”

Realizing our dog’s perspectives are different from our own ultimately helps us ease stress on both ends. Training becomes more lighthearted, enjoyable, and effective. 

How has dog training impacted your life? 

Ann has an artificial hip and an artificial knee, so she can’t run. This means that she trains distance with her dogs on the course. Many handlers find this impossible, but for Ann, it’s been a necessity. Something she’s learned is that the calmer she is and the quieter she is, the more responsive her pup becomes.

She also believes in rewarding effort, not just results. “Effort is way more important than perfection,” Ann says. 

This couldn’t be more true. Dogs, like humans, need to feel like you notice they’re trying, and that their hard work is appreciated. They may not always understand what you want all the time, but if you show them that their effort matters, it boosts their confidence and keeps them motivated. 

Overcoming challenges as a team

Ann’s physical limitations mean she has to train differently than traditional agility demands. Rather than running alongside her dog, she walks and uses gestures to get her dog to follow her on the course. 

Not many people teach distance, Ann says, but she’s found a local instructor who helps. However, it wasn’t until she found OneMind Dog’s videos on distance agility handling that she started to understand what she needed to do on the course. 

The videos, she says, helped her understand what she was doing that was sending the dog the wrong way. Rather than thinking her dog wasn’t listening, she realized that it’s the handler’s actions that impact the dog’s perspective and behavior.

Ultimately, by understanding things from her dog’s point of view, Ann can cue her dog to the correct obstacle, rotate her body, and help the dog clear its obstacles. 

Ann says that an Alaskan Malamute taught her the most about animal behavior. She was asked to take the dog because a rescue knew she’d worked with German Shepards. The dog was quite stubborn, and Ann realized the fundamental difference between nature and nurture.

Handlers have to understand that their dog’s breed and temperament will drastically influence the approach you take to training. While all dogs speak the same language, their needs vary based on breed-specific factors like their temperament, intelligence, and motivation. 

There are certain things you can’t change about a dog, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be trained. Instead, the owner has to realize that by respecting their pet’s nature, they can nurture it into the most amazing version of itself and turn it into an incredible companion.

Discover the difference OneMind Dogs can make in your life! Check out our Agility Foundations program today and start training with over 70 expert-guided videos. 

Listen to the full podcast episode and sign up for OneMind Dogs – From the Dog’s Perspective podcast newsletter

OneMind Dogs’ podcast, “From the Dog’s Perspective,” shares amazing stories of journeys undertaken by dogs and their owners, from all around the world.

The core focus is on how we can be the best possible dog owners – from the dog’s perspective, of course!

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