Dog agility competitions and engineering are not necessarily the most common fit. But for Rhonda Koeske ‘90, they're a perfect mix of skills and passion.
What started as a hobby has turned into an obsession and a career. After years of training her own dogs and participating - and placing - in many competitions across the country, Koeske decided to start her own dog agility training business.
It’s not all fun and games. It’s about analyzing lines, spacing of jumps and angles of jumps. It’s about using her engineering skills.
“Every time you go to a course it’s different. I’m always analyzing how I’m going to get the most points. You get a course map and it’s like a puzzle that you need to solve,” Koeske said. “When you start it’s all about your dog doing well, but the more you do it you realize it’s about creating lines between the obstacles, minimizing the distances your dog is taking to get a better time.”
Koeske worked in manufacturing engineering for Ford Motor Company for 20 years after graduating from Kettering before moving to Florida. Her passion for dog agility competitions didn’t start there but that’s where it started to grow into a career.
Koeske’s first competition was in 1995. Since then she’s participated in more than 200 dog agility competitions, usually placing in the top three.
Koeske and her dog, Tack, placed third in the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge in July 2015 in Boston. In October 2015, Koeske and Tack placed third during the Performance Grand Prix at the USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) Cynosport World Games.
Rhonda Koeske '90 (photo courtesy of Cathi Winkles Photography).
Koeske first became interested in the competitions before she even owned a dog. The sport fascinated her.
“I just thought it was the neatest thing. You could just tell the passion the dogs had. They were having the best time,” she said. “When I got my first dog I bought a book, started creating some of the obstacles. I got my first dog in 1993. I was hooked immediately, addicted.”
It wasn’t just the strategy that pulled Koeske in. It was also the partnership with the dog that she loved.
“You’re a team and they’re your teammate. You love your dog. They give you unconditional love,” she said. “It helps you communicate with your dog. It just builds the relationship with you and your dog.”
Her dog training business, Agility Focus, was founded two years ago. Koeske recently got a location and all the equipment to make it her full-time business. She has approximately15 students helping dogs and handlers of all ages and abilities, she said.
“You get pretty passionate and pretty technical and analytical about it. It’s pretty fun,” Koeske said.
Her time at Kettering and in her engineering career prepared her for what she’s doing now.
“The analytical skills part of it, you can never take that away even with simple things,” Koeske said. “It’s part of mechanical engineering of how things work or they don’t work. You look at what you need to do to look at something and make it work a certain way. I love data. I’m a data freak.”
And she takes all those skills and uses it toward dog agility training. Her time at Ford Motor Company, which including training, helped her prepare for her business now and how to understand adult learners.
“I don’t know if I was destined to be an engineer my entire life, but when I got to Kettering I knew I could achieve whatever I wanted,” Koeske said. “It wasn’t easy. It was a challenge, but I had confidence in myself, whether it’s dog training or engineering. I felt like I accomplished something spectacular when I graduated from Kettering.”