The only thing on the internet that consistently brings me joy is dogs on Instagram: dogs in funny outfits, dogs being dumb, dogs with babies… dogs just being dogs. Seeing a photo of a dog on your Instagram feed instantaneously brightens your day, no matter what awful thing is happening in the world and on the internet. (Unless you’re a cat person, in which case, you should stop reading this story now. Also reassess your priorities.)
But what about the humans who actually run these popular dog accounts (#dogstagrams)? After spending hours liking and scrolling through their pics, I figured it was time to find out. And why not start close to home, with the Jewish dogs of Instagram? The women behind these accounts—and some men—are concerned with authenticity, positivity, and humor, I soon learned. Some refer to themselves as “momagers,” so that makes their dogs the Kardashians of Instagram. (OK, the Kardashians are the Kardashians of Instagram. But these dogs come damn near close.) The dogs in this story all have way more followers than me; some are puppies just starting out but already gathered a following (1,000-10,000 range) and others have above 50,000 followers.
That’s over 50,000 people tuning in to see what your dog is doing. I can’t even comprehend that; these dogs are mini-celebrities (or should I say “doglebrities,” as one woman I spoke to called them). Tamara (@oliver_thewirefox) thinks that dog Instagrams are so powerful because it is a “world of loving of dogs, animals, that brings all kinds of people from different backgrounds—social and political and religious backgrounds—and they all kind of share this love. And it’s very supportive, and it’s very easy to get sucked in.”
And sucked in I got…
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Most of these accounts began to either stop cluttering their own Instagram feed with dog photos or to share as many dog photos with their family as possible. Some, like Eleanor (@bennythedoodle_), began the dog account as a joke and had no idea what it would become. For Nicole and her wife Emilie (@charliehastwomoms), they were intrigued by the world of dog Instagrams and felt like “if any other dog can do this, surely our dog [can].” Sara (@Prince_In_The_City) doesn’t even have an Instagram account of her own; she says, “People really only care what Prince is up to during the day.” Paige (@puppynamedcharlie) tells me, “I didn’t expect strangers to follow her. I really only expected people we knew.” And now she has people stopping her on the streets of New York City to take photos with her dogs. Michael (@munchee_doodle) is shocked that he and his husband have been stopped on the street in Chicago with people asking “are you Munchee’s dads?”
Others began their dog Instagram to share images of their dog growing up, like you would document a baby. Tamara (@oliver_thewirefox) says, “There was a dog account that helped me get over the loss of my previous dog,” so she began posting photos of Oliver as soon as they brought him home. She recognizes the power that dogs have on Instagram; people come to these accounts for “escapism.”
No matter the original inspiration, one thing was clear: None thought their dogs would become famous.
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In my deep dive into the world of dog Instagrams, I discovered that the successful dogs seem to have a very defined personality. It seems authenticity (plus originality) works. Sara (@prince_in_the_city) explains that the main problem her husband and her have with posing Prince for Instagrams is that “Prince is a happy-go-lucky guy. He loves to smile and he loves to let his hair blow around in the wind, or spread out on the couch… [But] when he gets together with his friends he likes to carve out his own spot, so usually he’s just in the corner somewhere doing his own thing.” Tbh, it shows:
The “personalities” (dogonalities? OK, I’ll stop) of the dogs, however, are less determined by the dog’s behavior and more by the voice of the humans writing the captions. This feels obvious, but I feel like I have to re-iterate that these dogs are not the ones running their own social media accounts. On many accounts, the sense of humor of the humans will come through. Nicole (@charliehastwomoms) tells me, “When my wife and I would see [the] dog having a certain look… we would joke what the dog was thinking, [and] we made that the voice of the account.” Their most successful posts are when the captions are about something that happened that day with a “little twist on it.” On August 18, the day Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists marched through Charlottesville and were met by counter-protesters, they posted “Showing up for rallies against nazis with your beautiful and diverse squad. #SummerBucketList #in1933and2017”
Humor plus commentary on something current seems to be the key to success. Hailey (@RemsAndShmends) noticed how the “witty, funny, just the making fun of humans angle works and people love it.” She captions all her instagrams with a quote attributed to one of her dogs, like, “May your boss not be at the same Synagogue you are pretending to skip work to go to for #RoshHashanah” – Rems.
