Have you long admired Insta-famous dogs like @itsdougthepug? Or perhaps you’ve been a huge fan of internet-notorious felines like @realgrumpycat. (Rest in peace.) Maybe you’ve even secretly imagined what it would be like to make your own furry friend social media famous. To help you make your dreams come true, we picked the brains of a few local business owners to get their insight on making it big in the “dog eat dog” world of social media fame. Next, we spoke with the humans behind a couple of local pet social media sensations about how they grew their follower counts. Read on, and soon you’ll be your four-legged BFF’s manager extraordinaire.
Get on the Training Train
It can be difficult to take untrained dogs out into the world, says Brad Huber, training director at The Olde Towne School for Dogs in Alexandria. It’s even harder to take them to social media stardom.
The school specializes in basic obedience training for dogs of all ages and temperaments and offers both a Puppy Head Start course and private lessons. “Obedience training helps provide predictable behaviors and actions that will lead to productive habits,” Huber says. “Well-behaved dogs that understand how to communicate effectively with their owners are far more likely to live exciting lives.” In other words, Huber adds, trained dogs often enjoy a higher quality of life than untrained dogs.
“Every dog can thrive with proper leadership and structure, and every dog that participates in [the school’s] formal obedience courses will learn how to walk without pulling, a formal heel with auto-sit and stays, down and stay, casual and formal recalls, and a boundary stay, like a ‘go lay down’ behavior,” says Huber, meaning the dog knows to go to their spot in the house until the owner says it’s OK to leave. “We encourage our clients to use this behavior during mealtimes to avoid begging, and when people come to the door or are invited inside to avoid the dog jumping on guests or running outside.” A formal heel is also useful because it teaches dogs to accompany their humans and automatically sit (“auto-sit”) when the human stops.
When training your dog, keep in mind that dogs need more than just physical exercise. They can get bored quickly, so they need to problem-solve frequently to be fully satisfied. Trick training is a fun way to teach your dog skills and give them a physical and mental workout, says Huber. As an added bonus, it’s fun to show off what your dog learns by posting Reels. Creating Instagram Reels frequently and consistently will help get eyeballs on your content. (At least according to 2022’s Instagram algorithm: Social media is a finicky animal!)
“We encourage all of our clients to spend quality time with their dogs each day, so posting your training videos to social media is a wonderful way to spread that message,” Huber says.
Keep Them Well-Groomed
A well-groomed pet is a happier one — and videos of happy pets are the best. “Let’s all admit it: When a pet has been freshly groomed, they get more attention from people for how cute they look and fresh they smell,” says Teresa Hogge, owner of Belly Rubs Pet Care, a full-service grooming salon and dog bakery in Ashburn. “Pets love the attention — a freshly groomed floof makes for some viral-worthy pics and Reels.” Hogge says regular grooming helps keep pets’ skin healthy and itch-free and their coats tangle-free. Nutrition and mentally enriching activities are also important. “If you set your pet up to live a happy and fulfilling life, you will have a natural social media star,” Hogge says.
Hogge’s top tip? Let your pet embrace their inner diva. “Spa day pampering will make [pets] feel and look their best, and that will come through in social media images.”
We know you probably want to, well, treat your furry one to all kinds of cute outfits, toys, and treats. It’s so hard to leave a pet store empty-handed! But when it comes to internet fame, you have to be strategic. Choose eye-catching outfits, and aim to be season- and holiday-specific. (Hint: Halloween is coming up!)
“Halloween is a great time to dress up your animal,” says Karencita Echeverri, owner of Pampered Pet Boutique and Barkery. “Who doesn’t love a dog dressed up as a storm trooper?” The Alexandria shop will be selling pet costumes, and is planning on hosting a dog-and-cat costume parade. “They’ve become a cult classic on IG because it often shows the goofy side of [pets],” Echeverri says.
