At Hounds Town USA It's Dogs First, People Second
By caring about dogs first and people second, former head of the NYPD canine unit Mike Gould has been able to grow his doggy day care franchise Hounds Town USA. With seven locations and more to come soon, Gould’s unique yet simple business model is what he thinks sets him apart from other pet care companies.
“We focus on the simplicity of the dog,” Gould says, emphasizing that at heart, dogs have been and always will be social pack animals. It’s important that in pet management, dogs are grouped in packs based on personality and temperament.
Grooming, bathing and routine day care is all part of the Hounds Town franchise model, but training is not incorporated because of what Gould says is the poor regulation of this field. He did note dogs may experience peripheral learning when they spend time at his facilities, such as encouragement to not bark or jump, but he prefers to keep professional training out of his franchises.
Positivity and passion are the two main criteria for Hounds Town franchisees, says Gould, adding, “That’s the number one thing.” An 8,000-square foot location was just opened in Bergen County, New Jersey, and two more are to open in Long Island by the end of 2018.
President of Hounds Town Jackie Bondanza says they're looking to open both franchise units and more corporate stores in the future, in specific markets in the Carolinas, Richmond, Virginia, and Tennessee where millennials are moving and tend to own dogs.
As founder and CEO, Gould developed his model for Hounds Town through working with dogs for nearly his whole life. One of the founding members of the NYPD canine unit in 1983, Gould also ran a canine scent-detection company after his career in law enforcement. “I’ve always had a particular interest in dog behavior,” he says.
After the national tragedies of 9/11, Gould found himself working 20-hour days with rescuers, from nurses to cops, many of which had their own dogs. “There was a real need for rescuers, and everyone needed a place for their dogs,” Gould says. Luckily, a year before he had purchased a warehouse for his next career, whatever that may be. “I just knew it was going to involve dogs,” says Gould, mentioning that his day care business just “morphed” into what it is today.
Spending so much time with dogs and observing their behavior led Gould to realize the need for people to have a better understanding of their pet’s brain. “I saw this unique need to fill a void to educate people, instead of what other people are doing,” Gould explains of his pet management business.
Not only do many of his competitors discriminate against “bully breeds”—Dobermans, pit bulls and Rottweilers to name a few—but they sometimes charge extra for necessary pieces of pet care, such as belly rubs and administering medication.
“It’s appalling to me that not only my competitors, but communities and insurance companies discriminate against these breeds,” Gould says, comparing dogs to 3-year-old children and noting that you wouldn’t ask a child’s religion or background before you allowed them to participate on a playground. “Dogs have no racist part of their brain, they just want to interact with other dogs.”
From a franchising standpoint, Bondanza says that roughly 20 percent of pet dogs in the U.S. are in fact “bully breeds.” This opens up a pool of customers and possibly more revenue for Hounds Town that other facilities are missing out on, she adds.
Of course, structure is put in place to ensure safety for all dogs at Hounds Town, which has cared for more than 800,000 dogs since inception, Gould says. Pack groups are selected based on not just personality and temperament but also physical size and ability. That being said, “The brain of a pit bull is no different than the brain of a poodle; we focus more on temperament than exterior or physicality,” Bondanza explains.
Understanding the dogs’ personalities and patterns is what has led Gould to believe that the majority of dangerous incidents involving dogs are not indeed their fault. A separate occupation of Gould’s is testifying in court as an expert witness in dog behavior, in which he has observed “it’s almost never the dog.”
“Anything that you see or read is a result on some level of the mismanagement of a dog by humans,” Gould says. Of course accidents happen, but he claims that if his job is done right, these are minimal. “I bet we have a better safety record at all of our facilities than any school district in the U.S.”
A franchise in dog care is not only more complicated because it deals with living things, but because it deals with their owners as well. “It’s not like opening a yogurt store,” Gould says, mentioning the need to be bilingual to both communicate with the dogs and their respective owners.
Bondanza named the humanizing of dogs by their owners as Hounds Town’s number one challenge. “Although we all want the very best for our pups, we focus on removing the projections and labels that owners can sometimes have surrounding their dog and let the dogs be themselves while they are with us,” she says. While letting go of certain rules or labels is hard for some owners, Bondanza insists this allows the packs to thrive and be their “most natural self.”
In turn, the most rewarding part for Gould is helping owners with this understanding of their dogs. He gave an example of a Rottweiler/pit bull mix that a couple brought in, claiming major behavioral issues and stating he’d never interact well with other dogs. Within two or three days, the team at Hounds Town had this dog in a playgroup. While the couple saw it as a miracle, Gould says it was “just something we do.”
He made it clear that Hounds Town is not making promises or lying to people, but instead dealing with dogs on an individual basis. Grouping dogs together by breed or size is ridiculous to him, because each has its own personality. “People will say ‘I have a Wheaten Terrier, you know how they are’ but no one would ever say ‘I have an Irish kid, you know how they are!’”
Hounds Town USA also runs Hounds Town Charities, a nonprofit focused on helping dogs that were wrongly accused of human attacks or are currently living in shelters. Oftentimes Hounds Town locations will house shelter dogs to assess how they interact with other dogs, Gould says, so shelters can advertise well-behaved dogs in hopes of increased adoption. While many franchises have charity partnerships that may appear as more like marketing schemes, Gould stresses his dedication and authenticity. “Making money comes secondary to the care of our dogs.”