By Judd Spicer, California Business Journal.
When Andrea Servadio relocated to Southern California from New York City in 2009 and couldn’t find a suitable doggie daycare option for her high-energy Jack Russell puppy, she did what any true entrepreneur would do: she started her own business.
“We recognized that the doggie daycares weren’t set-up the same way we were used to in New York,” Servadio recalls. “That business here was just starting to catch on.”
Since debuting Santa Monica-based Fitdog two years later, the company’s co-founder and CEO has seen her business evolve into something of a four-legged sensation.
“It’s grown a lot, and in working with dogs all this time, it’s given me a much broader picture of their needs,” Servadio says. “Over time, our services have grown to reflect that understanding.”
By providing a caring environment and one that focuses on canine routine, enrichment and ample exercise, Fitdog’s (fitdog.com) programs have augmented into a three-fold focus: Training, Club and Sports services.
From channeling a dog’s energy, improving social skills and decreasing separation anxiety, the menu of programs is finding the Fitdog model a growing success.
Fitdog’s training program works with only certified trainers, and provides a customized approach which appreciates that one collar doesn’t fit every dog.
“It’s a positive-reinforcement philosophy and one of mutual respect,” Servadio says. “And we also have the perspective that each dog is unique and has basic needs to be met. Once those are met, we incorporate the training. And it’s a customized training program for each dog. It’s not a once-size-fits-all approach.”
The Fitdog Club combines grooming, boarding and daycare services, which features including round-the-clock care, a 3,000-square-foot dog park and optional spa services.
The growth of Fitdog is evidenced by a service area spanning Los Angeles, along with a menu of flexible classes and amenities designed to ‘wow’ the public.
For Fitdog Sports, seeds for the program began in 2013 with a focus on taking dogs on canyon hikes and beach days.
“We were noticing that not all dogs are meant for traditional daycare,” Servadio says. “Either they just have too much energy for the environment or they’re too smart – they need more work, and we found that, through these outings, they were able to expend a lot of that energy in a healthy way.”
Fitdog Sports formally launched in 2016 and its adventure, recreation and fitness programs now count eight unique options to complement the hike and beach choices.
“We started our Fun & Fit Agility program and created doggie gym classes, which is like a recreational version of the competitive sport,” Servadio explains of the doggie class crafted by Fitdog trainers. “It’s been a big success, and we’ve seen it transform a lot of dogs that need more mental stimulation than a standard daycare environment can offer. They’re doing something fun and different, learning how to manipulate their body and earning those important feelings of accomplishment and confidence.”
The hiking program all but ensures a day of full exercise for even the most active of hounds.
“The hikes are rigorous and we go all the way, about four-to-six miles,” Servadio says. “We believe the dogs really need the extra exercise along with the time in nature. It’s a full experience.”
Program travel, safety and communication accents will also wag the owner’s tail.
Fitdog’s activity and adventure days feature a taxi service option, where the human handler drives to an owner’s residence, scoops up Fido, goes on the day’s adventure and then brings the dog back home.
“We pick up and drop off all over Los Angeles,” Servadio says of the company four-van fleet. “For the busy dog owner, we bring dogs to our classes, including our hike adventures, beach days, agility classes, pack etiquette or a pool class.”
Safety features present a bowl-full of peace-of-mind. For canyon hikes, two human leaders are in-tow and the leaders aren’t merely dog dudes who own a leash and a pocket of treats.
“It’s a big concern,” Servadio says of Fitdog’s premium on vetting and safety. “So, all of our Sports Assistants need to work with us for at least two years to become a Sports Leader, and we also use a tracking system to monitor all the driving, so we know exactly where the fleet is and where the dogs are at all times. Handling dogs is a big job, and we don’t think that you can just come off the street and know how to do it right. So we spend a lot of time training our staff and also monitoring care and classes.”
Owners are kept well-abreast of their dog’s day. For Sport and Club features, Fitdog sends out about five daily photos along with a report card.
“So owners can know how their dog is doing that day,” Servadio says. “We just feel like the dog is experiencing the service, but the owner is paying for it and also needs to experience it in a way – so, we’ve found the best way to do that is making sure we have great communication with the owners.”
Lapping-up new clients and classes, Fitdog’s success is rooted in the owner’s belief that dogs, like their masters, need a daily purpose.
“Dogs are designed to work with us, be our partners,” Servadio concludes. “And being that for so many of us, so much of our work in the city is now on computers, it’s different for dogs. Just by taking the dogs into nature, giving them ‘jobs,’ is very fulfilling to them. And that’s a big part of our job – to give these dogs something to do, to give them that stimulation.”
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