The Benefits of Dog Walking with Garrett Smallwood (Episode 10)

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Do you walk your dog every day?

If you’re like most dog owners, walking your dog is an enjoyable way to bond with your pet and get some steps in.

But what if you’re too busy with work or something else comes up? Are the benefits of dog walking really that important?

In this episode of The Dog Show, I talk with Garrett Smallwood.

Garrett is the CEO of Wag! – a technology company that connects pet owners with pet caregivers who provide on-demand walking, boarding, sitting, training, and vet Q&A across 4,600 cities in the United States.

In the interview, we discuss the benefits of exercising with your pup and why an on-demand walking service can be invaluable to your dog’s wellbeing – and your busy schedule! Connect with Garrett on Twitter and Linkedin.

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Will: This episode of the dog show features Garrett Smallwood. Garrett is the CEO of Wag!, a technology company that connects pet owners with pet caregivers who provide on-demand walking, boarding, sitting, training, and vet Q&A across 4,600 cities in the United States. He’s also the proud owner of a terrier named Toby. In the interview, we discuss the benefits of exercising with your pup and why an on-demand walking service can be invaluable to your dog’s well-being and your busy schedule. So, Garrett, thanks so much for coming on the “Dog Show” today.

Garrett: Hey, Will, great to connect. I appreciate the time, big, big fan of what you’re doing.

Will: Thank you, thank you. So, before we jump into Wag! and everything cool you’re doing with that business, can you give me a little bit of a background with your history with dogs? I understand you’ve got a terrier called Toby, is that right?

Garrett: I do. So I would say he was an adopted member of the family by me. So I’ve been married now for almost two years. And my wife when we first met had a dog, Toby, he’s a mix now is what really is what we call him, he’s about six years old. It’s actually a little older now probably. Is obviously loved by the whole family, but it’s my wife’s dog we met. And I immediately knew to impress my wife I had to hang out with Toby and get to know him. And I was lucky that when my wife and I first met, I was working at a pet services company so I had a lot to talk to her about. But, yeah, Toby is a member of the family. Just in general, I was really fortunate to grow up with dogs and it’s just really natural for us, I think we feel really lucky.

Will: Would you say you have a favorite dog breed, did you have any dogs growing up that you loved or?

Garrett: Oh, man, a favorite? Okay. So I have four sisters and my youngest sister was I think a toddler, my mom decided the perfect dog for the family was gonna be a beagle. I don’t know how she was convinced to this, like no one in my family hunts, you know, no one is particularly super active and beagles I think are notoriously high energy. And so we had this beagle, we named her Brighty because her birthday was on St. Patrick’s Day. And she was awesome, but a terror, like she would be the one digging through the trash and eating off everyone’s plates and was just a maniac. But I think that was probably my favorite dog and breed because I think of all the memories associated with her. I think at some point down the line I can imagine getting a beagle.

Will: Interesting. I’ve always loved beagles actually. As a kid, I just loved the floppy ears and the general look of the beagle, they’re a nice, easy size as well, but it sounds like they cause some havoc, is that right or what?

Garrett: I think they’re just a really high energy dog, I think like by default they’re a dog that needs a lot of activity and a lot of kind of time and I don’t think, I would not say we were particularly good at that when I was a kid. I think we would, you know, when you’re a kid you’re like parents are like go out and walk the dog and you’re like, “Oh,” and you go around the block once. I think that’s a dog that needs a couple laps around the block.

Will: That’s right. Well, I’ve got a French bulldog, so, as much as they need stimulation they tire out pretty easy.

Garrett: Like the whole bulldog breed is kind of like that, you get to be really thoughtful about how you walk and take care of the bulldogs and they can…Pugs too, I think are very similar. There’s just certain dogs that you can’t do it over, but beagle is probably the opposite.

Will: Beagles have got, I mean, the bulldogs and the pugs and stuff, they have the breathing issues and all that kind of stuff, so you’ve gotta be careful in hot and cold weather, but with the beagle I think they’re made for the outdoors.

Garrett: Totally. And you just point it out, right? Like anything that originally it was intended to help with hunting I think it’s just naturally high energy.

