Sometimes, I really regret joining Instagram with dogs.

Depending on how you feel about it and how you use it yourself, you might know how consuming and stressful Instagram can be. For some reason, we all believe social media “should” be fun, especially when it comes to dogs. But, it’s no secret nowadays that social media has caused a whole tidal wave of debilitating anxiety and depression. So what’s the problem?

Social media at its core is technology, and because of that, they’re also owned by companies interested in making money – often times, through custom and targeted advertising. In order to keep users around to actually advertise to, you have to create a platform that monetizes on some of our human species’ weaknesses, like the need for validation.

IMG_2864Of course I screen shotted the 1000 follower milestone when it used to matter. Look at that ridiculous profile, too!

So, on top of each Instagram profile is a convenient little counter that defines our popularity – followers. And on top of each post is a convenient little counter that defines our approval rating – likes. You can’t hide them and you can’t hide from them. Even if you started off Instagram with lots of self-confidence, give it a few months and you’ll find yourself wondering why you don’t have as many followers as you “should,” and you’ll find yourself saying, “BUT, MY DOG IS SO CUTE!?” Now imagine how different Instagram would be without those numbers.

Plenty of times I’ve shared a photo I took that I thought was exceptional, but Instagram disagreed and I was disappointed at the low count of likes. Sometimes it was the “wrong” time of the day I posted, sometimes it wasn’t the right combination of hashtags I used, and sometimes it just wasn’t as good of a photo I thought it was.

But isn’t that really the point? We should take photos and write words because we want to and like, right? Theoretically yes, but practically speaking, it is not that simple. It is natural to want approval from other’s, whether that be from your friends or from strangers. Who doesn’t want to be liked?

Well, it quickly becomes addicting to want these approvals. One like can turn into many others, so why not get more? Well, this need for validation never, ever, ever has an end.

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To this day, I wonder why this photo wasn’t reposted by the company we were modeling.

Yet people go crazy trying to figure out Instagram’s algorithms and the right photos to post at the right time.  Sometimes though, it is just luck. Things go viral all the time that has already been done, and sometimes the road to fame is really simple, but cannot be done if you just don’t have the “right” circumstances.

Some examples: Puppies always do better than seniors. Purebreds, especially common and popular breeds, automatically come with a fan base. Dogs with unique patterns and markings will always catch more attention – this goes for disabilities, too. Using a DSLR is almost mandatory, and if you use a prime lens with lot’s of blurry backgrounds and bokeh, it automatically makes you a “good photographer.” You increase your chances of fame if you have more than one dog; preferably a cat, too. And if you have money to purchase large amounts of accessories and to travel to cliché destinations, you’re set.

If you look at “big” accounts with large followings and active engagement, you will find that they are often very consistent in some way, whether it is because of content or aesthetic. If millions of people like photos of you eating bananas with your feet while sitting in mud, you probably will keep doing it…even if it is kind of gross and takes lots of effort past the first time it spontaneously happened. Sometimes it doesn’t even take millions of likes – just a few dozen likes will have people doing a lot of crazy things…and unfortunately, that also means with their dogs.

Despite being far from actual abuse, the Instagram obsession can get pretty abusive of dogs’ innocent trust in us. Those that I thought were serious dog parents that reached far and beyond to care for their dogs turned out to be narcissistic, unaware, selfish, and often times, desperate at the expense of their dogs. These people often show that they love their dogs enough to dress them, to feed them good quality food, to take them everywhere, but is it REALLY for them, I wonder, or is it to conform or prove something? I could easily admit that I have bought way more things for my dogs just because I’ve been influenced to, and I know I can influence others.

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Why else would I take gear squares for, other than to show off either our gear, my knowledge, or my compulsive impulses?

At the beginning I also joined in some of the common self-promoting Instagram activities, such as pawtners (mentioning each other every post), pods (for group commitments in mutual likes/comments), giveaways (following as a mandate to enter), etc. It was a great way to be social and make some friends even if gaining popularity wasn’t my real goal.

After some time, I started meeting up with these people in real life. Some of these meetups with others gave me a rude awakening. Social pressure to put my dogs together with others’ dogs so we could get some “cute” group photos took over, but after a few tries, I saw how uncomfortable my dogs were and vowed never to force them in those situations again. I’m even wondering if I should do any more meet ups especially since a few dogs have hurt mine. After all, there’s really no reason for your dogs to WANT to meet up with a dozen others. Yes, dogs are social animals and they can make friends, but for many dogs, meet ups are very stressful situations. Anyways, it’s just not cute if your dogs look miserable…and it’s never as cute as your dogs doing things on their own.

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While this photo is “perfect,” it is fake. How would a dog naturally know to wear a matching bandana or want to pose like this?

Many a times I saw dogs performing and posing for their humans, uncomfortable, but willing to please…forever stuck in a cycle of Stockholm Syndrome. After the photos were taken, the dog would be released and they would run right up to their humans, wagging and waiting for approval from them, but their people were too busy looking at their cameras reviewing the photos.

