Welcoming Dogs to Your Short-Term Rental (Episode 335)

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[00:00:00] Sarah: Hey, listeners. Welcome back for another great week. My name is Sarah Karakaian.

[00:00:04] Annette: I am Annette Grant. And together we’re–

[00:00:06] Both Annette & Sarah: Thanks for Visiting.

[00:00:07] Sarah: Let’s kick off this episode like we do every week, and that is sharing one of you, our incredible listeners, who is using our hashtag #STRShareSunday on Instagram because we will find you and we will share you here on the podcast, on our Instagram channel on Sundays, to our entire email list. Annette, who are we sharing this week?

[00:00:25] Annette: This week, we are sharing @hillsideamble. That’s @hillsideamble, A-M-B-L-E. And wow, I love it because this episode we’re focusing on pets. They have three cabins, and they are named The Goat, The Bee, and The Wren. So we’re keeping it in the theme here, but you got to check these places out. Listeners, go to their Instagram, but you also need to go to their actual listings.

[00:00:53] She’s got them there in her profile. The build of these three places is amazing. And there is secret rooms that are kid-focused. There’s a couple of things that I like about them. They’re secret, so they’re not out there in the open. So the aesthetic, they’ve done a really great job of it. They’re super kid-friendly, but the aesthetic of the home is amazing.

[00:01:18] And some of these kid-friendly rooms are secret rooms with secret doors that open up to this labyrinth. And I’m like, a couple of things. Number one, it just helps keep the aesthetic the way that I think the owners wanted it to be. But then they have three amazing little girls that probably love what they have built for them, but what a cool experience for families coming there to show them this secret door, these spaces dedicated to the kids.

[00:01:48] And I feel like in each property they were very intentional about creating this wow moment for the kids when they check in. I haven’t really highlighted another host with these secret rooms and this wow factor for the kids, and they did it well. And it seems like you can shut the door and the kids can do their thing in there too, which seems really smart. But I really appreciated the way that they tied that in, the way that, um, they gave that wow factor for both the adults and the children.

[00:02:24] Well done. You could see it was very intentional because they did a lot of the builds on their own, is what I’m deducing from their feed. And so check them out, check out The Goat, The Wren, and The Bee. And you can see all of them underneath their handle at Hillside Amble. So I just want you to take a look at those extras that they’ve done for the kids. I haven’t seen that done before, and it’s really lovely. 

[00:02:48] Annette: Sarah, let’s talk about this guest. Talk about Hillside Amble wowing the kids. This guest is wowing Fido.

[00:02:56] Sarah: Get ready. We’ve done some other pet-friendly shows, which have all been incredible. This episode is very different.

[00:03:04] Annette: It is.

[00:03:05] Sarah: And I dare I say, Sara is an expert communicator. She has figured out a way, because I know hosts, we often struggle, at least maybe it is just me. I have to effectively communicate with guests, and Sara has a way to really get at their heartstrings to make them pay attention and want to follow the rules. So stay tuned for some really cool tips when it comes to communicating with guests.

[00:03:35] Annette: And stay till the very end because she gives an opportunity for you to be a part of a group where she is connecting guests with people that are pet-friendly, and it’s free.

[00:03:49] Sarah: Sara, welcome to the show.

[00:03:51] Sara: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

[00:03:54] Sarah: We are going to talk about my favorite thing on earth, which is dogs.

[00:03:58] Annette: Come on, what’s up?

[00:03:59] Sarah: I love you, girl.

[00:03:59] Annette: Not your husband or me?

[00:04:00] Sarah: I love you, girl. I love Nick, but I–

[00:04:01] Annette: All right, dogs win.

[00:04:03] Sarah: I don’t know. I don’t know.

[00:04:03] Annette: It’s okay. I’m here for it.

[00:04:04] Sarah: Sara, tell our listeners a little bit about your background and how the heck you ended up being an expert in welcoming dogs to furnished rentals.

[00:04:15] Sara: Yeah. So, I love dogs too. My favorite topic to discuss. I think I’m known as the dog lady. Insert crazy there, depending on how you feel about me. But yeah, so I actually am a dog trainer here in Mid-Coast, Maine, a positive reinforcement dog trainer. So my life has been all about working with dogs and their guardians, and really my goal being to create the best life possible for the dogs that come into my classes or that I help they’re guardians with.

[00:04:52] And about three years ago, three and a half years ago, it was fall of 2020, was finally in the position financially to purchase my first vacation rental, which is something that I had been wanting to do for a really long time. And of course I wanted to make sure that it was pet-friendly because, like I said, the dogs are everything for me.

[00:05:11] Sara: So I went ahead and made it as pet-friendly as I possibly could. After the first year, I had a number of clients that were coming in and bringing their dogs, obviously. And after the first year, there is a dog newspaper here in Maine called the Downeast Dog News, and the readers have a poll every year where they rank the top pet-friendly businesses in this state, so trainer and groomer and veterinarian.

[00:05:40] And one of the categories is also pet-friendly lodging. Well, I’ve won best trainer in the state for the past nine years in a row, and my dog training clients voted also for the pet-friendly lodging. So I ended up winning after the first year best pet-friendly lodging in Maine, which really just motivated me to be even more pet-friendly.

