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Business Spotlight: SniffSpot is a tail-wagging side hustle

Posted on January 30th, 2023 By:

Anyone would enjoy wandering on the trails Paul Spadoni carved out on his family’s 12-acre property off Ray Nash Drive near Rosedale. But few enjoy it more than the Very Good Boys and Girls who go there to hang out for hourlong play dates. 

Spadoni’s property is a rent-able private dog park through SniffSpot, a five-year-old company founded in Seattle that bills itself as an AirB&B for pups. It’s a simple concept: Dog owners pay a nominal hourly fee (typically between $5 and $15 per hour) to use someone’s yard, field or forest to run their pets. 

Paul Spadoni’s SniffSpot offers a natural setting, with trails cut through a forest and park benches at hand so pup owners can rest.

Judging by Spadoni’s experience, the idea is catching on. His property, Spadoni Hill, was listed on Sniffspot in 2020 to little response. He took it down for awhile, then activated it as a rental dog park again late last year.

Now he’s getting bookings practically every day.

“It’s going to come close to paying my property taxes.” the retired Peninsula School District teacher said, adding: “That’d be a big thing for me.”

How it works 

Sniffspot properties come with a variety of amenities, or none at all. Some, especially in urban areas, are little more than a back yard. Others come with pools or obstacle courses to keep dogs occupied. 

Spadoni’s niche is the network of trails he has created over the years on the property that’s been in his family since 1946. 

“This one is unusual in that it has this many acres and is relatively untouched,” said Spadoni, who charges $9 an hour for visits. SniffSpot takes about a 25 percent cut for marketing, insurance, website costs and the like. “The dogs have so many new places to explore and sniff.” 

The entrance to the Woods at Spadoni Hill, Paul Spadoni’s SniffSpot near Rosedale.

Another Gig Harbor-area SniffSpot, Mary Ann Peterson’s Huckleberry Acres off Peacock Hill Avenue, shows the range of experiences. Her property is smaller, at two acres. And while Spadoni Hill is notable for its natural, forested setting, Peterson’s plot is a beautifully landscaped former Gig Harbor Garden Tour property. 

“It’s pretty much a dog’s dream,” Peterson said. “The whole 2 acres we have is totally fenced. It’s really under appreciated by us. …. But now I have motivation. That’s what SniffSpot has done more for me, is provide motivation to continue to improve the property.” 

Mary Ann Peterson’s beautifully landscaped SniffSpot property near Gig Harbor.

Rating system

A rating system, similar to that used on AirB&B or VRBO, helps keep tails wagging. Guests who abuse the rules — for instance, by failing to pick up their dog’s droppings or leaving a gate open — get negative reviews from hosts. Similarly, guests have the opportunity to leave reviews about the properties they visit. 

Spadoni’s reviews are glowing. 

“Such a great place to let the dogs romp,” one reviewer wrote after a recent visit. “This spot is truly in incredible! So many trails and spots for the dogs to sniff,” wrote another who visited shortly after the New Year. 

Reviews for Peterson’s SniffSpot are similarly positive. 

“Absolutely loved visiting this beautiful space with our pack,” wrote a visitor from earlier this month. “Mary was very welcoming! There are lots of little areas to explore and the hills make for a great workout.” 

Reactive dogs 

SniffSpot is especially helpful for people who have “reactive” dogs, which the American Kennel Club defines as dogs that overreact to certain stimulii or situations. Those dogs, obviously, are problematic at public dog parks. 

David Adams founded the company in Seattle in 2018 after having “bad experiences” at public dog parks there, he told GeekWire.

A SniffSpot guest pauses from playing at Huckleberry Acres, Mary Ann Peterson’s property off Peacock Hill.

Reasons for taking your dog to a SniffSpot, however, are as varied as the dogs who patronize the properties. Peterson said she has at least two regulars who drive all the way from Seattle to exercise their pups on her property.  

Another brings a professional dog trainer for training sessions at Huckleberry Acres. A third owns several expensive greyhound show dogs and doesn’t want to risk taking them to a public dog park for exercise. 

Dog people

SniffSpot makes its money by taking a cut of about 25 percent from every transaction. In exchange, the company handles all the marketing, connects property owners to guests and operates the website and app that makes the whole system work.

Peterson and Spadoni consider it a bargain. The app lets them make a little extra cash without much extra effort. 

Peterson said SniffSpot earns a little extra spending money for her and her son. And it brings a little extra joy into their life in seeing dogs enjoy her property. 

Peterson has two dogs: an Australian-English shepherd mix named Molly and Betty, a short-haired border collie. She bought the Huckleberry Acres property in part so her pups would have room to run, but they’re happy to share. 

Spadoni has an Australian cattle dog, Rocco. A block of time on Spadoni Hill’s SniffSpot schedule is reserved every day for Rocco’s use. The rest of the time is available to rent. 

While some might hesitate at inviting strangers to play on their private property, neither Rocco nor Paul have had any problems with guests. Which doesn’t surprise Paul. 

“If you have a dog,” he said, “you’re probably not a bad person anyhow.” 

Paul Spadoni cut trails through his 12-acre property for use by family and friends. Now, through SniffSpot, it’s available for rent as a private dog park.