As the accounts grow, their owners tell me, their dogs seem to instinctively know how to pose for the Instagram. Whether they’re just crazy dog moms reading too much into their dogs’ behavior, or these dogs actually are well-trained enough to pose for an Instagram, I will let you decide. Esther (@mybestiecharlie) writes to me that her dog “knows how to pose to show his best self to the camera, it’s in his genes!” Hannah tells me that her first dog (Simba) taught her second dog (Pippin) how to pose for Instagrams. Tamara explains when she took @oliver_thewirefox to the New York Public Library, she sat him on the stairs, walked away, and he stayed posed perfectly. As she said: “It’s like it’s a job. He knows this is what he does. So, he’s so attentive.”
Hey New York Public Library, you’re mine! Just kidding…we had fun taking this mega ‘trait. The guy at the stop of the stair photobombed our shot (he was very insistent on staying there taking lots of photos of me from the top of the stairs). This is kind of a #findoliver moment because I’m so tiny – but also a good time to tryout the new zoom feature on IG! ———————————————— #the🖼club #doortrait #doortraits #buildingtrait #facadetrait #windowtrait #steptrait #stairtrait #the🚪club #OliversManhattan. ———————————————— #terrier #terriersofinstagram #wirefox #wirefoxes #wirefoxterrier #wirehairedfoxterrier #wirehairedfoxterriers #wirehairedfoxterriersofinstagram #wft #foxterrier #dogswithbeards #dogs #dogsofinstagram #dogsnamedoliver #dogsofbrooklyn #urbandog
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Some accounts are still finding their voice; but even new ones have amassed a significant number of followers. (It begs the question: are dog accounts a sure path to Instagram success? Should I *just* be posting pictures of my dog?) With higher numbers of followers come sponsored posts. For those uninitiated in the world of Instagram: Sponsored posts are when a brand pays an account to post in support of a product. As Debbie (@ted_gram) writes to me, “For us, Instagram is a hobby and we try to have fun with it. We never imagined how serious and sometimes even competitive it can be.” Esther (@mybestiecharlie) finds all the sponsored posts very strange: “I’ve never seen so many kinds of Fit Tea for puppies! Also, the weirdest stuff keeps getting marketed to [us], like waist trainers.” (Literally: the Kardashians.)
The ones who do sponsored posts all emphasized they only will post about products they actually use or brands they believe in. Paige (@puppynamedcharlie) explains, “I do say no to about 90% of the companies that reach out to us.” Hailey (@remsandshmends) reiterates that statement, telling me she says “no” way more than she says “yes.” Hailey also adds that her dad wanted her to take on running the dog account full-time, because she was making real money from the sponsored posts. Matt, dad to @montydoodledoo, explains, “You do have your top brands in the world who are paying big dollars for dogs to promote the content.”
