Achieving dog stardom is a feat accomplished by few and coveted by many. Social media apps give people the power to develop a following and brand their lives on their own terms. Instagram especially is a hot spot for cute dogs to gain large followings. And while CGI has made animating animals more fiscally reasonable for filmmakers, movies such as Marley and Me and The Artist prove that in some cases, you need the real deal.
Most dogs we know are used to their owners (or us) putting a camera in their face. And they know how to work it! It’s as if dogs have an intuitive way of turning on the charisma when we hit the record button. Take a dog’s inherent charm, combined with the promise of raking in the big bucks via animal franchises. It’s enough to tempt anyone to strive for doggy stardom.
As the owner of a famous dog, you instantly become their manager, marketing team, photographer, and assistant. But what goes into having a famous dog? And is it really worth the hype?
For some, running a pet’s Instagram is a fun way to engage in social media without putting themselves in the spotlight. After all, what pet owner doesn’t have a camera roll full of pet pictures? For those who have large Instagram followings, running an account for their pet can be a full-time job.
Instagram icons such as Doug the Pug, Grumpy Cat, and Tuna make it look easy with their aesthetically-pleasing feeds. What we don’t see is how their owners have sacrificed their own lives to maintain the image of their pet. And ultimately it begs the question– what price does it all come at?
More Money, More Pawblems?
The LA Times interviewed several Instagram-famous pet owners to find out what it takes to make it big on the little screen. For some, this means giving up their jobs, such as Nala’s owner, while for others it’s a side project for their already creatively inclined lives, like Geordi’s mom.
Through paid sponsorships and advertisements, pets can earn up to thousands of bucks for a single Instagram post. Some people have even made lucrative livings by promoting their pets on the app. This seems like a great gig, but don’t quit your day job just yet.
Say your dog hits it big on Instagram and you’re able to make a living off of partnerships, merchandising, and sponsorships. Your once recreational hobby becomes a new full-time gig. You’re lucky to maintain your upper limit of dog fame for the duration of their life, which relies on a dedicated fan base, which relies on consistently producing really original and interesting content. The one piece of advice all Insta-famous pet owners agree on: keep the content consistent. If you can find a way to do this, while still keeping it fresh, you might have a star on your hands yet!
Silver Screen Stardom
If you’re based in LA, it’s not uncommon to know a dog who was featured in a commercial, movie, or red-carpet event. Dogs and their trainers usually make less than Instagram sponsored dogs, but they also do it because it’s their craft. To be on a film set requires a very disciplined dog who can remain calm and take direction from their trainer.
Our principal trainer, Jeff, has worked as a trainer on television and film sets. In Jeff’s experience, even-tempered dogs are best suited for this kind of work. “Being on set, there’s a lot of waiting and being ready to go at any second,” he says. Due to the need for adaptability on a fast-moving set, “being prepared is important of course, but you also have to be ready for the curveballs that are thrown at you.”
Jeff recounts working on a Britney Spears set where the director insisted the dogs should not open their mouths while on camera. As an experienced dog trainer, Jeff says this was a simple task. But the bigger the set, the more complex the training. For the filming of White God, Teresa Ann Miller trained 200 dogs to run through the streets of Budapest on cue.
Dogs with Agency
Usually, dogs featured in movies are owned by their trainers. The trainer is compensated for their handling of the dog. Said dog, in most cases, does not directly get paid. Some pets book regular work through agencies such as The Dog Agency. Clearly, dog fame is well past a home-grown dream.
Dogs such as Uggie turned their life around through a Hollywood career. Apparently, Uggie was rejected by two different families before being found by his current trainer and owner. This trainer noticed the dog’s intelligence and willingness to work. Through training, Uggie was able to direct his energy into performing in exchange for treats, rewards, and love.
Investing your energy into creating a following for your dog can be fun, but taking it too seriously can also detract from the time you’d otherwise be spending together anyways. Dogs live in the moment and so should we. There is joy in being present with your dog without the pressure of people’s expectations of what your life should look like on a screen.
For people who aspire to see their dog become the next Benji, getting a trainer and agent is also a huge investment of time and energy. Not to mention the added stress to your dog’s life can significantly affect their longevity and well-being. If you’re not prepared t0 become a trainer who can professionally teach a dog to be on film sets, it doesn’t seem worth it to dedicate your life to making it happen.
With Cuteness comes Conscientiousness
If you are a part of the famous dog community, how are you using your power for good? Do you have content that’s there to aesthetically please, or do you use social media for positive influence? Finding a charity or organization to advocate and help fund is a responsible way to use leverage for a cause. And you never know who you’ll influence to participate.
Cute animal pictures and videos might be the glue binding our society right now. From political dumpster fires to rising sea levels, just going on the internet is enough to give someone an ulcer. Sometimes though, opening your Instagram to a boopable nose is enough to make you forget the qualms of the world. So, for the betterment of the world, keep on posting cute pictures of your dog, but don’t take it too seriously.