NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Finding a place to let “dogs be dogs” has sometimes been difficult in Davidson County, where dogs running off leash has long been a concern among residents who fear not only for their own well-being, but their pets’ safety.

It’s an issue that has been illuminated in recent months following a controversial incident at Percy Warner Park in which a dog was shot and killed, and with the Metro Nashville government recently changing its animal ordinance to tighten leash laws.

However, amid the unease, a relatively new concept is leading a number of people to open up their own backyards to pet owners looking for a safer option to allow their dogs to run and play. Private dog parks have been popping up throughout the city through an app called Sniffspot.

Dog cooling down
Dog cooling down at water station at dog park. (WKRN photo)

“I think it’s a problem that people have everywhere, and the thing that’s really tough about it is it’s a vicious cycle. Dogs, they evolved, and they were bred to run free all day, and being out in the open, that is really important for their health,” said the company’s founder, David Adams. “Dogs now are living on couches and leashes, which is necessary for their own safety, but is creating all these health problems.”

Adams was inspired to create Sniffspot based on similar issues he and his wife, Rebecca, had encountered themselves, including “subpar experiences” at dog parks and trouble finding places for their dogs to get exercise while traveling to different cities.

It started with just a few Seattle residents signing up to share their backyards in 2018 and quickly began spreading across the United States. Adams said Tennessee is one of their “most established states,” with the first four spots springing up in Nashville between then and April 2019.

“It’s growing really quickly. In Tennessee overall, the bookings that we’re seeing have grown 98% year over year. So, it’s about twice as large in terms of usage than it was last year,” said Adams, who added that the number of spots in the Metro Nashville area has grown 130% since last year.

As of October 2023, 152 people in the Nashville area have signed up to turn their backyards or land into spots for pet owners to rent out for a few hours, similar to the Airbnb model. The app is often equated to Airbnb, with some calling it the “Airbnb for dog parks.”

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“I love ‘Airbnb for dog parks’ because I think that captures a lot of what it is,” Adams said. “It’s people that are sharing their land, and for guests, it operates just like Airbnb, where you can download the app; you can browse around; look at photos; reviews; amenities; whatever you like, and you can book in just a couple of easy steps.” 

When he first created the app, Adams said his thought was, “Look at all these yards. I wish people would just share their yards, they’re never using them,” but as the company has evolved, people have gotten more creative with their spaces.

Some spaces are more than just yards. They’re “experiences” owners can share with their pets, Adams said. The spots in Nashville range from just 0.06 acres of land to 140 acres, some with hiking trails and pools of water. Dog owners can also filter their search for things like “snow” or “indoor play space.”

“It’s actually in a lot of ways more fun than a public dog park because of the types of spaces that are being listed,” Adams said. “There’s a space right outside Nashville that’s 140 acres that you could rent and go on a private hike with your dog.”

Many hosts on the app also offer amenities like doggie treats, water, poop bags, paw wipes, toys and even bug spray. According to Adams, hosts can earn several thousands of dollars per month, with rates in Nashville ranging anywhere from $4 to $25 per hour for guests.

“We have hosts who are making over $3,000 per month and they’re spending a couple of hours maintaining their spot and handling customer service,” he said. “So, it’s a really easy way to make good money, but the thing that really gets our hosts going is knowing that their land is bringing so much joy to the dogs who are having fun there.”

(WKRN photo)

With only a handful of public off-leash dog parks in Nashville, having private dog parks also eliminates some of the drawbacks from public spaces, Adams explained. Not only is it difficult to control disease, but he said, “you can’t control other dogs,” and there are some dogs that simply don’t socialize well with other animals.

“A lot of people, if they can, would rather avoid going to those public dog parks. Some people try to find off the beaten trail places to let their dog off leash, like in public parks or even in places like tennis courts at night,” Adams said. “Or they’ll go to the dog park super early in the morning or late at night, but all those things are really difficult and suboptimal.”

With the continuous growth of many cities, finding a safe place for dogs to play is a problem not just in Nashville, but one that many people are encountering, and a likely factor behind the app’s growth.

Without proper exercise, Adams said dogs can face health problems like obesity, anxiety and increased reactivity. The app’s recent growth rate in Nashville appears to be somewhat faster than in some of the largest cities in the U.S.

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Nevertheless, Adams said he thinks there’s “still a lot of room to grow.”

“Nashville is a big city. I’ve spent time there myself and everywhere you turn you see people with dogs. They’re very active and want to get outside, and at the same time, there’s beautiful land all around the city,” he said. “So, I think there is a great opportunity for more and more people, both hosts and guests, to find out about Sniffspot and give it a try.”