HEY TAXI! Who needs a ride to Tompkins Square Park? It’s $2.50 for the first mile and 10 treats per minute after that. Don’t forget to tip your driver. 🐶🚕🐾 On our way to the Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade! Hanging in the VIP section with our doods and @rubiespetshop so come look for us and say hi 👋🏼 . . #doodlesofinstagram #dogsofnyc #poodle #bichon #goldendoodle #toypoodle #puppies #instapuppy #puppygram #mydogiscutest #rescuedogs #weeklyfluff #ilovemydog #poodlesofinstagram #taxi #halloweencostume #halloweentime #dogwalking #dogoftheday #instapet #doggo #dogstagram #nycdogs #instagramdogs #dogscorner #goldendoodlesofinstagram #huffpostgram #buzzfeed #doglovers #WHPperfectpair
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Families tend to be supportive of the famous dog Instagrams. This doesn’t shock me, except when I think of my own grandma on Instagram and how she’s frustrated by how many dog posts from my family’s private dog account pop up on her feed. For Paige (@puppynamedcharlie), her grandparents get “such a riot” out of the fact that she has famous dogs; she texts them pictures the day she’s posting them, because unlike my grandma, they’re not on Instagram. Sara (@prince_in_the_city) writes to me about her family: “At first they thought we were meshuggina, but now they are totally on board and like to make special appearances. My husband’s family is now surprised by how many people in their neighborhood follow Prince and give them updates on what he is doing!” Amy (@lennythedal)’s brothers “use Lenny’s success to try and impress potential girlfriends.”
Dog grandmas are a thing, too. When Hailey A. (@pippa_g_thats_me) went out of town, she left Pippa with her parents and her mom texted her a “series of Pippa for the Instagram that she had been working on all morning.” Apparently this is a common dog Grandma thing; when Eleanor (@bennythedoodle_) and her husband go out of town, they leave Benny with her in-laws and “they’ll take pictures of him and be like ‘can you put this on the Instagram?’” On the flip side, Nicole W.’s parents have no idea what she’s talking about (I don’t think they’re on Instagram), but her dad did see a photo of Barkley (@everybodylovesbarkley) with a yarmulke on and told her, “Eh, I don’t know about that.”
Jewish dog grandmas, like any good Jewish grandma, become overly involved in the running of the instagram. Nicole P. (@charliehastwomoms) recounts that when her mom sees a high-quality picture of the dogs, she tells her, “You really should get that published, you should enter that in a contest,” and she responds, “What contest or publishing venue are you imagining exists?” Hannah’s mom (@mightylittlelion) calls her to tell her how many likes she gets on her Instagrams.
Over-involved Jewish families, of course, raises the question of “Bark Mitzvahs.” This is an actual thing in which owners throw bar/bat mitzvahs for their dog. Tamara considered throwing a bark mitzvah for her dog (@oliver_thewirefox), but backed away from it because “it just didn’t feel right to use Judaism in that way.” As a Jewish refugee from Russia, she always questions how she shares her Jewishness on such a public dog Instagram. For Hannah (@mightylittlelion), she sees a “Bark Mitzvah” as a learning opportunity for both her and her dogs and to connect with the Jewish community: “I think it would be really interesting to have a group that’s actually interested to do like behavioral training classes in Hebrew language so that we’re learning something, they’re learning something, and it’s an opportunity for us to get closer to each other.”
Now collecting all sins for compost ♻💩 #WorldGratitudeDay #BeTheChange ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ #weeklyfluff #barkpack #thedodo #ny1pic #abc7ny @Dogs @bark @dogsbeingbasic @buzzfeedanimals ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ _________________________________⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #dog #dogs #dogstagram #dogsofig #dogsofinstagram #instadog #instagood #love #cute #picoftheday #photooftheday #beautiful #pets #newyorkcity #adorable #rescue #dogsofnyc #dogoftheday #dogsinclothes #jew #jewish #celebrate #holiday
Last year, Amy (@lennythedal) threw a Bark Mitzvah with help from her congregation. She approached her rabbi first, and they decided to hold a “large group Bark Mitzvah through our synagogue where over 60 dogs attended.” All dogs in attendance received a blessing from the rabbi, a Bark Mitzvah certification, and a bag of goodies. The event “doubled as a fundraising [event] for a local animal shelter with participants and attendees donating dog food, bedding and toys.”