Will: Cool. Okay. So you’re the CEO of Wag!, which is a dog walking, sitting, training, boarding services, pretty much do everything to help out owners who, you know, are short on time or want some extra stimulation for their dogs, tell me how you got into that, like, what got you into the pet services industry?

Garrett: So, exactly right, just as a reminder, Wag! is the ultimate kind of pet services partner for busy pet parents. We’re alive across the U.S. we help pet parents with everything from sitting, to walking, to boarding, to training. I actually, believe it or not, dropped out of college. A little bit of a story here. And I joined my first startup in Silicon Valley and it was called Red Beacon and it was a home services marketplace. So think about it as, you would go to Red Beacon and you would say, “Hey, I need a plumber at two o’clock on a Tuesday.” And it was like eharmony for plumbers, you’d find the plumber or a handyman or electrician, it was great.

That business ended up getting acquired by the Home Depot, which is the kind of one of the largest retailer for home improvement in the U.S. about 2,400 stores across the U.S. 400,000 associates, it’s a great business. I spent a couple of years there. And from there I knew that I really wanted to get involved and believe it or not healthcare, I was really passionate about healthcare. In the U.S. healthcare is not universal, a lot of problems, it’s privatized, usually it’s done by the company.

And there’s this business in the U.S. called CareCredit and it’s a financing point of sale kind of healthcare business. And what happens is when you go to the vet in the U.S. most purchases for vet care are out-of-pocket, most people don’t have insurance in the U.S. it’s less than 3%. And so what you end up doing is you end up putting it on a credit card, you end up paying cash or check, or you take out a short term loan, usually CareCredit, at a really high interest rate and we just didn’t think that was right.

So I started a company we focused intensely on kind of fighting CareCredit and particularly high interest rate loans in the vet office. We did that for about two years, partnered with hundreds of veterinary clinics, helped hundreds of thousands of patients, but ultimately I thought the business just, it wasn’t really sustainable, like loans are a really difficult business unless you have kind of capital as a partner. So we ended up selling the business to Wag!, and I’ve been at Wag! now for over almost three years. And since I’ve been at Wag!, we originally were only in eight markets as a dog walking company and since I’ve been here we’re now in 4,600 cities doing more than six different types of services with 150,000 active pet caregivers, so it’s a whole night and day difference in the last three years.

Will: So, the pet caregivers, as you say that, my understanding of that is almost like they’re kind of like the Uber drivers of the pet walking industry as in like they’re trained professionals in their area and you kind of collaborate them as a brand and you bring the customer to them, is that right?

Garrett: Just taking a step back, I think Uber gets this weird kind of proxy definitely like everyone thinks Uber first when you think on-demand. For Wag!, it’s really important to remember that the vast majority of pet caregivers are not doing this full time. So, you know, like my sister is in college and she walks for Wag! in Santa Barbara, she loves it. A lot of our caregivers are just dog lovers, people who can’t have a dog, people that want some more exercise, you know, it’s people that want to do a couple of things a week but they don’t really want to work weekends, or they don’t want to work nights, like when the busy time for Uber or DoorDash is. And so it’s a very different type of a person that’s delivering that experience.

And we’re really lucky that most people just love dogs, right? Like we’re really fortunate. You know, not a lot of people love driving other people in their car but when you talk to the Wag! caregivers, like the caregivers that operate on Wag!, they love it. You talk to them they’re like, “Man, I just love hanging out with dogs, I love my favorite clients,” it’s really rewarding. And so you’re right in that Wag! is simply the job board for them, we bring them jobs all day and they get to pick which ones they want, but really the benefit of being a Wag! caregiver or caregiver on the Wag! platform I should say, is that you get to pick what you want, you can pick this job on Tuesday, you don’t have to do that one, you know, you can talk to the pet owner, you don’t have to, like, there’s a lot of freedom. And I don’t think you get that from these other on-demand marketplaces.

Will: That’s cool. I didn’t think of it that way, I guess the main thing I thought of Nashville is like people would be doing it to make money, right? But there’s all these other benefits coming with walking a dog, like if you don’t have your own dog and you love dogs there’s, you know, that stimulation and also the exercise which is hugely beneficial for people that are at home all the time.

