When Angela Hook talks about Stunt Puppy, a company that makes outdoor gear for dogs using human-grade fabrics and components, she does it with unabashed enthusiasm. Her words spill out quickly, almost singing through her New Zealand accent.
“There’s never a dull moment. It’s really energizing and fun, and we get to play with dogs most days,” she said.
Stunt Puppy is set apart by its canine-first designs. The folks behind the brand pour enormous energy into understanding how dogs think and move, and how their bodies are shaped. They take great pains to make sure their gear is both comfortable and functional for four leggeds before adding in human considerations.
For example, the Stunt Puppy life jacket, called the Float Doggy, features a fully enclosed harness, making it the only life jacket on the market that provides floatation between the front legs. Supporting dogs’ heavier shoulder area helps them keep their head higher in the water and eases pressure on soft tissue, Angela said.
The Float Doggy, like all Stunt Puppy protective clothing, is also made with curved and articulated panels to ensure it mirrors the shape of dogs’ bodies and provides a wide range of movement.
“The life jacket is probably our most important product because we really reinvented life jackets for dogs,” Angela said.
The 2019 version of Stunt Puppy is the coming together of two separate small brands that started literally continents apart.
Angela and her husband Mark originally launched a company called D-fa Dogs from their home in New Zealand. It all started when Angela and Mark made a big move with their Rhodesian Ridgeback, Jack, to a much colder climate.
Jack stubbornly refused to go outside, going 20+ hours without a potty break. Angela did what any doting dog companion would do, and bought every canine coat on the market to try to solve the problem.
The coats she bought simply didn’t fit 130-pound Jack. On top of that, as she donned her own aesthetically pleasing, well-made and insulated warm clothes, she found herself wanting the same thing for Jack.
“It was not only a product failure, it was a personality failure,” Angela said.
So Angela called her sister-in-law who designed products for a large outdoor brand and asked if she could make Jack at coat. She sent Jack’s measurements and two weeks later a beautiful garment arrived made of felted merino.
“When you held it up, it physically looked like a dog,” Angela said. “People would stop me in the street and say ‘What a beautiful dog! Where did you get that jacket?’”
A Canadian couple wanted the jacket so deeply that even after Angela told them it wasn’t for sale, they convinced her to sell Jack’s jacket to them.
“Every year for the next seven years they sent me a picture of their dog in that jacket,” she said.
Taking the hint, Angela and Mark launched D-fa Dogs, starting out with a small run of two jacket styles.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Ken Goldman was searching for the perfect leash and collar for his golden retriever, Bauer. From volunteering at hospitals to running the trails, their lifestyle was busy — and put their dog gear to the test.
Dissatisfied with the dog products on the market, Ken retreated to his basement, pulled out a sewing machine and created the Stunt Runner™, a hands-free leash. He soon added collars to his product line and Stunt Puppy was born.
“The nice thing about the Stunt Runner is that it gives you freedom without it being a complete rodeo out there on the trails,” Angela said.
Angela and Mark met Ken while at Outdoor Retailer. Someone came up to Angela and Mark and said “There’s this guy walking the show and he’s basically stolen your brand.”
A few hours later Ken came by to introduce himself: “Hi my name is Ken Goldman. I hear I stole your brand.”
“Almost at opposite sides of the world we were developing along similar lines but with different products,” Angela said.
The three of them stayed in close touch. Then one day, Ken popped the question: “Hypothetically, have you ever thought of merging with Stunt Puppy?”
Angela and Mark jumped at the opportunity. There were a mountain of details to work through — everything from aligning the brands and dividing up responsibilities to paperwork complicated by the fact that Angela and Mark are not U.S. citizens. But while not easy, the merger went smoothly, Angela said.
“Really the marriage is a wonderful one. It’s not just a marriage of a convenience, it’s a real meeting of the minds,” she said.
Angela and Mark moved to the United States, and Stunt Puppy is now run by the three founders, plus two other hired team members.
Their line has grown to include a harness — which Angela points out is not just for dogs that pull but really a great way to work with any dog — and an insulated jacket called the Puffy Doggy that’s super packable and lightweight. There are also a lot of new products in the pipeline, Angela said.
All Stunt Puppy gear is made in either the U.S. or New Zealand, except the life jacket. For the latter, the manufacturing facility they work with is so skilled and accommodating, they don’t want to fix what’s working.
Each founder brings a unique skillset to the table. In addition to Stunt Puppy, Ken runs a digital marketing agency. And Angela’s background is in consumer research (she’s spent 30,000 hours interviewing people on everything from laundry detergent to electric cars). Mark, a master of time zones and bank transfers, tracks the international side of the business.
“I’m the sails and he’s the keel” Angela said of Mark. “I’m sheets to the wind, but he very much keeps us on course.”
It’s a course with bearings pointed directly toward dogs who pursue adventures with as much vigor as their human companions, and want — nay, need — gear engineered for what those adventures entail.