The most famous Bark Mitzvah was @montydoodledoo’s Bark Mitzvah (go watch this mockumentary on the event. You won’t regret it). Paige, who was there with her two dogs (@puppynamedcharlie), explains, “It was really like a real bar mitzvah. There were dancers, they had all this food, it was amazing.” Matt, Monty’s dad, explains, “Everyone was really into it,” especially because when you have “25, 50 dogs in an area, they’re going to be excited. And plus, honestly, they’re his friends.”
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What surprised me most in the world of dog Instagrams is the true community that just running a dog Instagram account creates. These Insta-dog moms and dads become friends IRL. Hannah (@mightylittlelion) explains that the world of dog Instagram has become “an open door to meeting people” that she would have never crossed paths with otherwise. She tells me that while most people use Instagram as an outlet to escape from the real world—like, to look at cute pictures of dogs (hello, I am so guilty)—she uses it to connect.
Matt (@montydoodledoo) explains that the people who run dog Instagrams are “really just people who love their dogs and it’s not just about how many followers you have or likes… it’s about just spending time with just people and really interacting.” Eleanor (@bennythedoodle_) concurs: “Some of the moms do a lot of texting….we’re actually really friends outside of it all. It’s kind of fun.” Sara (@prince_in_the_city) is surprised how many “amazing friends” she’s made as a result of having the account; it’s a “group of very dynamic and supportive people who just love dogs!” Amy (@lennythedal) is surprised by all the strong friendships that she has formed with people all over the world, just through the simple fact of running dog Instagrams.
Tamara (@oliver_thewirefox) sums it up the best, telling me the most surprising thing has been the “loyalty that people have for accounts, for people. Somebody posts that something’s going on with the dog, and there’s so much follow-up… I feel like in the fleeting world of social media, I don’t really see that elsewhere. There’s so much kind of instant gratification and people move on very quickly… But in this world, that kind of loyalty is really special.”
Moral of the story? My entire explore page on Instagram is now dogs. And I’m not complaining.
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BONUS ROUND: Since we’re Alma, I asked in every interview what Jewish foods are your dogs’ favorites? Take a deep breath…
Paige’s @PuppyNamedCharlie “eat kosher chicken a lot. [Also] cream cheese! Bagels and cream cheese. They love cream cheese.” Nicole W. and @EverybodyLovesBarkley share a love for challah. Hailey A.’s @Pippa_g_thats_me “has unsuccessfully tried to get on the counter and eat brisket and bagels.” Eleanor’s @Bennythedoodle_“loves Matzo balls. Every High Holy day he gets Matzo balls in his food.” Sara’s @Prince_in_the_city “favorite is Challah, but goes crazy for brisket at Grandma’s house.” Hailey’s Rems of @RemsandShmends: “loves fish so he’s tried gefilte fish and obviously loves it. [But] we wouldn’t give Shmends because he’s too fat.” Amy’s @lennythedal (the lone Australian pup on the list) “is a particular fan of bagels and challah. If we host a Shabbas dinner at home, Lenny has been known to be fast asleep only to hear the challah being cut, next thing he is right by my side begging for a piece.” Matt’s @montydoodledoo “eats all foods. He’s had some lox, I think he had some gefilte fish, he ate matzo balls…” Debbie’s @ted_gram is visiting Israel right now, but has yet to try hummus. Esther’s @Mybestiecharlie adores matzoh balls. Michael’s @munchee_doodle always gets challah on Shabbat and enjoyed “a solid helping of brisket on Rosh Hashanah.” Hannah encourages @mightylittlelion “to find the afikomen and stuff, so matzo is definitely a [favorite].” Tamara’s @Oliver_thewirefox isn’t allowed human food.
And last, Nicole P.’s @Charliehastwomoms: “are pretty Jewish in how high maintenance they are, food-wise. For years, Eliot…can only eat like one brand of dog food and the one type of grain-free like salmon, wild river. And if she eats anything else, she like dies.”
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Thank you to the dog moms and dads who made this story possible, and a shout-out to my family’s dog Ollie, who has yet to become famous on instagram because his account is private.