Garrett: That’s exactly right. Like if you just take a step back, like, would you rather sit in the car and drive someone all day? Would you rather go to a restaurant pick up someone’s food and deliver it? Or would you rather spend 30 or 60 minutes with a really cute dog? I think most dogs are really cute, a really cute dog outside in beautiful weather and get exercise, get your 4,000 to 8,000 steps in? Like to me the choice is pretty obvious. And so what we’re really doing is we’re democratizing access to pets and simplifying how you can be a pet parent.

Will: I was just thinking about this, I went to the dog park the other day and there was a dog walker there that had four or five different dogs probably that they’d had the relationship with the clients or whatever, is that an option with Wag! or is it kind of one to one type of situation?

Garrett: We’re the private dog walker, there are a lot of dog walking businesses, just to be clear, like everyone has a different need. So, one of my really good buddies, I’m still mad at him he doesn’t use Wag!, but his dog is a super active shepherd and he needs like trails. So every week he has, a van pulls up to his house, it loads up with the dogs and they go to a trail for a couple of hours, that’s great for him, we don’t do that. There are people in New York who have five, six dogs on a leash, they’re great, like we don’t want to do that. We’re the private dog walking service. You can, as an owner, have up to three dogs walked at a given time but they all have to be your dog. And when you can’t, we don’t bundle dogs together or anything else, it’s your dog only or your pack of dogs for 20, 30 or 60 minutes.

Will: Okay. I think that makes sense from a safety perspective as well, like the owners would probably feel more comfortable knowing that their dogs weren’t just out there with other dogs as well, perhaps?

Garrett: That’s right. I mean, look, to be clear though there are times where it’s great to have a pack. Like certain dogs need that and I applaud them and I think they should use that service. For us I think, you know, look, a lot of our customer base is using Wag! when it’s convenient, they don’t want to commit to a schedule, they don’t want to do every day at one o’clock, you know, Monday through Saturday, they really want when they’re late at work or when they can’t make it back from, you know, to dinner early, or they can’t get their lunch break figured out. So, that’s where Wag! really fits. Is, you know, you can get a walker to show up at your house in like 15 minutes, that kind of convenience is really important.

Will: So it kind of fills the gaps, I guess, in a way?

Garrett: That’s right, yeah, that’s exactly right.

Will: Cool. Okay. So, I, for one, know how hard it is to as we were just talking about then filling the gaps in the day, I guess if, as you mentioned, if I’m late at work or maybe you don’t get an opportunity to take out the dog one day, how else does Wag! help with that situation? So there’s obviously the dog walking is over, you’ve got a bunch of other services that you do too?

Garrett: So I think just in general, being a pet parent can be really stressful, right? Like you have a Frenchie, I have a schnauzer, like, you know when they don’t get enough exercise, you know like when you’re running low on food, although there’s some great services that fix that for you, you know when they’re jumping or barking at the door, like these things can actually could be kind of anxiety-inducing. And I think especially, you know, a little bit different in the U.S. some of us are still in lockdown, but some of the pet parents have had months to spend with their dog and you kind of learn all these ins and outs, right? Being sheltered in place.

And I think, you know, Wag! ultimately wants to be the pet partner for kind of all your pet needs, right? So whether it’s walking, sitting and boarding when you’re on vacation, like we want to be your partner, whether it’s training, we now offer in-home and digital training, which is awesome, the trainers that operate in the Wag! platform are incredible, they’ve passed a 50-point quiz, enhanced background check, they have amazing profiles. I love reading their reviews. And then we also have vet care, so you can actually get expert advice from a veterinarian right from your phone.

So I think these things are really peace of mind and what I call anxiety-reducing services, right? Like knowing that you could pull up your phone and get an answer from a vet when your Frenchie might eat a French fry is really, I think like important, right? You don’t want to always bother your vet, I know I don’t. And so I think really just the way to think about Wag! is we really want to be your pet partner, we’re not there for everybody, like certain people want to do group walks, so they really love the boarding facility or the kennel, that’s great. But for a large percentage of the population, we’re gonna be the way they help take care of their pet.

Will: That’s interesting. I didn’t realize you did like so on-demand kind of advice as well from vets. So is that like, so if I went to the website in the U.S. and like had a question I could jump on and speak to a vet or?

Garrett: Yeah. Real live chat with a vet right now.