[00:06:04] So I was brand new to short-term rental space. And so I was learning as much as I can by just following the groups and just learning as much as I can and absorbing that way. And so while I was pet-friendly and I was taking dogs, I wasn’t as welcoming to dogs as I am now. So I took that opportunity of that win to really just push aside any of the restrictions that I felt were putting me more in the category of pet-friendly or really becoming welcoming to dogs.

[00:06:38] So I made that transition, I think, fully embraced welcoming dogs, and I have one best pet-friendly lodging last two years as well. But as I was looking to promote and advertise my rental to get as many direct bookings as possible, I was looking– I love Facebook groups, and I love marketing in Facebook groups, and I was looking online and trying to find one that was going to target specifically people traveling with their dogs. And I found tons in Europe, tons of them in Europe, nothing in the United States, nothing in North America at all.

[00:07:14] So I decided to start one and about a year and a half ago, I created the Facebook group Dogs Welcome, and it’s just a group for everybody to come together, both hosts and travelers, and connect, so that we can get as many dogs into these pet-friendly rentals as possible.

[00:07:34] Annette: Sarah, you have a new group you have to join or did you already join.

[00:07:36] Sarah: I joined a long time ago.

[00:07:38] Annette: I love it.

[00:07:38] Sarah: So I’m fine.

[00:07:40] Annette: Sara, I got to know, though. You’re using some terminology here.

[00:07:44] Sara: Yeah.

[00:07:44] Annette: And I want to dig into it. You were saying pet-friendly, then you transitioned into welcoming pets, welcoming dogs. So that just change of verbiage there, that word, to me, it feels like there’s a lot involved, and on purpose. So can you share with us, because I’m nervous now. I’m like, I don’t know if I could define the difference of a pet-friendly home versus a dog welcoming, welcoming animals home. What is that to you?

[00:08:21] You and Sarah are dog lovers. I love dogs too. I don’t have any, so I’m like, oh. Now I’m nervous of, how would I actually, welcome these pets, welcome these dogs? What was that transition? What does that look like? Am I buying a lot of things, or is it the way I put copy in the listing? Teach me.

[00:08:40] Sara: Yeah. It’s funny. One thing that I’ve learned, especially admining the group, is that there isn’t a definition of that. It’s really vague. It’s a very gray area, and everyone has a separate definition of what welcoming looks like versus allowing. So one of the things I’m working on in the group is trying to create a little bit of a standardization of what I believe welcoming dogs looks like.

[00:09:04] So it’s really just my idea of welcoming dogs versus allowing pets is and what that difference is. So for me, I did charge a pet fee the very first year that I was in business. And I dropped that as soon as I decided to be welcoming to dogs. Now, I know pet fees are a hot topic, and honestly, every single time, I get nervous when anyone talks about pet fees in the group because it’s chaos when we start talking about pet fees.

[00:09:33] Everyone is very opinionated one way or the other. And I get really nervous about making sure I’m keeping my eye on the posts. But yeah, so I know it’s a hot topic and it’s something that people feel very strongly about. The way that I feel about pet fees is that, at least for me and the way that I want to run my business, is I want people in my house, in my property who have dogs. I want those dogs there.

[00:10:01] So I look at my dogs as no different as my human guests when they’re coming into the house. And I am not charging a grandma fee or a kid fee or anything along those lines. So I don’t want to charge a pet fee. And what I do is I roll it into my nightly rate, the same way I roll in my kayak, which maybe not everybody uses, but they’re all paying for them to be there, or my grill, which again, maybe not everybody uses, but they’re all paying that because it is there. It’s part of the amenities that I offer in my property.

[00:10:35] And so even on the rare occasion when I don’t get guests with pets, they’re still paying, obviously the same rate as the guests with pets. It’s just another amenity. I look at it as no different than another amenity. So that, to me, is the big one. And then comes issues with, well, what about cleaning or damage?

[00:10:55] And we can certainly talk about those things later if you wanted to go into a little bit more of that. But I think that’s the big concern that hosts have dropping that pet fee. But again, just to answer your question about what that looks like to me, to me, it is not having a pet fee. It’s making the dogs feel welcome as guests.

[00:11:13] So I allow and encourage my guests to invite their dogs up on the furniture, and I provide covers, plenty of covers that they can put on the sofa or on the bed. And I ask that they do so. I also provide a bunch of dog amenities, so to speak. Because I’m a dog trainer, I have some dog agility equipment in the backyard.

[00:11:38] I have bowls that I have provided. I have toys, I have enrichment puzzle-type toys. I have dog beds. I have long lines that I provide and leashes provided. I do provide waste bags and a station. And so it’s really just about making the dogs feel as welcome as possible when they come in.

[00:11:59] I also give them a gift. I always leave a gift for the human guests, and then there’s a dog gift as well. If it’s a guest that is coming from far enough out as far as time-wise goes, I do tend to get the dog’s name, and then I can give them a– I have a dog bakery woman that I work with, and I get them a cookie with the dog’s name on it.

