Rent your yard as a dog park? This app is fetching attention in Columbia

A growing number of Midlands residents are renting out their yards for dogs to sniff and play.

Sniffspot, which launched in Seattle in 2018, is an app that connects homeowners with dog owners who want to take their pets to a private dog park. The company reports that its imprint has grown rapidly in the Columbia area in the last year.

A representative told The State that Columbia is one of Sniffspot’s top 10 fastest growing markets, with bookings having increased 336% year over year. He said there are now 80 active hosts in the market.

The app is available nationwide and in Canada, with Sniffspot reporting 15,000 listings in 6,000 cities and over 100,000 guests.

Many of the local yards-and-fields-turned-private-dog-parks are located in rural parts of Lexington and Richland county, with some sprawling as large as 33 acres while others offer a couple acres or less. Rates start at $5 an hour, with charges added based on the number of dogs. Some parks in the Columbia area cost as much as $35 per hour, with Sniffspot reporting that its national average is between $9 and $15.

The amenities offered at these private dog parks vary, with some offering water features, both for drinking and swimming/play, along with agility courses and hiking areas, among other attractions. Some are fenced, allowing for dogs to play off leash, while others are not.

While Sniffspot reports that its hosts are earning up to $3,000 per month, the two local hosts The State spoke with recently said they aren’t making that much and they aren’t in it for the money. Both are dedicated dog rescuers who own 10 or more of their own, and they said they were motivated to provide spaces for reactive dogs to enjoy a park experience away from other dogs and for owners to have new spaces to enjoy with their beloved pets.

“I love the fact that it is completely private,” said Rini Frank, who operates the Pond in the Pines Sniffspot in northeast Columbia. She works at a pet boarding facility and owns 10 dogs.

“Dogs are my life. Having a spot that’s safe for them, that is away from possible dog attacks — basically, I’m not a fan of normal dog parks. For that reason, I was like, ‘This is really cool. And I would love to give a safe spot for dogs to run around and play and all of that kind of stuff. And give the owners a peace of mind to not have to worry about another dog coming in and possibly injuring their dog.’”

Stephanie Hightower rents out 30 acres on her Kaleidoscope Farm, a nonprofit horse farm north of downtown Columbia, for Sniffspot users to enjoy. She has 13 dogs along with seven horses and a bunch of other animals.

She said it’s good “for those dogs that are cooped up in apartments downtown or for people who don’t want to live in the country but like to visit the country,” but she also emphasized she wasn’t sure at first that she’d get many people, as she’d never pay to walk her dogs.

“I have so many repeat customers right now it’s not even funny, and they love coming out here,” Hightower said. “They send me pictures of their dogs playing in the woods. There’s a creek, and their dogs get all muddy and wet. And so now I’m thinking to try to build it up a little bit more. I’m gonna try to add water out there so they can hose their dogs off before they leave. It’s just turned into something that’s really fun.”

Hightower, who started with Sniffspot last year, said right now she rarely sees weeks with more than one renter, but she does have one repeat customer who’s out there at least once or twice a week. She said she gets more business from Hipcamp, an app through which she rents out her property to campers.

Frank, who started in February, said she’d had a total of 32 reservations as of earlier this week.

Both said the app is easy to use, and Hightower added that Sniffspot’s $2 million liability policy makes her feel very safe should any problems occur.

“Everything has been very positive,” Frank said. “Most of the people are very respectful of the property.”