David Adams used to walk 45 minutes each way from his apartment in Belltown in order to take his dog Soba to the nearest dog park - the only real place he could take her in the city where she could safely be off leash.
Today, he simply takes her to play in a nearby stranger’s yard, made possible by SniffSpot, the business he launched in 2017.
Soon after adopting Soba, Adams quickly learned that cities are not made for dogs. Having lived with her in both San Francisco and Seattle, he saw the way city noises, random dogs, people, and sudden movements from cars affected Soba’s comfort and inability to safely roam freely off-leash.
The only available option were dog parks - and neither he nor Soba enjoyed the experience.
“The dog parks are dirty, I was worried about diseases,” he said. “Every time I went there was at least one dog there that made it not fun.”
Once, Soba was bit by another dog at the park and required veterinary medical attention.
One evening his wife Rebecca Sheppard (who travels regularly with her dog Toshi for work) gave him the idea for SniffSpot, after a middle-of-the-night potty call in Baltimore. Toshi is particular about where she goes to the bathroom, and Sheppard was frustrated she couldn’t find a comfortable space for her in the city.
She texted Adams saying she wished there were an app for dog parks so she could know exactly where to take Toshi to pee. This exchange planted the seed for SniffSpot.
SniffSpot connects dog owners with the owners of unused yards and properties in order to provide a safe, off-leash space for dogs to exercise. Based on the AirBnB model, property owners earn money by renting their yards to dog owners.
Adams tested the concept in his neighborhood Facebook group and received over 1,000 responses in support of the idea. From there, he posted some ads on Craigslist seeking unused yards and the business took off.
Today, dog owners can find SniffSpot in hundreds of places all over the world and in every state in the U.S. Using the app, dog owners can search for nearby spots and filter by size of property, enclosure type, and proximity to other dogs and people.
As long as someone has a safe, private space, they can add it. There is one in Monroe, WA with over 100 acres and access to the Skykomish River. In NYC, you can take your dog to unused indoor ballroom spaces.
“There are endless possibilities,” said Adams. “If someone can imagine it, they can do it with SniffSpot.”
Rates start as low as $5 per hour per dog and can be booked for multiple hours if desired. Friends can go together by adding more dogs to the booking.
Adams’ goal has always been to be able to provide safe spaces where dogs can roam free off leash or work on training.
In the summer, dogs can cool off in private pools and for those who have been wanting to try out agility, there are spots with equipment available. The company is looking to add more locations with nosework opportunities .
SniffSpot also wants to make play dates easier.
“I know that my dogs love playing with other dogs, so we want to do more stuff with play dates,” said Adams. “The hardest part of finding a playmate is finding dogs whose personalities match, so we want to facilitate easier ways for dog owners to find good matches for their dogs.”
In the near future, Adams wants to update the app to allow for easier booking among friends. Currently, only one person can book, but can add any number of dogs. His goal is to allow friends to schedule play dates together without so much back and forth.
“I just want to create a website that inspires people to be creative, because I really think that there’s a big change happening in dog ownership,” said Adams. “It used to be that people looked at dogs as objects. There is so much room to enrich the relationship that dogs and humans have and access to space helps with that.”