[00:12:18] And all of those things just make those people feel like their dog is the most– I feel that their dog is the most special thing in the whole world because they already feel that way. But I can tell you from working with people and their dogs for as long as I have, there is nothing that dog guardians like better than someone else recognizing that their dog is amazing. That is the key to totally winning them over.

[00:12:44] Sarah: You just made me blush because I was like, how did you know my dogs are the most amazing? You are right.

[00:12:49] Sara: The most amazing. Absolutely.

[00:12:51] Sarah: I have so many questions for you. First of all, I’m going to maybe put you on the spot, Sara, but I think it’s worth it. Do you have a download of all those amazing amenities that you have at your property that you could recommend to our listeners, your favorite, you said the ones that make them think– what is that called?

[00:13:10] Sara: Yeah, enrichment toys.

[00:13:11] Sarah: Enrichment toys. And your favorite dog bed. Do you have a list of those, Sara?

[00:13:15] Sara: I am in the process of working on that. Yes, and I can absolutely get that to you as soon as that’s done.

[00:13:21] Sarah: Let’s do that. And then listeners, what we’ll do is we’ll get that link from Sara and we’ll put in the show notes because I want to know what you approve of, Sara, and we’re happy to- it should be an affiliate link, and we’ll definitely support you in that way. But I want to know what you are putting, because you are the expert, and I want to level up my dog welcoming game. But you said something a little while ago, and it was that you want dog owners at your property. Why?

[00:13:45] Sara: Because that is what my property is geared towards. Because of all of these things that I offer, those are the people that I want in my house, the people with dogs. These are the people I work with and I live with. It’s who I am. I want guests who are like me, who don’t want to leave their dogs at home and who care enough about and live their dog so much that they want to bring them with them on vacation. So it’s really just familiarity more than anything else, is that I just– and I know how to make those people happy. I’ve just niched down into that.

[00:14:22] Annette: Not just dogs. Do you allow cats? Do you allow other pets? Let’s start there.

[00:14:30] Sara: Yeah.

[00:14:30] Annette: Okay.

[00:14:31] Sara: I do. I will take anything. I don’t know.

[00:14:37] Annette: It’s okay. But I will say–

[00:14:39] Sara: No one’s asked me about a pony yet, so I don’t know.

[00:14:41] Annette: Right. But majority, would you say– if you had to give a percentage, what percentage are just bringing dogs?

[00:14:49] Sara: Oh, 99% are bringing dogs. I do think I unintentionally– I would’ve been cool with it. No, they didn’t let me know, but I do think someone brought a bird at one point because I did find some feathers in the Roomba vacuum when I was emptying, which is fine. I don’t care. A bird’s easy. I don’t care about that. So I’m pretty sure there was a bird in there at one point. But I don’t think I’ve hosted any cats, although I would be happy to do so if someone wanted to bring a cat. So my listing says up to four dogs.

[00:15:19] Annette: Okay, that was my next question.

[00:15:21] Sara: Yeah. If I’m at max cap. So I sleep six. I’ll take four dogs if I’ve got a full house. And it says, if I’m under my max capacity of humans, then I will consider more dogs.

[00:15:34] Annette: Okay.

[00:15:36] So I looked at your property ahead of time. It looks like you’re very close to the water.

[00:15:42] Sara: Mm-hmm.

[00:15:42] Annette: And I couldn’t see how close neighbors were to you. So what does that look like with being pet-friendly and maybe having neighbors close by and there’s always new dogs or new activity? I don’t know if there’s barking or they have dogs. And then being close to that water. And if those dogs aren’t used to being near water, what type of instructions– let’s talk about the neighbors and then the water, the two things making me nervous, I guess.

[00:16:10] Sara: Yeah, absolutely. And I think the neighbors are a very valid concern. I’m lucky. Where I’m at is very rural. It’s very remote. I’m on two and a half acres, so the neighbors– there are neighbors. They’re not terribly close. I think that if you’re approaching becoming pet-friendly or welcoming dogs and you’re thinking about all of this, you do have to consider how many dogs you’re allowing and what sort of policies you’re putting in place for having those dogs on your property based on the neighborhood you’re in or the environment that you’re in.

[00:16:40] Here in Maine, the rural locations like I’m in, everybody has a dog. And so you hear dogs barking on occasion. It’s not really an issue where I’m at. If my guests were allowing their dogs to run loose and visit all of the neighbor houses, I’m sure that would be an issue, but I do ask that they keep the dogs– I don’t have a fence, but I do ask– that is something I’d like to do at some point in time. But I do ask that they keep the dogs on the property. Or if they do not have a solid recall with their dogs, I provide long lines to just make sure that the dog is on a line at all times.

[00:17:22] I just don’t want them visiting the neighbors and potentially having an issue there. But knock on wood, I haven’t had any with any barking. And again, it’s the area more than anything, as I think everybody just knows that everybody has a dog in that area or in the whole area of Maine. And so it’s not really as much of an issue. But again, I think that you have to look at that when you’re considering bringing dogs into your property.

