By Joseph Ciolino
An owner of a 60-pound dog might want to think twice before tying their pet to a patio chair outside a coffee shop. Simply put, once the dog sees a squirrel, there goes the chair.
There is a certain responsibility that comes with being a dog owner, and that includes keeping the dog, people and the community safe, said Brian Hoffman, a dog owner and boat repairman who came up with an idea 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, and 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 were out. He started developing dog hitches in 2013 by producing six prototypes and handing them out to local North Park businesses.
It became the starting point of his business, Doghook, which is exactly what it sounds like: 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 the outside or inside walls of businesses, on fences or any vertical surface, and patrons can simply secure the leash end on the hook. The hooks work with every type of leash, even the larger handles that are commonly seen with 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.
According to Hoffman, multiple shock and weight tests have put the hooks to the test.
“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.”
Indeed, safety was the main concern for Hoffman when he came up with the idea to develop the dog hitch; his main vision was keeping the dogs and the patrons safe while advocating for dog-friendly communities.
“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 all 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 about six dog hooks placed on poles in the outdoor dining area.
“I think already that it has been a great thing for the dog-friendly community,” 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 hooks can be found all over San Diego, spanning to about 50 local businesses varying from 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 is a microbrewery that has outdoor seating with a wall facing the inside of the establishment. That wall 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?”
Aside from the beer scene, many veterinarians and groomers use the product as well.
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 dogs.
It wasn’t until a dog escaped when Mathis realized that safety takes priority and security had to be heightened in her parlor.
“It’s a great way to contain the dogs very easily and very quickly,” she said. “[Customers] love the idea that their dog doesn’t have to go in a crate, and the dogs like it too.”
Cielo’s Schnauzer, Buttons, usually hangs out at the front of the shop on her 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, another grooming distributor based in the United Kingdom.
One of the newer clients that Hoffman has been working with is the Canadian pet grooming product franchise known as Pet Edge.
“We’re selling them all across the board to all kinds of different people, businesses, wholesalers and distributors,” said Hoffman.
Hoffman has approached the bigger companies Petco and Petsmart but 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.”
Though the hooks are widely known, things have started to pick up for Hoffman. He has sold about 250 hooks internationally, nearly 5,000 domestically and plans to sell many more.
“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.”