Jake the dog wears a retractable collar while on a hike on a trail. His owner, Brian Dagnon, came up with the idea for the collar, because he disliked having to carry a leash after getting the pooch to off-leash trails.

Jake the dog wears a retractable collar while on a hike on a trail. His owner, Brian Dagnon, came up with the idea for the collar, because he disliked having to carry a leash after getting the pooch to off-leash trails.

Pet company that invented retractable leash wins $10,000 from PayPal

Rad Dog came out of frustration by hiker who disliked carrying leash in off-leash areas.

BELLINGHAM — Going out for a walk is a daily chore for dog owners. But for one man, walking the dog sparked the idea for a new business.

Paula and Brian Dagnon started Rad Dog out of their Bellingham home.

Their main product has caught on, even catching the eye of PayPal, and winning a national contest this summer.

Brian Dagnon came up with the idea more than a decade ago while trail running with a dog in an off-leash area. Since dogs have to be leashed in the parking lot and up until the trailhead, once he let the dog free, he would have to carry the leash while he ran the trail.

“There’s got to be a better way,” he remembers thinking. “I don’t want to carry this leash anymore.”

Over the course of a few years, he perfected his design, and it became Rad Dog’s flagship product, the Release N Run dog leash. It’s a collar with a built-in retractable leash. To take the leash, the owner just has to grab the loop on the dog’s collar and pull. When they get to an off-leash area, the owner can just let the leash go, and it retracts back into the collar.

Brian Dagnon said customers like using it even beyond his original inspiration of off-leash trails. It can be used to grab the dog quickly when they encounter an unfriendly dog, walking back and forth to the car, or any other time the dog needs to get on-leash quickly, and only for a little while.

“In a matter of seconds your dog is literally on leash,” Brian Dagnon said. “It’s just so quick and there’s no getting your leash out of your backpack.”

Brian Dagnon made the first leash himself, in a spare bedroom of their Bellingham home. He bought the fabric and webbing and cut it to size, and bought an industrial sewing machine.

They’ve since expanded to the back yard, where they built an assembly studio and have four employees.

They buy the fabric pre-cut from Everett and the hardware from California — all the components are made in the U.S. They hire Western Washington University students to assemble their products at times that work around their school schedule.

“Our employees, because it’s in our back yard, are really a part of our family,” Paula Dagnon said.

This summer Rad Dog won PayPal’s $10,000 Business Makeover contest. Rad Dog was one of three winners selected from more than 13,000 applicants from around the country.

“We were ecstatic,” Brian Dagnon said.

As winners of the contest, they’ll receive $10,000, consultation from PayPal, and website and back-end help.

Judges in the contest were won over by the Dagnons’ unique product idea.

“The idea of making a leash retractable was one that, as a dog lover, I can see useful for both the dog and the owner,” PayPal’s Vice President of Small Business Dan Leberman, who was on the judging panel, said in a written statement. “It’s a really terrific idea.”

The other thing judges recognized is Rad Dog’s current limitations, and potential for growth.

“One of the great things about the Merchant Makeover contest is the potential to help entrepreneurs when they’re at a pivotal moment in their business’ life cycle to take the next step,” Xero President Keri Gohman, also a judge, said in written statement. “Rad Dog is now perfectly positioned to do so.”

They’ll put the money into developing a new product, a harness version of the Release N Run. They’ll use it to purchase another sewing machine, which means they’ll be able to hire another employee and expand their production capacity.

“We are consistently out of collars right now,” Paula Dagnon said.

The tech makeover will mean big things for their company.

“I guess we had some growing pains with our current system,” Paula Dagnon said. “We do a lot of manual data entry.”

In the coming months, PayPal will also be checking in with Rad Dog, and promoting the company through a series of blog posts.

“They’re doing a big blog post and a marketing promotion for all the companies that won” Brian Dagnon said. “So that will be really big for us.”

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