This Cincinnati Startup Created an App to Modernize Dog Training

a person uses the Harper app on their phone

How Harper is providing a new experience to help guide America’s many canine lovers

In 2021, you can learn just about anything on your phone. From cooking to coding and everything in between, there are countless ways to learn from your fingertips. So why do people still struggle through the same old methods to train their dogs, relying on their own experience or expensive lessons and apologizing for bad behavior? That’s the problem that Cincinnati’s Harper is trying to solve.

“Harper is an app that makes it as easy as possible to train your dog,” said co-founder R. Brennan Knotts. “That involves step-by-step videos on how to teach a specific skill and everything else that goes along with being a dog parent, from grooming to feeding to making sure your dog is happy and healthy. We have more than 30 courses that will help you teach your dog just pretty much anything you would want them to learn. There are courses for a puppy when you’re trying to figure out how to get through the first night with the dog whining in the crate or a more senior dog who has always gone nuts when you have people over to the house. With Harper, you can enroll and get a step-by-step training plan on how to change that behavior.”

A unique aspect of Harper’s creation is that it didn’t come from experts. The co-founders of the app — Knotts, Nick Cramer and Robin Daugherty — approached its development from the perspective of those who would be using it. Rather than enlisting professionals, they taught themselves first and relayed that information. Knotts found himself in charge of learning the training aspects of the app, and found that it helped him learn more about what their users would need.

“None of us founders are dog trainers, so we’re coming at this from the same perspective as anyone else,” he said. “But really, we’re all trainers. If you have a dog, you’re a dog trainer, you just might not be a professional at it. We really went out and found the training techniques that resonated with us and distilled those down into something that was easy for us to understand, which meant it was easy for other people to understand. I think that perspective helps. When you go to a professional dog trainer, you quickly realize that they can forget about some of the little questions that you might have. Do I reach this way or that way to deliver a treat? Does that even matter at all? It was challenging to learn dog training, but I think going through that experience really does bring a unique perspective to our product.”

The founders launched Harper in early 2020 and found themselves trying to grow amid the pandemic. But as people worked from home and spent more time with their pets, Knotts said the app became even more useful.

“One of the fascinating things we learned while starting Harper was that 75 percent of Americans in their thirties have a dog,” he said. “So dog ownership is already extremely high, and then over the past year, you saw a lot of people get pets and a lot of first-time pet owners. They had kind of a unique situation where they were suddenly home all day with their pets, which means any sort of behavior challenge was magnified and they were looking for solutions. And a lot of those in-person options weren’t available, so they’re going online or going to the app store and searching. So we absolutely did see a lot of people with problems that were very specific to the challenges of the past year.”

Now, Knotts sees Harper as one-of-a-kind. Not only is the app one of the few providing the kind of experience Harper does, but it’s also offering assistance in a way that people can actually use. Whether they’re taking advantage of some of the free training and fundamentals courses or the more in-depth lessons that are still affordable, Knotts hopes the app can make a real difference to a generation of dog owners.

“When we started there were almost no dog training apps in the app store at all,” he said. “There were some great online programs, but some of them were really pricey. You either had in-person classes and an expensive trainer or you were watching 20-minute YouTube videos and trying to piece together from all this knowledge yourself. It left a big gap for something that felt like it was built for the 21st century. We feel like Harper provides a social good. People get pets because it helps with loneliness and it helps to have a companion. The main reason people give up their pets is because they have difficulties with behavior. We see Harper as a way to help people live easier lives with their companions. We think Harper succeeding will only mean good things for the world.”

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