As anyone who has ever typed "puppy" into Instagram's search bar will know, the photo-sharing site is a veritable pound for soppy-looking pooches, all angling for your attention. I've lost entire afternoons "liking" Labradors, spent hours clicking on Collies and gone quite dotty for digital Dalmatians.
Now, proud pup owners are setting up accounts in their dogs' names, anthropomorphising their much loved mutts with sensitive back stories, cute costumes and carefully staged photo shoots. Some of the most popular accounts have attracted more than a million followers, all of them eager to see the latest photos of Fido in a frock. Forget the Rich Kids of Instagram, there's a new breed of social-media celebrity in town.
The dogs from Instagram
The dogs from Instagram
Noodle the Dachshund is just over a year old and comes with her own hashtag (#OodlesOfNoodle)
Three-year-old Staffie Ramsey was malnourished when he was adopted as a puppy but is now big and boisterous with ripped muscles and a cheeky grin
Winny the Welsh Corgi has been credited with the breed's upsurge in popularity
Bruno the miniature Dachshund has 66,700 followers
Mika the Husky has 58,900 followers
Elle the French Bulldog has 8,868 followers
This weekend, the largest dog show in the world will play host to six famous Instagram dogs. For the first time, Crufts visitors will have the chance to take selfies with Winny the Welsh Corgi (who has 18,600 followers); Bruno the miniature Dachshund (66,700); another Dachshund, Noodle (22,600); Ramsey, the Blue Staffordshire bull terrier (128,000); Mika the Husky (58,900); and Elle the French Bulldog (8,868).
Noodle the Dachshund is just over a year old and comes with her own hashtag (#OodlesOfNoodle). She lives in West London with her owner, 21-year-old Georgia Graham, and apparently enjoys having her photograph taken. Georgia claims her pet's favourite poses are "puppy eyes" and "head tilt", both of which can be seen in the majority of her posts. And she continues: "It was originally as a bit of fun to show my friends what Noodle was up to and how cute she was. It sort of snowballed into what it is today. The comments and responses from the Instagram community were what made me keep going."
Underneath the photos are cute, clever captions all from the perspective of Noodle (although written, presumably, by Georgia). "I've got more issues than Vogue!" is one; "Wait for me, I have little legs!" another. A personal favourite? "Maybe if I keep smiling they won't know I've farted..." The end product is endearing and remarkably addictive. It's taken me 20 minutes to write this paragraph, in fact, because I can't stop watching slow-motion clips of Noodle's giant ears flapping in the wind.
But this isn't a UK-only trend. In the US, California-based Tuna the Chiweenie – that's a Chihuahua crossed with a Dachshund – has racked up more than a million followers on his Instagram page, tunameltsmyheart, since it was set up in 2011. Photos of his distinctive overbite typically get between 30,000 and 50,000 "likes" apiece. And world-famous Tuna – who was rescued by now-owner Courtney Dasher in 2010 after being found abandoned on the side of a road in San Diego – even has his own Facebook page, website, book, and online shop, which sells Tuna-themed merchandise.
But then, emotional backstories are popular with followers; people like an underdog, after all. Take Ramsey – the three-year-old Staffie who will be attending Crufts with his owner, 27-year-old Jason Ashley – who was malnourished when he was adopted as a puppy. "He was seriously underweight and fragile with a limp," says Jason, who nursed him back to full health. Now, Ramsey is big and boisterous with ripped muscles and a cheeky grin. As well as pictures of Ramsey leaping to catch footballs and wearing onesies, Jason also posts throwback snaps of him when he was a blue-eyed pup – as if to remind followers how far he has come.
But it's not all fun and (ball) games; these posh pups are doing some good, too. Pembroke Welsh Corgis were on the Kennel Club's endangered breed list before Winny became an Instagram thing, and she has been credited with the breed's upsurge in popularity. The same can be said of Ramsey. Staffies have a reputation for being aggressive. But by sharing photos of the dog cuddled up in hoodies and sucking dummies, Jason is helping to dispel the myth. "We really want to lead the way," says Jason. "I'm so happy Ramsey is helping the breed. The response is overwhelming."