It’s a dog eat dog world curating a following on canine Instagram

It's a dog eat dog world curating a following on canine Instagram
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Allow me to introduce you to a couple of dogs.

Here’s Rusty, he’s one year old, owns his own business, has a wardrobe full of fashionable clothes, and nearly 5000 followers.

Now meet Andy, he’s two, owns three half-chewed toys, once knocked himself out on a goalpost and has 131 followers.

Can you guess which one is mine?

READ MORE:
* A dog’s life: Tula the rescue dog is a better photographer than you
* Larger-than-life dog photos bring fame
* Social media goes to the dogs (and cats)

Jo Davies’ dogs, from left, Storm, Boston and Maali. Davies uses Maali’s Instagram account @maali_the_rescue_ebt to highlight bull breeds, a much-maligned type of dog.

Jo Davies

Jo Davies’ dogs, from left, Storm, Boston and Maali. Davies uses Maali’s Instagram account @maali_the_rescue_ebt to highlight bull breeds, a much-maligned type of dog.

There are 1.9 million New Zealand accounts on the photo and video-sharing app Instagram, and Rusty and Andy star in two of them. With more than one billion worldwide monthly users this is the place to go for dog content, using hashtags to define your search.

If you type in #poodle you’ll find more than 15m posts; #pug brings up more than 20m, and #AndytheBullTerrier fetches 28. Give that one a go.

There’s some big names on there. Popular dog accounts have millions of followers and while Rusty isn’t there yet, he’s not doing too badly for a little dog from Aotearoa.

Sarah Kavanagh, the cavoodle’s self-described personal assistant, hadn’t dabbled in ‘the gram’ before Rusty came along, but when she started posting photos of her new pup she discovered a picture-hungry audience who wanted more.

“It grew really quickly, obviously all his other dog mates like to keep up with his daily goings-on so it’s just taken on a world of its own.”

While Rusty racked up the followers, it was the supportive community of dog lovers that surprised Kavanagh the most. Unlike other social media platforms, dog-Instagram has become a refuge safe from toxic trolls and other nasties.

“It’s the kindest place, nobody has a bad word to say about anybody, their dog or otherwise. It’s a bunch of cheerleaders just cheering you on to be the best that you can. In an ideal world social media would be like that for humans, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.”

Tracey Whitley’s dog’s Instagram account @life.ofbear has more than 9000 followers and an ambassadorship with a health supplement company.

Tracey Whitley

Tracey Whitley’s dog’s Instagram account @life.ofbear has more than 9000 followers and an ambassadorship with a health supplement company.

It’s not just friends Kavanagh’s found. She’s turned down offers from companies wanting Rusty to promote their products in favour of opening his own online fashion shop.

“His fans kept telling us what they wanted and that’s matching dog and human pyjamas.”

In regard to growing Andy’s lacklustre account, Kavanagh’s advice was to post photos consistently because people want to see what their dog friends are doing.

That afternoon I snapped a picture of him sitting on the couch, a poor effort next to the photos of Rusty in bow-ties and designer coats, but rough enough. I tapped out half a dozen hashtags and waited for the magic. Nothing happened, no new accounts followed me, Andy went to sleep and I sat and looked at him for a long time.

Instagram was launched in 2010 by Kevin Stystrom and sold for $1 billion two years later to Facebook. Users rely on those searchable hashtags to expand the number of people who follow them, and a big following can equate to big money.

The app has become a major platform for influencers – the term given to people who have a large and engaged audience – and it works for dogs too.

It's not easy taking a good photo of your dog for Instagram, as Virginia Fallon and Andy demonstrate.

Virginia Fallon

It’s not easy taking a good photo of your dog for Instagram, as Virginia Fallon and Andy demonstrate.

Among the celebrities is JiffPom, a Los Angeles pomeranian with 10.7m followers whose estimated to make hundreds of thousands of dollars per sponsored post. The dog has worked with TikTok and Target, made numerous television appearances and spawned a range of Walmart toys in his image.

While most New Zealand dogs have audiences in the lower thousands, there’s still money to be made.

According to a potential-earnings calculator that may or may not be correct, a dog with about 5000 followers could expect about $21 per sponsored post and that increases to about $42 with 10,000 followers. Andy’s posts are worth 31 cents.

Clocking in with more than 9000 followers and an ambassadorship with a health supplement company is Tracey Whitley’s dog Bear.

“It was my cousin who said “he needs to go on the ‘gram” and I was like “why”? I didn’t want to do it, but now I can’t stop.”

The French bulldog often has free products and modelling offers sent his way, but Whitley doesn’t take his popularity too seriously, instead crediting the community as being the best part of the platform. She’s made friends from around the world because of their shared interest in dogs.

Rusty Kavanagh has thousands of Instagram followers and his own fashion shop.

DAVID WHITE/STUFF

Rusty Kavanagh has thousands of Instagram followers and his own fashion shop.

“I’ve always been a crazy dog lady but never thought I’d be a crazy Instagram lady. Dogs just make people smile. I think they’re quite therapeutic.”

While Bear’s success took his owner by surprise, she does have a word of advice for Andy’s account: “Just follow a lot of other people, and they’ll follow you back.”

So I did. And they didn’t. Andy’s 131 followers held steady.

Like the others, Kirstie Wilson never intended to start an account for her dog, a little pug named Otis with more than 3500 followers.

“A week after we got him I showed my camera roll to my partner and it was all photos of my dog; that’s all I’d been doing, he’s so gorgeous.”

Wilson already had her own personal account on the platform but dog Instagram – a place she describes as the kindest on social media – took her by surprise.

“Instagram is usually quite a source of anxiety for me but now I’m logged into Otis’ account I don’t really see any of the negatives any more, only dogs. You don’t have that experience on a regular human Instagram, dog people are nice and supportive and cheer each other on.”

Kirstie Wilson’s Instagram account @otiboaty has become a refuge from the toxicity of other social media platforms.

Kirstie Wilson

Kirstie Wilson’s Instagram account @otiboaty has become a refuge from the toxicity of other social media platforms.

Otis is about to open his own shop where Wilson can sell the clothes she makes. The platform has created a whole new industry for mostly young women, she says.

“It’s just the most wholesome place, you won’t find a more pure community.”

To demonstrate just that, Otis gave Andy a shout-out on Instagram later that day, but it didn’t translate to more followers and now I was paranoid.

With his little triangle eyes and egg-shaped head, maybe Andy just wasn’t cut out for all of this, a grinning gargoyle in a sea of pretty puppers.

Jo Davies’ dog Maali has more than 2000 followers and a couple of sponsorship deals; she’s also an English bull terrier like Andy. Davies launched the account as a way to highlight the rescue group Maali came from, and it grew from there.

“Everything in the world is damn serious, it’s like a little break, a little rest.”

Sarah Kavanagh says all social media should be like dog Instagram, a place where people support and encourage each other.

DAVID WHITE/STUFF

Sarah Kavanagh says all social media should be like dog Instagram, a place where people support and encourage each other.

Like the other owners Davies has made real-life friends on the platform and takes particular pleasure in highlighting Maali and her two other bull breeds, dog-types that often cop flak.

“We just love them more for everyone who doesn’t love them.”

Later that day my mum and I took our dogs for a walk. Andy chased rabbits while mum’s rescue dog Bess ate something deliciously long-dead.

Andy’s new friends Otis, Maali and Rusty had boosted his followers by three but, I said to mum, that didn’t really matter.

“It doesn’t change how much you love them, they might not be cute or pretty or smart but when they’re yours it makes no difference does it?,” I asked.

Mum looked me up and down.

“None at all,” she said.

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