[00:17:47] Are you in a more urban area where that could potentially be an issue? And then maybe making adjustments to what it is that you’re asking our guests to do as far as not leaving dogs outside unattended. I do ask them not to leave the dogs outside unattended, even if they are using the tethers. I provide long line tethers stations as well.

[00:18:05] They do bring up the, not visiting neighbors, but I also word it in a way– because I’m in a rural environment, there’s a lot of wildlife, and so for smaller dogs, it’s actually not safe to be outside unattended because of large prey birds. And I’m always paranoid or worried about dogs getting skunked or quilled with porcupine quills while they’re there. So I word it in a way that I’m more concerned for your dog’s safety than don’t let your dog outside so that they’re running around and visiting all the other people in the neighborhood.

[00:18:38] Sarah: Has any of that happened? Are there many skunking or quilling?

[00:18:41] Sara: This skunk thing scares the bejesus out of me. And I do actually have a de-skunk kit in the property, but I’m terrified that they’re going to get skunked and they let the dog in and then the smell. Again, knock on wood, I have not had that happen, but it is one of my greatest fears. And that is something that would be– especially I’m booked solid in the summer with same day turns, and that would be a disaster if that happened in the summer.

[00:19:08] Sarah: We’re going to put juju out there.

[00:19:10] Annette: Yeah.

[00:19:10] Sara: I know. I always get nervous about saying those things out loud. But yeah, hopefully, they are keeping, especially when the sun goes down, keeping the dog on a leash at night so that we’re not having that issue. But I do provide emergency vet clinic numbers if they were to get quilled late at night, and grooming numbers. But yeah, the de-skunk bucket, it’s still unused in the closet, but I do have it.

[00:19:35] Annette: And is that a hot topic in your Facebook group, neighbors and being pet-friendly?

[00:19:41] Sara: Yeah. I think the big thing in that kind of realm there, it’s the neighbors. It’s the barking. It’s fenced-in yards. Fenced-in yards, by the way, seem to be the amenity that people who are traveling with their dogs are looking for. This is a big thing that people want more than anything else.

[00:20:00] Again, I don’t have one. I have a huge space, so it’s a financial commitment to do that. I haven’t been able to do that yet, but that does seem to be one of the topics in the group that comes up, is travelers want a fenced-in space for their dogs. And a lot of hosts have them, but there’s two issues that will come up when that happens.

[00:20:21] And one is dogs being left in the fenced-in yard unattended and there is a barking, especially they’ll put them out and maybe go for the day and the dog’s out in the yard left alone, unattended, barking all day long. But then the poop is the other issue. And that fenced-in yard, if dogs are out there unattended more, there’s a greater chance of people not seeing their dog use the bathroom and then not knowing that it’s there and not doing a good thorough walkthrough before they leave to make sure that they’re picking everything up.

[00:20:49] So I think, from a host perspective, those are the two big concerns. But again, from a traveler perspective, that fenced-in yard does seem to be the biggest drive. And I will say too, that not all guests are going to do that. It is not common for guests to just leave them out there unattended and let them bark and leave tons of poop. That’s just the concern. And when that happens, one time out of 100, it’s a valid concern for that host.

[00:21:16] Sarah: That’s my question. And I say this jokingly, but we are in metro area, so we have a lot of one-night stays and small one-bedroom apartments. That’s our niche, and people ask all the time because we welcome pets at all of our properties. Not one of them is not pet-friendly.

[00:21:30] And so people ask like, well, is there a lot of damage? And honestly, it’s mostly the humans that leave the damage and not the dog. But that’s my experience. I know I’m a dog lover, so sometimes I ask myself, am I being clear about this? But what’s your thoughts, Sara? How often are they not putting the sheets on the sofa, or are they causing damage and not being responsible?

[00:21:50] Annette: Scratching the doors.

[00:21:52] Sarah: Scratching the doors, yeah, causing any sort of damage and not owning up to it and being a good human and communicating that with you and taking care of it.

[00:22:00] Sara: Yeah. And this is where we bounce back to the pet fee thing. My personal experience is that when you’re charging a pet fee, there is an underlying acknowledgement that you’re paying extra. So maybe if I do leave a little bit more of a mess, it’s okay that pet fee’s going to cover it.

[00:22:21] So maybe if I accidentally don’t put the cover down and there is a little extra hair on the sofa, I paid $150 extra. They’ll take care of it. And I’m going to be honest with you. About a year ago, I had two dogs at the time and one was a German Shepherd, so a heavy shedder. And I had to go down to Boston for the day and stay in a hotel. By the way, that sounds really weird. My husband was having a medical procedure. I wasn’t just going and hanging in a hotel for a day.

[00:22:49] Annette: You were fine.

[00:22:52] Sara: And I had to pay a pet fee for the dogs. And honest to God, my first like knee jerk reaction was, I’m not going to cover the sofa. I paid a pet fee. And then I was like, whoa. But it came out of my head first. That was my first thought. And then I did cover the sofa before she got up on the sofa, but that was my first thought. So I think there is a bit of a mentality of, well, if I paid a pet fee or an extra cleaning fee because of my dogs, then I don’t need to be as particular about making sure that I’m doing these things.

