Nearly 2,000 people keep up with Sir Toblerone the Goldendoodle on Instagram.
Toby – no need to be formal here – is the subject of @keepingupwithtoby_, an Instagram account dedicated to the dog, written from the dog's witty point of view, created and updated by his human, Kelsey Jelowski.
On his Instagram, Toby poses in front of local theaters, murals, walls of ivy and snow-covered parks. Like any good "influencer," he does fun things and goes on adventures, documenting photos of himself, "stoic and regal" as Jelowski says, along the way. She keeps his Instagram stories updated, with more informal snapshots and videos of Toby. She writes tongue-in-cheek captions complaining about things we can all easily relate to, like a Bills loss, Mondays and cold weather changes.
Some people have an Instagram boyfriend, who follows their every move with an iPhone. Others have devoted friends. This dog has his human.
Jelowski, a petite young woman with long brown hair, has taken Toby with her everywhere since she got him as a puppy in 2013. The two live in the Elmwood Village, and Jelowski's parents say Toby gets around more than they do.
Toby’s golden fur shined recently on a frigid, sun-drenched day at Hoyt Lake. Jelowski walked Toby around the lake on a leash, stopping occasionally for bathroom breaks and squirrels. While chatting about her Instagram technique, Jelowski shares her secret to getting that perfect shot.
“The key to getting a really good photo, of Toby at least, is to always have treats," she said. “He’s very food-motivated.”
She pulls a treat out of her pocket. Toby sits attentively. Jelowski holds her finger up, signaling Toby to stay, while she slowly backs away, with the treat in one hand and her iPhone in the other.
The wind blows in Toby's face, pushing his ears back. He makes a wanting, hungry face, turning his head to the side. If he were a human, I'd say he was showing his good side.
After adequate posing, he breaks character to collect the small morsel. Jelowski smiles.
“Sometimes they get kind of sick of taking pictures, so you have to be aware of not overworking them," she said. “If somebody was taking pictures of me, I’d be over it.”
Buffalo's Instagram dogs
When Instagram launched in 2010, people downloaded the photo-sharing app in massive numbers. Photographers were excited about a new way to share their photography on a platform in which photos are the focal point. The public shared photos drenched in heavy sunglass lens-like filters of their meals and friends making silly faces.
One Instagram group has remained constant, dominating the platform since 2010 and not backing (barking?) down. The first photo ever shared on Instagram was of a dog.
Users hawkishly follow dogs on the photo-sharing app. Leslie Mosier, the woman behind Doug the Pug, pleases Doug’s 3.6 million followers by dressing him in costumes and shooting viral videos, usually highlighting a pop-culture trend such as “Stranger Things” or “Harry Potter.” She even quit her job to manage Doug’s social media full-time.
Not all dogs are influencers. Some are just everyday dog owners sharing photos with friends. But many boast themed profiles with matching, aesthetically pleasing photos. It's not always about the dog; sometimes it's about where they go or what they're wearing, just like people.
And this is happening all over Buffalo.
Enzo is a tiny, lanky whippet. From his monochrome Instagram grid, @a_whippet_named_enzo, it’s difficult to even detect what colors he is (he has a brindle coat). But the professional-grade photos paint an intimate portrait of Enzo. He is often bundled up in blankets, coats and sweaters. He likes to play with his striped, sock puppet toy. He makes a range of facial expressions, from eagerly wanting, to panting, to sleepy. And nearly 50,000 people watch along.
View this post on Instagram
It’s not surprising that the man behind Enzo's black and white curtain is photographer Colin Gordon.
Gordon started Enzo's Instagram account in 2014, to give his friends a choice of whether or not they want to see his dog's photos every day. Enzo quickly became Gordon's practice photography subject when he got his first professional camera. He themed Enzo's account black and white because he didn't like the orangey-red color of his apartment walls. Others thought it was because dogs don't see colors.
Most of Enzo's photos show him relaxing on the couch, snuggled under blankets. While Instagram doesn't often reflect reality, in Enzo's case, it does. Gordon has a more laissez-fare approach to his dog’s Instagram account.
"That’s his personality. He’ll run around for five minutes, I’ll throw the toy to him for five minutes and he’ll be done. He’ll be on the couch for the next three hours," Gordon said. “I’m a documentarian. That is what it is. I mean, that’s kinda how I treat my wedding work too, there’s obviously more posing that goes on in weddings but I still try to have the same philosophy. I capture the day as it unfolds."
When Instagrammers use #DogsofBuffalo, the Dogs of Buffalo account might repost the photo to their 24,000 followers. Those familiar with the Instagram dog scene might know of Kiko the Corgi or Checkers and Marbles from @mistercheckersneighborhood. Part of the appeal of following local dogs – like local people – is familiarity. Kiko's feed has photos of him at local landmarks like the Washington Street floral mural, Lockhouse Distillery, Root & Bloom Cafe and Letchworth. Dogs of Buffalo shares photos of dogs wearing Bills apparel or playing in the snow. They're not only cute photos. You could actually bring your own dog to the places they visit.
It's not about the money (or free dog treats)
Maybe it's Buffalo's blue-collar attitude, but neither of these local Instagram-famous dogs appreciates fancy sponsorships.
There are perks that come with being popular on Instagram. Some influencers get sponsorships; they could get paid money for writing a post or at the very least, free merchandise. Neither Gordon nor Zelowski are interested. At a time when some rising Instagrammers are faking sponsorships to look more important than they are, a push away from sponsored content feels refreshing.
Pet brands used to send Gordon products to promote on Instagram, but he felt like the brands were benefiting from it more than him.
“If those brands were to actually hire a photographer to do their product photography, they’d be paying a lot more," Gordon said.
Posting sponsored content was more work than it was worth for Gordon. Between reaching out to brands, taking the photo, writing the captions to fit the brand's specific guidelines and promoting, he decided it wasn't worth it.
“I’ll just go to the store and buy dog treats," Gordon said.
Jelowski would rather support local businesses than influencer-friendly national ones.
“It’s kind of tough to work with some of them because they want you to use their brands exclusively,” she said. She buys Toby's collars, leashes, bowties, bandanas from local stores, such as Buffalo Barkery, Animal Outfitters and Daisy's Doghouse.
These dogs rely on social media attention in other ways, such as hashtags and reposts.
Local media outlets and social media accounts sometimes repost their photos. Toby's photos often pop up on Step Out Buffalo's and Dogs of Buffalo's feeds. Popular Twitter account, WeRateDogs, reposted one of Toby's photos, sending it onto 7.5 million followers' feeds. The photo collected nearly 7,000 retweets and 57,000 likes. The photo – which is of Toby holding a frosty, pink watermelon in his mouth – is going to be featured in the Twitter account's physical 2020 calendar.
And as anyone on social media knows, whenever anything goes viral, it's always met with pushback. Yes, even a photo of a dog holding a watermelon slice.
“Of course you get some people who think it’s controversial because it was a frozen piece of watermelon and people are like 'He's gonna get a brain freeze!' " Jelowski said with a laugh.