Will: That’s cool. Because we get a lot of questions too on our websites from pet owners asking about a specific issue, so, that’s helpful to know that we can come…

Garrett: We’d love to help your listeners out. We’re having to set up a specialty, you know, it’s part of our premium bundle but we could figure out a way, it’s really simple we have, you know, veterinarians also want to earn more business and clients, right? So they create a Wag! account, they, you know, can respond to clients and build their business, it’s great.

Will: Cool. Okay. So let’s, I guess the main focus of the business started with the walking and all that kind of stuff, so I’d like to talk a bit more about, you know, dog walking in general, like, what do you see the benefits of dog walking are? I guess you’ve got the benefits for the owner but also for the dog, what do you say are the main benefits of dog walking?

Garrett: I really think that pet parents need to remind themselves that dogs are almost like little humans. And a lot of people do feel like their dog is like a furry member of the family, I do. But like it’s the same thing, like exercise for any human is great, like it keeps you healthy, you reduce your stress, you know, it’s keeps you limber, you live longer, it’s the same thing for dogs. Like exercising is great, keeps them healthy, reduces behavioral problems.

And we get a lot of pet parents who are like, “Man, my dog has been chewing a lot or digging a lot,” and you’re like, “Just take them on a walk.” If you just walk your dog for three to six minutes, I guarantee almost that those behaviors are gonna get better. I think also the other really important thing is that there is inside the home and there’s outside the home, and to dogs those things are very different, right? Like most of us, I think we need to remember that, and when you go out with your dog and you explore and it could be, you know, with Wag! or it could be just yourself, that actually builds trust and it builds confidence. Your dog learns the environment, learns you, feels more comfortable. And again, it will reduce kind of that barking, chewing, digging behavior a lot of people don’t like, it’s just really important. And I really think the things that are good for humans, excluding food, are also probably good for dogs, right?

Will: It’s interesting you mentioned the behavioral thing, we notice that regularly with our French bulldog, she sometimes gets in bigger groups if they come to our house or we take it to someone else’s house, if there’s more than just a few people, she kind of gets anxiety a little bit and she might start looking at shadows or lights or things like that. But you take it for like a decent walk and then bring it back into the same environment, all of a sudden she’s relaxed again and she can kind of just, you know, enjoy the situation. So it’s like stimulation, I guess, they need that stimulation every day.

Garrett: It’s like a toddler, like your toddler you take it to a party like it’s jarring, but you wear them out a little bit and they’re gonna feel a lot better, I think it’s the same thing.

Will: For sure. Okay. So, what do you do to ensure I guess the safety of the dogs? Like how do you vet the walkers and things like that?

Garrett: So, just looking at the business as a whole, we’ve now completed more than 10 million services on the Wag! platform, it’s a pretty big pool of experiences. And our average, you know, 99% of reviews are five star, so like the vast, vast majority of experiences are gonna be great, it’s much better than any of our competitors. And we take the safety and kind of trust in the community really seriously. So there’s a lot of things we do.

The first thing is, every caregiver that wants to operate their business on Wag! has to pass an enhanced background check, they don’t get to pick what kind of background check they’re doing. They’re getting the most thorough industry-leading background check to make sure that they’re safe and secure. The second thing is that they basically run through a are you fit to walk dogs kind of quiz. They test their harness and the leash and how to handle dogs in certain situations.

And really this is more for them to be like, hey, are you gonna be ready to handle dogs? It’s different when you think you can walk dogs, when you show up there and you’re walking a hundred-pound dog, it’s very different, right? So making sure they’re confident. When they finally join the platform, they also go through almost like a testing or an example walk, the walk through the whole app, what to expect, how it’s gonna work. They also have a ton of videos and resources available on how to handle certain dogs and breeds and how to set up the harness. So all these resources are there for them online through partnerships and other platforms. So generally like they’re kind of ready, like they’ve made the decision.

That last thing is, we do not automatically assign gigs to caregivers. So we’re not like, “Hey, we’ll submit your request and you’ll automatically be matched,” we actually have a job board. Think about it like LinkedIn, there’s a big job board in your area and it has all the dogs and how long they want to walk and their size and their breed and their, you know, what they’re like on the walk. Do they chase other dogs? Do they chase squirrels? Are they scared? Are they timid? And the caregivers can opt-in to the ones they’re comfortable with.

