By Joseph Ciolino
Dog owners might want to think twice before tying their pet to a patio chair outside a restaurant, bar or coffee shop. Once the dog sees a squirrel, the canine likely will be in hot pursuit while dragging that chair.
Being a dog owner comes with certain responsibilities, and that includes keeping the canine safe from harm. Brian Hoffman, a dog owner from North Park who works as a boat repairman on Shelter Island in San Diego, came up with an idea for a mechanism that would give people an extra hand while out on the town with their pooches.
“I was walking and I wanted to go into the convenience store. I had to tie my dog up to a phone booth, and it was a precarious situation,” Hoffman said. “I thought, why wouldn’t a business want a hitch outside for people walking their dogs?”
Hoffman’s answer was to invent a way for people to secure their dogs while they are out and about. In 2013, he started developing dog hitches, producing six prototypes and handing them out to local North Park businesses. This became the starting point of his new business, Doghook.
Hoffman’s vision is keeping dogs safe and advocating for dog-friendly communities, and he has found allies in the community.
“There are lawsuits waiting to happen,” said Steve Yeng, owner of OB Noodle House in Ocean Beach. “A dog pulls an umbrella and hits somebody’s head, and there’s a $10,000 lawsuit.”
Yeng and his family own dogs, and he has made it a point to make OB Noodle House a place where people can bring their pets and feel comfortable.
The Asian fusion bar and restaurant has six hooks placed on poles in the outdoor dining area, and Yeng said this is one of the very few Asian eateries in San Diego that is dog-friendly.
“I think already that it has been a great thing for the dog-friendly community and the world is becoming more dog-friendly,” Hoffman said. “There’s really sort of a swell of dog-friendliness going around, and we want to be at the front of that.”
The product is essentially a plate with a bended hook welded on top of it, with holes punched on the plate where screws with washers are used to hold the plate on a sturdy surface.
The plate can be placed on outside or inside walls of businesses, on fences or any vertical surface, and patrons can secure the leash end onto the hook. The hooks work with every type of leash, Hoffman said, even the larger handles of extractable leashes.
“I wanted to find something that was a little more fashionable and a more modern look in the shop,” said Cielo Mathis, owner of Paws and Whiskers Grooming and Retail.
Hoffman boasts that Doghook is the strongest dog hitch in the world, and it been put to the test. Multiple shock and weight tests have been implemented and the hooks have prevailed, he said.
“There have been about 6,000 hooks made at this point and there’s never been a model that has failed,” Hoffman said. “You’d have to put 800 to 900 pounds [on the hook] to disfigure it and that just doesn’t happen.”
The hooks can be found at about 50 San Diego businesses such as bars, breweries, restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, schools and convenience stores.
“We really concentrated a lot on the beer culture, so there’s a lot in the breweries and tasting rooms,” Hoffman said. “I frequent various brewpubs and breweries in town with some regularity, and with my dogs — I simply wanted to make it safer and easier for myself and others to drink and dine with dogs.”
The Rabbit Hole in Normal Heights — a microbrewery that has outdoor seating with a wall facing the inside of the establishment — is lined with Doghooks for customers to eat and drink with their dogs secured.
“Beer culture at its heart is a very casual, relaxed atmosphere,” said Steven Throop, general manager of The Rabbit Hole. “People think about drinking beer on their porches with their neighbor and what’s more neighborly or more homey than having your dog with you.”
But aside from the beer scene, veterinarians and groomers also use the product.
Mathis has eight hooks spread throughout her pet-grooming parlor in Chula Vista, including hooks near the grooming stations, in the pet-holding areas and by the washing station. Previously, only crates and expandable gates were used in the parlor to secure the dogs.
It wasn’t until a dog escaped when Mathis realized that safety takes priority and security had to be heightened in her parlor, to prevent dogs from running out the door.
“It’s a great way to contain the dogs very easily and very quickly,” she said. “They [the customers] love the idea that their dog doesn’t have to go in a crate, and the dogs like it too.”
Buttons, Cielo’s Schnauzer, usually hangs out at the front of the shop attached to a Doghook, and comfortably watches her master groom the other dogs.
Hoffman has also sold his product to large companies that buy hundreds at a time, including Groomer’s Choice, a large catalog company that sells to dog groomers; and Red Cape Limited, a grooming distributor based in the United Kingdom.
Hoffman has also been working with the Canadian pet grooming product franchise called Pet Edge.
“We’re selling them all across the board to all kinds of different people, businesses, wholesalers and distributors at this point,” he said.
Hoffman has approached the bigger companies Petco and Petsmart but said he was not able to come to an agreement because of the high startup and monthly account system fees.
“It’s tough to get through with them,” he said. “Dealing with big companies there’s a lot of expenses in the setting up of it, so I sort of backed away from doing that.”
Luckily for Hoffman, he currently had no direct competitor. But he also lacks widespread publicity about his product, so the product is still fairly new on the market.
But things have started to pick up for Hoffman, and he has sold about 250 hooks internationally and nearly 5,000 domestically, and expects to sell many more as the word of mouth spreads.
“It’s such a simple thing and there’s so few ideas that haven’t been thought of yet,” Hoffman said. “With seven billion people you’d think somebody would’ve thought of this before.”
To find out more information about Doghook, visit doghook.com or the Facebook page at bit.ly/1WD6u5C.
—Joseph Ciolino is an intern with SDCNN and a senior majoring in journalism at San Diego State University. He graduates this month.