District Dogs: Where Clients Get More
By Kathy Hosler
Photos by Dan Cunningham and Bash Haus Studios
What would your thoughts be if someone told you they were going to leave their job at Merrill Lynch to become a dog walker?
Well, that’s exactly what Jacob Hensley did.
Founder and owner, Jacob Hensley, opened District Dogs in 2014 in the Washington, DC Metro Area. Initially, it was a dog walking and pet sitting business with Jacob as the only employee. Founded on his ideals to blend reliable and professional service with a personal touch, District Dogs took off like a shot. Jacob soon added employees and hired a manager.
In another bold move, Jacob opened his first brick-and-mortar store in 2016. It offered daycare and overnight boarding.
“It was a risky venture,” recalls Jacob. “In dog walking there really isn’t much overhead; no building, utilities, taxes, etc. But, I saw a great need for a full-service pet care facility in the area.”
That first store grew quickly, and 2019 saw the opening of their second location, followed by a third in 2020. These full-service facilities have boarding, daycare, grooming and training. Three more facilities are in the process of being built, with one of them located at the new Amazon Headquarters campus that is coming to the DC area. District Dogs was selected as Amazon’s official dog care partner.
So, what does District Dogs do that has spurred their explosive growth?
“Family really is at the heart of everything we do,” Jacob states. “When someone entrusts their dog to us, we all become part of the same family.”
“DC is a really dog-friendly city. We probably have as many dogs as we have people,” says Jillian Kuehn, District Manager of District Dogs. “Our goal is to be a one-stop shop and provide services their dogs need. The people in DC are busy and it’s important they use their time wisely. With us, their dog can be dropped off for daycare, get groomed, have a training session, and if the owner’s day runs late, they can stay overnight. It takes a lot off of our clients’ plates to know that they can trust us with so many aspects of their dogs’ care.”
“We have always approached our business from a sense of complete transparency,” adds Jacob. “All of our facilities are built with big, beautiful plate glass windows, so when people enter our lobby, they look directly into our playrooms and see all the fun the dogs are having. If a person walks into one of our facilities and wants a tour, we accommodate them—no appointment needed. We also have webcams so the pet parents can check on their dog anytime they want to. We send photos and report cards to the owners daily.”
District Dogs has some very unique services. In addition to traditional boarding, they offer slumber party-style overnight boarding.
“It’s a really good option for most dogs because they are super social creatures, and no matter how much exercise and fun they have during daycare, overnight boarding can be traumatic for them. Many dogs sleep more comfortably in a pack setting,” Jillian says.
“At the end of the day, we empty the play rooms and deep-clean them, then we load up the rooms with beds and blankets, fresh water, and dim the lights,” Jillian continues. “Staff members stay in the rooms all night. They read stories, play soft music, and make sure the pups are comfy and the rooms stay clean. It makes a real difference in some of the pups who are used to sleeping with family. It really reduces their stress.”
One of District Dogs’ newest programs is their structured daycare. In a structured program, the dogs are in a much smaller group and they receive more individualized attention. They have found this program to be a good fit for puppies, dogs who are new to the daycare environment or that don’t do well in standard daycare, and for owners that prefer to have their dogs in a smaller group with more personal care.
Their typical day is interspersed with more human attention, break time in crates, small group play of three to five dogs who have similar play styles, a snack they have to work for such as a puzzle toy or a frozen kong, some obedience training, and sometimes enrichment involving a ball pit or something that will stimulate their brain in different ways.
“If we have a dog who is exhibiting behaviors such as excessive barking, humping, herding, etc., our next step is to do a standard daycare probation where they attend structured daycare for a period of time, then they can be re-integrated back into regular daycare,” says Jillian.
“All dogs have different needs, just like children,” Jillian continues. “They all learn and thrive in different ways. Our goal is always to offer as many options as we can to reach as many dogs as possible, and to provide the most supportive environment so that they thrive. Structured daycare has been a great solution for some pups.”
Contact with the owners is number one at District Dogs. For some owners, seeing is believing. Webcams give the owner that extra sense of assurance and comfort. A daily report card along with pictures of their dog are sent to the owners every day. They have fully-transparent communication with the owners—whether it is a behavior problem with their dog or a health concern like diarrhea.
Between running the in-home services and operating everything within the brick-and-mortar facilities, it takes a well-trained and devoted staff of about 70 to keep District Dogs in operation.
“Our staff is such a dedicated team of people. It’s not that we love dogs—we live dogs! I’m proud of all my staff members. They set the tone for a great client experience. Everything that District Dogs has become is a representation of the amazing team that I have,” Jacob shares.
Their website, www.districtdogs.com, and software system allow for a lot of the bookings and inquiries to be done on a contactless basis. This gives clients the freedom to handle their own bookings which saves time for the client as well as for the staff at District Dogs. They can communicate with clients directly to let them know their dogs’ services are completed, send report cards directly or contact them if there is an emergency.
“The biggest thing we do that sets us apart from competitors is actually what we do outside of our four walls,” Jacob continues. “We are very involved in the community in a lot of different ways. We do Yappy Hour with local dog-friendly businesses—typically restaurants and bars. We often partner with local charities and are able to raise a lot of money for them, and get to connect with our clients on a human level.
“We try to do special events throughout the year so our clients and other dog owners can experience District Dogs outside our walls. That helps create a relationship with them even if they aren’t clients yet. So, when they do need services, we are on the top of their mind,” Jacob adds.
People in the DC Metro area are crazy about dogs, and also about staying in shape. District Dogs’ newest project blends those passions together.
“In the past year we started BarkFit, Boot Camp, and yoga classes, and partnered with local fitness centers to do outdoor fitness where pups can get exercise along with their owners,” Jacob says. “We always get a tremendous amount of interest in these classes. When 10 to 15 people get together with their dogs, it is so much more enjoyable. There’s lots of energy and everyone is having fun. At that point, it’s not like a workout, it’s more like a party.”
It all began with Jacob Hensley’s one-man dog walking business and his determination to provide reliable and professional service with a personal touch. At District Dogs, the canine and human clients get all that and more—much, much more.