Realizing that other people just didn’t see how unhappy their dogs were was pretty sad, but even worse, some people did notice and proceeded anyways. These meetups quickly became sessions in which I watched others prop up their confused and uncomfortable dogs over and over and over and over and over again. People would dangle treats or toys, shout their dogs’ names (a la Paparazzi style), throw objects to get them to look specific directions, or use previously trained words to get their dogs to perform tricks, like hugging each other or holding things.

None of these are inherently bad things and many dogs truly find joy in doing tricks or trading a little bit of comfort for a treat or toy. Our dogs still follow us home and love us. And that’s the problem. The line between pushing them a little and too much is pretty vague, and since our dogs can’t talk to us and most of them are eager to please, it’s up to us to distinguish the two.

Reality is that we all ask our dogs to do things they’re not happiest about. I put on clothes I know will keep my dogs warm or cool, but makes them sad, and sometimes in a rush, even if they don’t want to, I hold them by the harness or collar so they can’t run. When I train my dogs, I enjoy giving my dogs challenges to work out, even if it can end up in frustration. Simply said, sometimes making our dogs uncomfortable is a matter of taking care of them and other times it is about challenging them to be braver, smarter, stronger, or otherwise better.

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None of these dogs really wanted to stand next to each other, and only one climbed on the logs by themselves – the others were lured and coerced with treats.

But what do they gain from Insta-fame or being on social media at all? That’s what is so ironic – dogs don’t care. They don’t understand why suddenly we’re offering a ton more treats, taking thousands of more photos of them, and dressing them up a lot more (are they really complaining about the treats though?). They definitely don’t realize that some of them were bred, adopted, or bought “for” Instagram or other social media (has anybody noticed how many guys pose with puppies and dogs on Tinder or other dating apps?) because they were unique looking or a specific breed. And they absolutely don’t know that we are pretending to talk for them, using cutesy language or anthropomorphizing their personalities, and often posting very unflattering or private (in human terms, of course) faces/positions.

We are indeed the ones that gain the most from putting our dogs on social media. For some of us that are a bit more shy about ourselves or unwilling to share our human lives, doing it through dogs is much easier. Some of us just really love our dogs THAT much and we can’t wait to share with everybody everything they do. Some of us are hoping to make a living or get free stuff modeling our dogs. Some of us just didn’t want to flood our personal Instagrams and annoy our friends with dog photos all day. Some of us have tough jobs or daily lives and look to dog photos for relief. And some of us are just…bored.

Those are all valid reasons to put our dogs on Instagram. But one day, Instagram will die out. One day, your dog will no longer be as young, cute, or unique. One day, you might realize your dog was trained to pose for photos, but has terrible reactivity and bites other dogs or people. And one day, nobody will want to pay you to blog about your dogs. But your dog will still be a dog. What then?

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Our profile screenshot at the time of this essay. Some people would think I’m lame or too self-conscious for archiving 200+ posts and only following 43 other accounts.

Honestly, being on Instagram genuinely depresses me because it is full of disappointment (without even going into detail the amount of personal drama I have gotten involved with). There are so many phenomenoms (like repost accounts or giveaways with 30 accounts to follow) and trends (such as #adoptdontshop or #leafyodog) and arbitrarily made up rules (for examples, one post a day or follow for follow)  I could rant about (and probably will in future essays) because they mostly share one thing in common – our need for validation.

I know, I’m a little jaded from being on Instagram, and it’s easy for me to come off too serious as a Scrooge and a party pooper. “It’s just Instagram” I have to remind myself, but is it really? It’s not just posting and liking photos – we put ourselves out there, whether its our photography, our ideas, our lives, or our beloved furry family members, and we more or less desire, if not expect, approval and attention. When we don’t get it, it’s easy to feel defeated, unwanted, or discouraged. What could be a wonderful community (and it sometimes really is) ends up being a competition, whether or not you signed up for one.

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Now this, is a real cuddling photo. Isn’t it more precious knowing that they did this on their own?

Even though Instagram is mostly about face value, there is so much good potential, too! If we could all filter (pun intended) out some of our self-interests, we could all probably be much happier. We could be ourselves more, have genuine interactions and talk about things we care about…and we could really be inspired and be inspiring.

Some days, I just get lost in the race. I take a few too many photos and I worry a little too much about how others perceive me and I try to understand things that aren’t for me to understand. Truthfully, I don’t think any of us can be free from this.

But, I’ve learned to go slower on Instagram – post less often, but about more important things (to me), and give others my time, too, not just scroll mindlessly. As a result, I get to observe and learn from a whole world of dogs (and people) from anywhere in the world I am traveling. People actually have an opportunity to get to know me and my dogs, not just admire our adventures, my photography, or how beautiful or cute my dogs are…and some of those people have even become my closest friends.

Those days I know why I’m on Instagram, and I don’t regret joining Instagram with dogs at all.