[00:23:26] That’s my opinion. And there are a number of hosts within the group who do feel the same way, that that pet fee gives a little bit more leeway to make a little bit more of a mess or leave things a little bit more unkempt than we would if there wasn’t a pet fee. Now, here’s the other thing that’s really cool, is I feel that the more you start welcoming these dogs and rolling out the red carpet for me saying, I want all of these people, these dogs, it empowers those dog guardians to be like, wow, I want my dog here.

[00:23:58] They take better care of your property. They take better care of it because you have made their dog feel so welcome and made them feel so good about their dog that I feel like they take so much better care of your property. And the other thing is, like I said at the beginning, and again, I have lots of experience with dog guardians over the year, the more you make those people feel special and that their dog is special, the more important you are going to be to them, more important your property is going to be to them.

[00:24:27] And because dog people are so passionate, not only about their dogs, but dogs in general, they start to scream your name from the rooftop. They will tell all of their dog friends about how amazing you are as a host, that you made their dog feel so welcome. So I feel like the more welcome you make these dogs feel and their guardians feel, the better they actually take care of your property.

[00:24:52] Now, I have had two situations. I just finished, so it’s been three full seasons for me. So I’ve had two situations in the past three years  that involved bodily fluids and neither of them had anything to do with dogs. They were human-related. So a poop issue and a pee issue. Neither had anything to do with dogs.

[00:25:17] I did have one guest who left, according to my gardener– God bless him. He picked everything up, probably about 25 piles of poo in the yard. They did not cover my furniture with the covers. It was folded with hair, but they destroyed my grill. They broke my curtain rods. They broke my bunk beds, which I no longer have.

[00:25:44] They exploded butter in the microwave, and it was all– it wasn’t the dogs. It was the people. They were bad guests. They were bad guests. So yeah, you’re going to get bad guests every once in a while. But I really think that the more welcome that you make their dogs feel, generally speaking, the better they’re going to take care of your property and the less issues that you’re actually going to have.

[00:26:09] Annette: What’s your repeat dog guests now? Have you been seeing an uptick now that you have gone three full seasons, that you’re having these repeat guests because you are so welcoming to their pets?

[00:26:23] Sara: Yes. As a matter of fact, this is now the time of year where I’m really starting to heavily book into the summer and the fall season, which are the two big seasons here. And right now, it’s 75% return guests with dogs. Yes. And I’ll tell you something else that, for me, was really cool, and I talked about how passionate dog people are.

[00:26:44] When I started this business, again, I’m an established dog trainer in the area. Many dog guardians in the state of Maine know who I am. I have a good social media following on my dog training page. I shared it. I said, listen, this is my new venture. I’d appreciate if you shared this as much as possible. My first year in business, I was 50% direct bookings because of–

[00:27:08] Annette: Nice, Sara.

[00:27:09] Sara: My first year. And now going into this summer, I’m an 85% direct.

[00:27:16] Annette: Let’s pause on that because I know there are so many other business owners that listen to the podcast that their business has nothing to do with short-term rentals. And if you and I were just sitting down having coffee and you’re telling me you’re a dog trainer, I would think that is the furthest thing from short-term rentals.

[00:27:32] But I love how you’ve woven it in with that audience. I know I follow some influencers online, like fitness influencer, and they buy a short-term rental and they talk about it. How did you start to talk about it? Because that’s a very different world when you’re dog training, social media. Did you just say, hey, this is a new business venture? How did you start to weave that in so your audience wasn’t getting confused on what was going on?

[00:27:59] Sara: Yeah. Because I’ve been here for 11 years now, I always try really hard with both of my businesses to be as personable as possible with my guests or my clients. To me, any business in order to be successful as a human business, it’s about making connections with these human beings.

[00:28:20] So I think people who follow me on my dog training accounts were used to me sharing a lot of more personal stuff and really just putting out who I am and not just dog training information, which I think is part of what draws people to me as far as in that world goes. Because I try to be as approachable and personable as possible.

[00:28:43] So it wasn’t unusual for me to be sharing things that were going on in my life that it didn’t have to do with dog training. Nonetheless, dogs are always going to be that underlying factor. It seems like that’s just the thread that runs through my entire life at all times. So I don’t think anybody was surprised.

[00:29:01] And my clients are just amazing. And they were just happy. They just shared and shared and shared and so happy to support me. And again, because I was dog friendly, they all know people with dogs. They’re like, oh, stay at this dog place. And it just has continued.

[00:29:20] Annette: I love it. 

[00:29:20] Sarah: I have questions a little bit about operations and cleaning because I want to know what you’re doing, Sara. So when it comes to communicating, ask Annette. I’ve tried some things to communicate to our guests on how to be good dog parents in our rentals, and some were more aggressive than others, and I’ve had to come back a little bit. So what works for you, Sarah, to communicate the blanket on the sofa? Is it just in your welcome book? Do you have signs anywhere? What is the language? What can you share with us?

[00:29:49] Sara: Okay, so I actually just had this conversation in my Dogs Welcome group. I have a very small group on the side, a Dogs Welcome host group. We talk about challenges we have and things we have, and someone asked the same question in there the other day. I talk to the dogs, so I have–

[00:30:06] Annette: Oh my gosh. Brilliant. That is brilliant.