Beyond Halloween, Echeverri recommends dressing your pet according to their personality. “For instance, if your dog is a diva, dress them up in a flamboyant dress,” she says. “If your dog looks like they belong at a Jimmy Buffett concert, we have Hawaiian shirts for that.” The shop also offers bandanas, bow ties, and other accessories. And if you’re not sure about your pet’s ideal size, you can come in for a specialty harness or collar fitting. Of course, your pet will also need to refuel in between starring in viral videos. Nancy Guinn, president of Dog Krazy, a pet supply and grooming store with six locations in Virginia, says her shop offers all-natural products and in-house bakeries at three of its locations. The biggest hits include bakery cookies, custom cakes, and “Munchables” (similar to human Lunchables).
If you play your cards right, your pet’s social media empire could even help you open a successful boutique business. That’s exactly what happened after Christine Chang, founder and creative director of Sterling’s Sassy Woof, let her miniature dachshunds Maya and Winston (@mayathedox and @winstonthedox) loose on the socials in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Their online presence grew rapidly, and they now have a combined nearly 300K followers on Instagram. They played a huge part in helping Sassy Woof’s business take off in 2018. “We often pose them in adorable swag that members of the community could relate to or purchase at an affordable price, such as sunglasses, tiny hats, tees, and more,” Chang says. “We look for products that are fresh and would generate engagement from our followers, such as costumes, like wearing hot dogs for National Hot Dog Day, and ‘snoods’ like the ones we found at Zoo Snoods.” Snoods are pieces of knit headgear for your pets, often with adorable animal ears. (Zoo’s Baby Shark version is the cutest we’ve seen.)
Help Them Socialize Off Social Media
Your pet’s health and well-being is your No. 1 priority, and, especially for dogs, this means socialization. Dogs are pack animals, and interacting with others daily will make them happier, which will go a long way when it comes to building their social empire.
Art Prediger, owner of Dogtopia of Dulles, a national pet boarding, day care, and grooming chain, says Dogtopia’s philosophy is all about helping dogs become the best canine citizens they can be. “Dogs will learn from the other dogs they play with and from our team of highly trained and certified Canine Coaches,” Prediger says. Coaches reinforce positive behavior through fun and interactive games and skill-teaching. Dogs play games like follow the leader, name recall, and more.
Dogtopia also helps pups find the structure they crave in their daily lives. A dog with a regular routine is more fulfilled and well-rounded, which could lead to better photos and videos on social media, says Prediger. “Our weekly daycare enrollment structure encourages a consistent routine for dogs.”
Take It From the Locals
Eris (@eriszoi), a Borzoi (or Russian hunting sight hound) who lives in Richmond, has 262K Instagram followers and counting. She is particularly well-known for her extra-long snoot. Eris’ “account manager” Lily Kambourian calls her an “otherworldly creature in her own special way.”
“She carries herself in a way that feels almost ethereal,” she says.
Kambourian has two secrets to the “Queen of Snoots’” social media fame: “The first is to find a tone or vibe that resonates with you, something you enjoy cultivating on a daily basis, and the second is consistency,” she says, aka posting on a regular schedule. Kambourian adds that on days she is unable to post, people even check in on Eris. Judy Nabong, the Leesburg-based pet parent of Krispy Kreme
(@krispykremethebichon), a round-as-a-doughnut bichon frise with over 12.4K followers, shares another secret: “100 percent go for it because having a pet account isn’t just for fun; it’s a way to document your pet’s delightful memories — just like a photo album, but better.”
Nabong says she finds Instagram’s pet community supportive and joyful. “Getting famous does require extra work, like posting regularly, engaging, and taking on the role of proactive momager,” she says. Nabong says that supporting other small businesses has helped a ton, too. (Krispy Kreme currently works as an ambassador for Sassy Woof.) And what does the pup himself have to say about being an Instagram star? “Themks for the wunnerful interview with my hooman,” says Krispy Kreme. “It was pawsome!”