So if you’re, you know, me, I can tell you, I like small dogs, but I really want to get my steps in. I actually prefer like a 60-plus-pound dog, like a really active golden retriever is my favorite. And so those are the dogs I’m gonna opt-in for. You know, there’s some people who don’t want that, some people would love to walk your Frenchie for a quarter of a mile, so it doesn’t take a lot. And so you get to pick what kind of dogs are gonna be a fit for you and what service are gonna be a fit for you. And I think that’s really important, that ability to make the match and to pick what’s gonna be safe and secure is probably the most important part.

Will: So I guess on the flip side then, it’s up to the owner to, if there’s any known behavioral issues or anything else with the dog, it’s up to the owner to post that on the job, I guess, is that right?

Garrett: So, when a pet parent is signing up on Wag!, they’ll tell us and correspondingly the platform kind of all the things about their dog. You know, they’ll take a photo, the age, the weight, the breed, the birthday. You know, we have a bunch of questions we ask, like, hey, you know, like I said earlier, do they chase other dogs? Are they timid? What happens when you walk inside the house? Do they pee? Do they get aggressive? Then we share all that with the caregivers.

The caregiver knows what to expect, right? They’re like, okay, cool I’m gonna show up and I’m gonna walk a golden retriever and he’s gonna be super excited to see me and he’s gonna tug on the leash and he’s not gonna love when I put on his harness and that makes it a lot easier. So it’s in the pet parent’s best interest to provide that information, it’s a better experience, it’s a more consistent experience, it’s a more comfortable experience. It’s kind of like setting your kid up for daycare, right? Like when you drop your kid off at daycare you’re not was just like, “Good luck,” you’re like, “Look, my kid hates peanuts, don’t let him eat peanuts,” right? It’s the same kind of thing.

Will: So, what kind of reporting does an owner get back? Like, let’s say I drop my dog off with a Wag! walker and they take them out for 30 minutes or whatever it is for that day, what type of do I get anything back about like what the walk was like or where they went or any of that kind of stuff?

Garrett: Absolutely. So the vast majority of services are gonna be completed at your house. So when I schedule my Wag! walker, they come right to my front door, I give them a leash and they’re on their way it’s because I’m home. And on the walk, and this is particularly the walking experience, the caregiver is keeping the pet parent in the loop in the app. So I can see real-time on my phone where the caregiver is, if my dog’s peed, which is really important to me, if my dog’s pooped, which is probably more important.

And at the end of the walk, I get a report card and that report card tells me everything. It tells me, you know, did Toby use the restroom? How many times did he go? How was he? And I get a nice little note and I also get a chance to obviously leave a rating. But, to me, that’s actually really important. Half the reason I really want to get Toby outside is the exercise, he’s a pretty active dog. And the second reason is I really want to make sure he’s able to use the restroom a lot. He’s just, the guy loves water. And so knowing that he’s taken eight pee breaks, it’s great.

Will: I think it’s super important for people that might live in condos or apartments because I live in an apartment and, you know, if the dog’s inside most of the day they don’t have that access to like a backyard or something like that where they can go and do their business, right?

Garrett: Exactly, it’s peace of mind.

Will: And I think I saw as well that even if I’m not home, like in the example where, you know, you’re late at work or something like that and you want to get your dog walked, there’s a way that you can set up locks or something and the Wag! walkers can access the dogs without the owners, is that right?

Garrett: Yeah. So, look, most services on Wag! are done while people are at work, right? That’s just the way it works. So you’re at work, you’re working a nine to nine for some reason and you’re like, “Man, I can’t get home to take care of my frenchie, like uh oh,” and so you book a Wag! walk. And that walker shows up usually there’s different ways to hide your key or give key access, it could be a lockbox, we provide lockboxes for a fee. You can have your own lockbox, you can hide a key somewhere, you can leave a door unlocked in certain neighborhoods I’m sure. And the pet caregiver’s gonna enter your home, they’re gonna pick up your pup, you’re gonna tell them where to get everything. It’s generally how most services happen is that you’re not home, you’re trusting someone to go into your home, pick up your dog and take them out for 30 or 60 minutes.