[00:30:11] Sara: I talk to the dogs. So yes, in my renter’s agreement that they sign right when they book, there are rules. There are dog rules that says you put a cover on. You don’t let your dog leave the property, all of these things are in there, and that there will be a fee for excessive cleaning. That’s in my renter’s agreement. 

[00:30:31] But my Touch Day digital guide that goes out right after they book, I’ve got a whole section in there called, Hey, Fido. And it covers all of these things except I’m talking to the dog. And I try to be as cutesy as possible with it without pulling it up.

[00:30:45] I’m not going to give you exactly verbiage, but it says things like, Hey, Fido, your human likes to follow you around and collect your waste. How weird. But we have to make sure that we’re meeting their need to do this. So be sure that they’re using the bags in this area so that they get to continue to do this fun activity that they so enjoy.

[00:31:09] Annette: Oh my gosh. This is great.

[00:31:12] Sara: Hey, Fido, I know that you have awesome magical hair fibers that you like to sprinkle everywhere you go, like glitter.

[00:31:21] Annette: Yeah, like confetti glitter. Right. Oh my gosh.

[00:31:24] Sara: Please make sure that your humans are placing– I remember, this is exactly the verbiage I used. Please make sure your humans are placing blankets on the furniture prior to you resting on them so that they can appropriately worship these things.

[00:31:38] Annette: Oh, wow.

[00:31:40] Sara: So I address the dog. So this is in the Touch Day guide, which we all know everybody doesn’t read. Not all the way through, at least. So some people aren’t seeing it. But I also send an email out a week before, and it’s addressed, Hey, Fido. And if I have the dog’s names, I’ll make sure that the dog’s names get put in there. I just go through all of the same thing in that email and you would not believe how many emails I get back from the dogs.

[00:32:03] Annette: Oh my gosh.

[00:32:06] Sara: They’ll be like, okay. So I had one recently, these two dogs stay named Kolby and Munster. And so the email came back and it was, hey, Sara, Kolby and Munster here. And they were telling me about how excited they were to bring their humans to stay.

[00:32:18] Annette: So good. I love it.

[00:32:19] Sara: And so I think that that, again, it’s just making the dogs– I feel that your dog is special. And I think making the people recognize that and have them hear that, it makes all the difference in the world. So that is how I’m communicating those things to them. Yeah.

[00:32:37] Sarah: Okay. So you didn’t take the aggressive New York approach.

[00:32:40] Annette: Putting things on the refrigerator, like you will be–

[00:32:42] Sarah: Do not. I was desperate at one point, Sara.

[00:32:46] Annette: I want to talk about these covers. You’ve talked about these covers or blankets, a lot through the episode. Are these placed in a basket? Are they–

[00:32:55] Sara: Are they labeled in the basket too?

[00:32:57] Annette: Yeah. Are they labeled? Are they washed every time? Are they a certain fabric? Are they just old ones from your house? Because I know Sarah and I, at one of our properties, we have a couch and– Fido has gone to town filing their nails. You know what I mean? So we’re going over there to condition it tomorrow. So talk to us about these blankets, these covers, these– where do we put them? How do they not just look like this giant lump of stackable blankets and, yeah, where do we get them? How do we present them?

[00:33:31] Sara: So I just have a fabric basket with handles that I have in the my coat closet on the first floor, and I have a stack of them in there. I have extras. That thing is full, but I have a whole other full one as my extras on my same day turn, so they don’t have to worry about making sure they’re all getting washed.

[00:33:50] And yes, it’s a combination of all of the things that you mentioned. I have ones that I have bought on Amazon. It’s just whenever things are on sale. I do have some that I really like more than others because they wash easily. They’re large. That’s one of the big things, is getting– and that was my mistake. When I first bought some, they’re too small, and so people were layering them and then hair was getting through the layers.

[00:34:11] So getting ones that are big enough that you can completely cover. I do have old sheets in there. I do have actual furnish covers that aren’t sheets that are actually those couch cover things. I’ve got a couple of those. So it’s just a mishmash, but I don’t put them on prior. When they’re walking in the house for the first time, they’re not on there.

[00:34:29] So you’re not seeing that mishmash of sheets and stuff on there. They are set in the closet, and I do make it clear where they are in those emails and in the Touch Day guide. But you wouldn’t believe how many guests will say to me, oh, we always bring our own.

[00:34:43] Annette: Oh, okay.

[00:34:45] Sara: Because again, I think that the more you– again, it just would bounce back to, I think the more you make these people feel special, the better dog guardians you’re going to keep getting, the ones that are really great, great, great people who are going to take really great care of your property.

[00:34:59] Annette: And then back to the water really quick for safety. Do you have dogs that are swimmers and then they come through the house? I feel like I’ve talked to a host before, they lived on a lake, and she said her neighbor would call, like, they keep letting their dogs jump in the water and then they’re running through your house, wet dogs. So what about the lake safety and then wet dogs?

