A yard for rent in Mount Airy, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Karen Krieg.
City living is not always dog-friendly, especially for pups who need a lot more exercise than a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood. Public dog parks, with their unpredictable melting pot of other pets, aren’t always a safe option.
Luckily, there’s an app for that.
SniffSpot, sometimes described as “Airbnb for dog parks,” allows hosts to rent out their yards as private dog parks for dog owners to use by the hour. Washington is the app’s third-biggest market, with more than 100 “spots” available within an hour of DC. Anyone anywhere with a yard can list a spot. Some of the earliest ones started popping up in the DC area in 2019, though the app’s presence has grown considerably in Washington in the past year.
Founder David Adams started SniffSpot four years ago. Living in downtown Seattle after adopting his first dog, he saw a need for city dwellers to access private green spaces for their animals. “She really wasn’t getting the exercise she needed; she’s a lab/pit mix—very high energy,” he says. “Dogs literally are evolved to be on the move all day in the wild, using their nose in a free environment. And she just couldn’t get that living in the city.”
After posting about it online and getting more than 1,000 responses, Adams set up a makeshift website. Within a month, more than a dozen guests had been connected with hosts in the Seattle area who had listed their yards for rent.
It took a little while longer to really catch on here. Sniffspot host Andy Gonzalez first listed his lush Silver Spring property on the site in 2019, but he had no guests at all for the first 12 months. In the last year, though, he says it’s really taken off. By his estimate, between 30 and 50 guests now book his yard in warm months. “It’s very serene and very peaceful—people really enjoy that,” Gonzalez says. “I have this one customer who drives an hour every time just to come here, and she comes like twice a week.”
The one-acre spot goes for $9 per dog per hour, which is relatively standard—rental prices, set by the hosts, tend to range between $5 and $20 in the area. Gonzalez has reinvested some of the income into upgrades like a fire pit, hand warmers, and camping chairs. Besides money spent on improvements, he says the other investment he makes is in time spent picking up after his own three dogs so that the place is clean for guests. “Sniffspot was a really good opportunity for us to utilize our land,” he says. “I didn’t think it would take off like it did, but people really enjoy it.”
Gaithersburg resident Ben Wolfgang says Sniffspot has been “a lifesaver” for his two-year-old mix, Cheddar. “We try to go at least every other day, and get an hour of off-leash running around and having fun,” Wolfgang says. “And really at this point, I don’t know what I would do without it.”
Wolfgang says he has a number of spots within 10 to 15 minutes of his home. Unsurprisingly, it’s easier to find larger spots farther away from the city, but hosts are not required to have a certain acreage in order to list their yard. DMV yards are split fairly evenly between Virginia and Maryland, with several in Arlington, Alexandria, and College Park.
Neil Desai, a Shepherd-mix owner in Arlington, says his favorite spot is right near his home—it’s fairly small, but includes dog agility training equipment that his pup, Archie, loves. He says the spot’s hourly price has increased recently, possibly because demand for the app has risen in the area, but he still goes at least once a week.
Desai sometimes travels farther to a bigger yard in Maryland, where he and a neighbor arrange puppy playdates. He wants Archie to socialize but worries about taking him to public dog parks. “Things can escalate pretty quickly in a dog park,” he says.
Karen Krieg, a dog trainer and Sniffspot host in Mount Airy, says she tells her clients never to go to public dog parks. “They are unstable, often with dogs who don’t belong there, with owners not paying nearly enough attention,” she says via email.
Sniffspot allows only one booking at a time and requires hosts (who are, almost without exception, dog owners themselves) to keep any other pets out of the yard, so owners know their dog won’t encounter any other dogs unless they’ve planned it ahead of time. Listings have to include information about acreage, whether other animals or people can be seen or heard from the yard, and the height of the fence.
The information makes the app particularly attractive for city dwellers with “reactive” dogs, or dogs that tend to overreact to people, pets, or other stimuli. “I have had difficult dogs, so finding a place to let them run and be dogs was always difficult,” Krieg says. “That was one of the things that actually attracted me to being a host—giving people that opportunity.”