Will: Okay. So, when it comes to a dog walk, is there a perfect dog walk? I mean, what makes for a good dog walker? I mean, obviously it’s gonna be different per breed, per dog, all that kind of stuff, but is it around the block? Is it down to the dog park? Is it, you know, out for a swim? What would you say is a great walk?

Garrett: It’s actually a good question. Okay, I liken dog-walking to house cleaning okay? And I’m gonna explain why. Everyone likes her house cleaned in different ways, but I’m sure the way you like your house cleaned is not the way I like my house clean. Like I love when, you know, my house cleaner, particularly, cleans like the trim, like I love when they clean the trim, it’s like my favorite things. It’s a weird thing I love, but I just love it. Everyone likes their house cleaned differently, right? Like you probably like you want different days, you want different times, you want different things, you want different, you know, everything, same thing for walking.

Some pet parents are like, “Hey, just take my dog outside and play with them for 20 minutes.” Like they don’t even really need the walk, they just love to be played with. Some are, “Hey, actually I need you to really get some miles in, this dog is super active and I actually book three walks a day for them.” And they want to do like two miles a walk or even more. And then you have some people who are like, “Hey, they love this spot down the street, take them down the street to the fire hydrant, I guarantee they’re gonna pee there, it’s the only place they’ll pee. And then bring them back and just hang out with them in the front yard.”

Everyone is different, I can tell you, there’s almost no same walk that happens on the Wag! marketplace every day and that’s what makes it so great, right? Like if you’re a pet parent, you know you can have unique requests for your unique dog on the Wag! marketplace. And again, it’s gonna be the most similar to like, you know, I hate to say it, but like housecleaning, right? Everyone wants their house cleaned in a different way. Sure there’s a general checklist if you want to make sure you use the restroom and things happen, but, you know, every dog is different.

Will: Perfect. So if listeners had to take away one big learning or take away from today’s interview, what would it be about dog walking and about what Wag! does?

Garrett: I wouldn’t even make it about Wag!, just, for dog owners out there, I would just remind them that exercise can solve so many problems, it doesn’t have to be Wag!, like just exercise with your dog, take them outside. And it doesn’t have to be outside, I mean, there’s dog treadmills now, right? Have you seen those things? It’s crazy, these dog treadmills are amazing. But just get outside, take your dog out, get the steps in, for the vast majority of dogs it’s gonna help with things like behavioral problems, chewing, barking, you know, becoming house dominant, being healthy. Like you go to the vet, they’re not gonna tell you to eat different food because you’re worried about your dog’s weight. Like it’s just so important to exercise with your dog. And if you can’t, we are for here for you but just as a pet owner, I cannot stress enough, just like a human you want to get outside and get your steps in, so does your dog.

Will: I think that’s great because like I mean behavioral issues or chewing or barking, all those things you’re talking about, they’re like one of the biggest problem for dog owners that like to leave their dogs at home for extended periods and exercise can be a huge fix to that. I mean, people are always looking for, you know, trainers and things like that which are amazing in one respect but maybe all it is is just an extra bit of walking or something like that which can give them the stimulation and then help them relax in a different environment.

Garrett: A hundred percent, before anybody, a lot of people come in and the same thing I’m sure you’re saying where they ask dog questions, when people come to me with dog behavior things, I’m like, look, the first thing, unless you’re wearing this dog out every day and you can convince me you’re getting your steps in, the first thing I recommend, and again, I’m not any sort of, you know, master of this or expert, but the first thing I just generally recommend is get some exercise, make sure your dog is getting outside for at least 30 minutes if not more. And then maybe we can talk about, you know, maybe you need a trainer but first start with the exercise.

Will: Right. So, let’s hope everyone takes their dogs and exercises them whole lot more…

Garrett: Exactly. Good for people too.

Will: So where can people find out more about you, Garrett, and what Wag! is doing and everything?

Garrett: Absolutely. So is our website. You can also find us on the app store, Google and iOS at keyword Wag!, just like Yahoo! Wag! And I’m Garrett Smallwood, you could find me on LinkedIn or Twitter @GarrettSmallwood.

Will: Perfect. So thanks so much for coming on the podcast, I had a great time.

Garrett: Well, thank you so much, we appreciate the time.

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The Benefits of Dog Walking with Garrett Smallwood (Episode 10)