Personal technology for health and fitness.
You’re stuck at the office working late, but your dog is stuck at home and getting pretty desperate to take care of some business of his own. What to do?
A new app called Wag! can bring on-demand relief to dogs and their busy owners. Think Uber for dog walkers.
Download the iOS app, and fill out a short profile with your dog’s name, age, breed, notes about his or her personality, and the veterinarian’s name and phone number (optional). Then add a credit-card number, and you are ready.
Wag’s standard walk is $20 for a one-on-one, 30-minute stroll, though owners can add a second dog for $5, or request an hourlong walk for $30. Walks can be scheduled in advance or using a “right now button” anytime from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week.
Within the next few weeks, the company will introduce a new Potty Break service — a 10-minute trip for $10, with an optional feeding — meant to give your pet the relief it needs when you are just too buried to take a break.
I don’t have a dog, so I borrowed our neighbor’s 8-year-old dachshund, Sebastian, to test Wag! in Oakland, Calif. Once I filled out the short sign-up form, Wag! showed me a map of the dog walkers available in my area, in real time, and gave me the choice of booking immediately or for a specific day and time, along with the option of scheduling recurring appointments later. It also asked if I wanted to book a free meet-and-greet to make sure we (dog, walker and myself) are all compatible.
The app took a few moments to consider my input, with a little bone wagging, before the menu of available dog walkers popped up with photos, detailed backgrounds and even video of some of the walkers talking about why they would be the best choice. I asked for something immediate and received a text message a few minutes later that let me know a walker would be arriving at my house within the hour.
A few minutes before 1 p.m., Esha Shah was at my front door, introducing herself with a warm smile and a small treat for Sebastian. He seemed to like her right away.
Before walking the dog, she walked me through the service, including the setup of a complimentary company lockbox, similar to what real estate agents use, so that walkers can get in and out of your house when you are not there. She also showed me how to track the walk through the Wag! app, which shows every step, sniff and scratch as it progresses via GPS on my smartphone. And then they were off.
I watched as they rounded the corner and headed up the hill a block away. I could see on the GPS map when they stopped near a large redwood tree, and a few minutes later passed a small wooded path that is one of Sebastian’s favorite routes, about half a mile away.
It is definitely unnerving to leave your precious pet in the hands of a total stranger, but Wag! has done its homework. To even be considered for a position, Wag! walkers go through a long application process, with preference given to people who have prior professional experience with dogs. Applicants also undergo background checks, online tests and rigorous training on a myriad what ifs specific to dog walking, such as “how to keep paws cool on hot days” and “what happens if a dog gets stung by a bee.” Each walker is also certified, insured and bonded, and earns around $25 an hour.
I met up with Ms. Shah and Sebastian along their route to find out more about this on-demand world of dog walking. Ms. Shah told me she worked for a technology start-up in San Francisco, but also loved dogs and wanted a way to take healthy breaks during the day. She is building up a regular clientele through the app.
Like many start-ups, Wag! calls the coasts home, and covers San Francisco, Oakland, all of Los Angeles County, Manhattan and Brooklyn. The co-founder and chief executive, Joshua Viner, said the company employed around 300 walkers and hoped to expand to a dozen cities by the end of the year.
Wag! isn’t the only on-demand dog-walking app; two other companies are gaining traction. Swifto operates in New York City, at $35 for a 30-minute walk with discounts if you sign up for regular service. If you are looking for a more catered experience, Zingy’s walkers take appointments ranging from 15 minutes to an hour or more, and prices start at $10.
While the dog-walking business is estimated at $900 million a year, according to IBIS World, a global research firm, technological innovation may improve the level of service and reassurance demanded by pet owners. After Sebastian returned home satisfied from his Wag! walk, Ms. Shah showed me a report card that is sent to each owner after each walk, including time, distance traveled and a cute “pee/poo” indicator.
What is so appealing about the on-demand dog walking apps is the potential they have to connect us with our four-legged family members at any time of day. A few minutes after Ms. Shah left, the Wag! app alerted me to a report card that included notes from the walk. Sebastian’s stop near the redwood tree? My borrowed dachshund had run into his basset hound buddy from a few houses away, and my follow-up report included a photo of the canine reunion, a personal touch certain to delight owners interested in how their pets are spending the day.
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