James studied industrial design at the National College of Art and Design. After working in Ireland and China, he came home in 2013, married his girlfriend and they got their first dog together.
As a puppy, Sandy was a classic Labrador type: she explored the world with her mouth, chewing everything in sight. She was very destructive, regularly eating shoes and anything else left within her reach. The final straw came when she chewed their wedding album to pieces.
James had tried to distract her using the entire range of dog chew toys on the market, but he had never found anything that suited Sandy. The toys were either so rudimentary that she rapidly became bored with them, or so cheaply made that she chewed them into dangerous pieces.
James reckoned that he could do a better job himself, so with Sandy as his product tester, he started by creating some prototypes using the 3D printing skills that he’d learned elsewhere. Sandy loved the early models, and James then started to share his ideas with others in the dog world.
He worked with the Dog Den in Harmonstown, where he learned more about dogs’ behavioural needs. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to do jobs for humans, from herding sheep to hunting. It’s only in the past century that they’ve become primarily companions, without a specific job to do. Many modern dogs end up bored because they have nothing to do, and this results in behavioural problems such as destruction and separation anxiety. It was obvious to James that dogs need mental stimulation, and they need to engage their senses. He modified his toy design to make them as interesting as possible for modern pet dogs. The aim was to use the toys to make dogs work for their rewards, rather than just giving them their food as a pile on the plate to be gobbled down in an instant. The doggy day care at Dog Den became his laboratory, and together they worked through over fifty prototypes, gradually refining the design.
A year ago, James was granted funding with Enterprise Ireland, and since then he’s been busy developing a commercial version of his designs. He’s applied for patents and trademarks, he’s set up websites, he’s organised packaging, and most importantly, he’s refined the manufacture of the products so that he now has a predictable, safe, steady range of items for sale that provide interest and fun.
The dog toys – or as James calls them, “engineered canine entertainment” – are made from thermo plastic elastomer (TPE) which is essentially a soft but durable plastic which has been tested to the same safety standards as children’s toys. The products are chew-resistant, they float on water, and they are full of grooves, crevices and holes so that they can be stuffed with food treats.
They come in a range of colours, shapes and sizes that can be used as toys on their own, or they can be clipped together, like Lego, into larger shapes that dogs can enjoy pulling apart.
James is using Ireland as a test market, with the toys available from over twenty five pet shops nationwide. He’s also selling them via his website, reaching the UK and USA, and as he expands the range of toys, he hopes to get them into pet shops internationally as well.
To see the full range of toys, visit www.k9connectables.com