[00:35:20] Sara: Yeah, sorry, I didn’t answer that one the first time you asked me that. Yeah, so that’s not really such a problem with the way that my property is set. So there is a path. It’s a private waterfront. So it’s a very strange piece of land. There’s a little strip that’s all there as it goes down, and then it opens up again at the waterfront.

[00:35:42] It’s deep water. So I’m on the ocean and it’s deep water, and it’s a rocky shoreline, so the only way to access the actual water is down a ramp and on a actual float. So it’s not easy for them to just run out, dive in, and then come back. I have had people ask about their dog swimming because where my property is, the water is so deep and there’s such strong currents.

[00:36:05] I caution everybody about swimming. So I have had clients who have had their dogs swim before in the ocean. I always just say, make sure you’re staying on out on low tide rather than going on high tide when the currents are really bad. But for me personally, it’s not as much of a problem, I think, because I’m not on a beach that they can just run into the water or a lake where they can just run into the water.

[00:36:27] I think if I were, I would probably just make sure that I was putting dog towels out by the front door so that they were easily accessible. And then I also do have a dog wash station that’s outside as well, so that I have little doggy shampoo and a little doggy brush that they can wash the dog with next to the hose.

[00:36:47] So I think I’d just probably be making sure that I was being clear and communicating about those things. We’ve been having a terribly wet year this year in Maine, so I did have clients or guests that had checked in on a really rainy day, and I left two dog towels out right by the front door.

[00:37:02] I didn’t say anything to them ahead of time. I just left them right in the little bench by the front door as a suggestion to wipe paw before they go in. So I think as long as you’re– for me, the big thing is make it easy for your guests to take care of your property. The more you can make it easy, the more they’re going to do it. If it’s easy, they’re absolutely going to do it.

[00:37:22] Annette: For sure, for sure.

[00:37:23] Sarah: What are your top cleaning tips? What have you learned over the past three, four years, three seasons that you would share with our listeners to share with their cleaning teams? Any hacks, any special tools or cleansers that work really well for your home?

[00:37:37] Sara: Yeah, so for me, and this probably applies to not just the dog side of it, but have an extra of everything, everything, everything. I have an extra toilet seat in the basement of my house in case I show up on a walkthrough and the toilet seat’s cracked. No, have extra of everything. The sofas that I have in the property have slip covers.

[00:38:01] I didn’t buy slip covers. They’re actually slip cover sofas, and I have an extra slip cover for both sofas. So if my cleaners who are saints, by the way– I have the best cleaners in the entire world, if they go in and maybe in that situation where the people didn’t cover the furniture and it was an inch thick, I said, do not waste your time.

[00:38:22] Take that slip cover off, throw it on the deck, put the new slip cover on, and we’ll take care of cleaning that outside of the turn. So having extras of everything. I use Ruggable rugs in my property. There are a ton of other brands that are washable, but for me, a washable rug in a pet-friendly property is a must have.

[00:38:40] I have extras of each rug in the entire house so that if I go in and there’s a lot of hair on it or maybe it’s a little stinky, maybe there was a wet dog that laid on it, we just roll that out, throw that out onto the deck, put a brand new one down. So I think having extras of everything is really, really helpful, especially for my cleaners because I don’t want them spending two hours vacuuming an inch of hair off of the sofa.

[00:39:07] I think having a good vacuum that is geared towards pet hair is a must have. There’s a couple of different tools too that I can send you. I’ll work on that list of the items that I really like that you can spot, if there’s a couple of spots where there might be one or two, there are some dog breeds whose hair is like magic. It weaves into and you can never get it out.

[00:39:29] So if you had one of those guests, you know those little spot tools work really nice. Recently, I think it was this summer during Amazon Prime days, I was like, I’m going for a robot vac. And so I put the robot vacuum in and I just say to the guests in the guidebook, you can run it if you want, but it’s part of my checkout instructions, is to just turn– his name’s Carl. Just turn Carl on before you go, and it helps give my cleaners a little bit of a headstart on getting any hair that might be–

[00:39:57] Annette: That’s a real hot tip there, Carl the vacuum. Get them going.

[00:40:00] Sara: Carl.

[00:40:01] Annette: Get them going.

[00:40:02] Sara: And I’ll tell you, because I’ve an app on my phone for Carl, people use it. It’ll tell me Carl completed his job. People really do use it a lot. So we’ll see how long it lasts. I think that’s always been my biggest–

[00:40:13] Annette: Do they make a Carl that does more than the–

[00:40:16] Sarah: Annette, it’s the wrong episode for that.

[00:40:17] Annette: Oh, okay. Well, can he do the dishes? All right.

[00:40:20] Sara: I’ll got to find a Carl that does the dishes.

[00:40:22] Annette: Puts them away, actually. The dishwasher does that, but it just doesn’t put them away. It’s annoying.

[00:40:28] Sara: So yeah, that’s working out well for me. So I’d say we could give that one a go as a pet-friendly host.

