Hounds Town CEO shares how he knows the ‘dog brain’
Michael Gould, founder of doggie daycare concept Hounds Town USA, says he knows the kinds of social interactions dogs really need.
Born in Brooklyn, Michael Gould wasn’t exposed much to nature until he was 10 years old, when his family moved to Long Island and he became “mesmerized by any living creature.” Drawn especially to dogs, Gould eventually helped create the New York Police Department’s K-9 unit in 1982 and became the department’s canine training officer.
Later, as a canine forensics expert, Gould formed a scent detection dog services company in 1998, thinking perhaps after he retired he would take care of the dogs belonging to his friends and fellow officers. In 2000, he founded Hounds Town USA, a dog training, grooming and daycare concept. Having spent his entire adult life working with the commercial application of dogs, Gould is a master at what he calls “understanding the dog brain.”
“That’s my skillset, interacting with dogs. I have a deep understanding of how dogs think and what their needs are,” Gould said.
Then 9/11 happened, and Gould and his scent detection dogs were among the first at the scene, aiding in the recovery efforts. He was later deployed to Naples, Italy, as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserves, where he supervised the military working dog program. Upon returning to New York, Gould’s first Hounds Town location outgrew its 1,200-square-foot space in Port Jefferson. By 2004, Gould opened the second Hounds Town location, then started franchising the brand in 2012.
Eleven locations are open, mainly in the New York City region. Hounds Town also has 14 locations in the development phase and hopes to open six of them this year. Its facilities allow “bully breeds”—a term referring to dog breeds such as pit bulls labeled as being more aggressive—and separates dogs into packs based on personality and temperament versus simply breed or size, a differentiator from competitors.
The initial investment for a Hounds Town ranges from $265,800 to $492,500. Average unit volume in 2019 was $893,531 for mature units.
“Our philosophy is we allow dogs to be dogs, meaning dogs have different needs than humans do,” Gould said. “I use this crude tag, that they can come hump, dump and jump without being screamed at.”
If dog owners get upset when their dog comes home from Hounds Town with a few scratches from playing, Gould said he will gladly refer them to his competitors.
“That’s the nature of interactive sports,” Gould said. “Dogs playing with one another is analogous to playing football or soccer or wrestling.”
Since its launch, Hounds Town has taken care of 1.5 million dogs, Gould said. He considers the dog to be the customer, not the human owner.
“We focus on the needs of the dog first,” Gould said. “I always say our customers are wonderful pet owners—they’ll buy the best food, bedding and medical care. But the one thing that I always notice is they don’t take the time to understand the dog brain, meaning what the dog’s needs are.”
Hounds Town costs (human) customers between $25-$30 per day. Gould said customers have come to him from other doggie daycare brands where they’ve needed an accountant to calculate all the vitamin and storybook time add-ons. While those enrichment programs may sound good on paper, Gould said his version of allowing dogs to play with each other is what they actually need.
“We provide a pack environment in a very straightforward way—no nonsense, no shame and no up-charging,” Gould said. “There’s a really soft science to it. A lot of our competitors might be great business people and love dogs, but they don’t have the in-depth understanding of them as pack animals.”
This understanding also led Gould to start a podcast called “The Dish on Dogs,” which focuses on discussing the differences between the human brain and the dog brain.
“Dogs can be manipulative, emotional vampires sometimes,” Gould said. “When I do training seminars, I see family members aren’t looking at each other, they’re all focused on the dog. So we do three things: don’t look, talk or touch your dog. You can watch the uncomfortability, and they get mad at me, but I say, ‘you haven’t looked at your husband or children once since you’ve been here!’ That’s the power of a dog—by whining, barking and jumping, they can get all the attention.”
At the same time, Gould said dog owners can humanize their animals to the point where it becomes a detriment to the dog.
“It’s like not allowing your 2- or 3-year-old child to play and making them into stock brokers,” Gould said. “People overly love their dogs.”