[00:40:33] Annette: Yeah, that’s really great. I love it. Sara, I know that our listeners are fired up. They want to learn more about not just being pet-friendly, but welcoming dogs. They want to get these repeat guests. They want to find a dog. Where can people follow you? Talk to these other hosts that are hosting all of these amazing, four-legged furry friends. Where can we learn more? Where can we follow you and all of your amazingness?

[00:41:04] Sara: So I’ve got the Dogs Welcome Facebook group, which everybody is welcome to join. And what’s nice about the group is that it is welcome to anybody who allows a pet. In order to be in the group, you don’t have to fit a criteria of what I have defined as welcoming dogs, as long as you take– let’s say you take one dog under 25 pounds and charge $250 to allow that dog to stay with you. You can still be in the group.

[00:41:27] That’s true because there is a guest for you. There is a guest for you in that group. So please, if you take dogs, whatever it looks like, come join the Dogs Welcome group. The group is about a year and a half old, and I was hoping to get to 9,000 members before this podcast, but I’m 50-some shy as of this morning. So it’s about close to 9,000. We’re building about 100 members a month. There are more travelers in the group than there are hosts. So there are a lot of travelers in there who are looking for a place to stay.

[00:41:59] Annette: Wonderful. If you’re a listener and you’re pet-friendly, this is a way to get leads for very specific guests coming to your– has that been happening a lot inside the group, Sara, people finding accommodations?

[00:42:11] Sara: Yes.

[00:42:11] Annette: Great.

[00:42:12] Sara: Yes, 100%. Last season, over half of my bookings were guests who found me through the group.

[00:42:20] Annette: That’s awesome.

[00:42:21] Sara: And again, those are all direct because I’m only posting my website in there. It works two ways. You can, as a host, make a post advertising your property. You can do that as much as you like. I don’t care if you’re posting every day. I have one host who practically posts every day. She’s awesome. Then there are also travelers who are posting ISOs. I’m looking to go to this area. This is the dog that I have. There’s this many people.

[00:42:50] And then you post a link to your property, say, this is what we look like for your consideration. And then you end up with a post full of different options for these travelers. So it’s working those two different ways. So the group is fantastic for that. Now, I also do actually have a Dogs Welcome listing website.

[00:43:09] That it’s just a directory. So it’s not like an OTA. It is simply a directory of all of– and I won’t even say it’s all of them because I know there are hosts in the group have not filled out the form. It’s free to list yourself on the website. What’s cool about the website, and I built it this way because of the feedback I was getting from the travelers in the group, is there are filters.

[00:43:34] It is not a fancy website. I built this. It’s not anything super fancy, but you can filter your searches by state, by number of people it sleeps. And here’s the most important, a bedroom’s bath. But here’s the most important thing. I put all of these dog amenities on here, so they can filter by properties who allow two or more dogs for the multi-dog household.

[00:43:59] Properties who allow cats, have a fenced-in yard. Don’t have breed restrictions because that’s a big one with insurance companies sometimes, or HOAs who don’t have pet fees, who don’t have size restrictions, who allow other animals or properties who have no stairs. So if you had a special needs or an older dog and couldn’t stay somewhere with stairs, you could do a search for that.

[00:44:22] So those filters are available on the website for people to search. And so in addition to, as a host, posting your property in the group and responding to those ISOs, we can get you on the Dogs Welcome website as well so that people can do a search on the website and find you that way too.

[00:44:40] Annette: Got it. This is so good. Why not join the group? It sounds like you can get some leads. So ISO is in search of, right?

[00:44:48] Sara: Yes.

[00:44:48] Annette: ISO Carl that put dishes away. No. Sara, this has been brilliant. I do want to ask one final question because you just touched on it. What do these pet-friendly homes need to tell their insurance companies? Do they need to say, hey, I do have overnight pet guest? I know that you need to probably communicate that to your insurance company.

[00:45:19] Sara: Yeah, I would definitely make sure that you are talking to your insurance company about it, because every insurance company is going to have different policies, especially when it comes to breed restrictions. And that’s a big one. Like I said, I used to have a German Shepherd, and that breed is on the dangerous dog list.

[00:45:33] So personally, myself and my own homeowner’s insurance, that was something I had to find, an insurance company that did not look at breeds. So I think having that conversation, have it before you have the issue. So have that conversation with your insurance company ahead of time so that you know what your restrictions are.

[00:45:53] And again, that’s why these filters are here. If you do have limitations because of your insurance company and you can’t take certain breeds, then you don’t check the no-breed restriction filter on your website. It is what it is. Just make sure that you know what the guidelines are for your insurance companies that you don’t get into a situation where you potentially have a dog in the property and there’s an issue and it’s not going to be covered.

[00:46:20] Sarah: Right. Well, Sara, thank you so much for this, for all the information you’ve shared. Sorry, I gave you some homework, but I do think our listeners will be obsessed with it.

[00:46:28] Sara: No, that’s okay.

[00:46:31] Sarah: Listeners, I’ll put all of Sarah’s information in our show notes today. Thank you so much for your time. With that, I am Sarah Karakaian.

[00:46:38] Annette: I am Annette Grant. And together we are–

[00:46:40] Both Annette & Sarah: Thanks for Visiting.

[00:46:41] Sarah: Talk to you next time.