TORONTO - Dean just turned two years old, but he already has more than 107,000 Instagram fans following his squirrel-chasing, stick-fetching and snack-sneaking adventures in Toronto.
The floppy-eared basset hound is one of several Canadian dogs whose #DogsOfInstagram game is on point. These rising canine stars can score anything from free doggie treats to lucrative book deals as companies look to harness the puppies' star power.
Carly Bright and Nathan Sidon picked up Dean from a breeder in April 2014. One month later, the couple launched Dean's Instagram account to avoid spamming their own followers with incessant pictures of their puppy.
His photos started resonating with strangers, though, and by late summer, his account cracked 1,000 followers.
Bright continued posting about one picture daily and fine-tuned Dean's voice. The captions, Sidon said, are the couple's "best understanding" of their dog's perspective.
"He's got a big personality," said Bright.
While they consider Dean's social media presence a hobby rather than a business, interest in the hound's potential to peddle products has grown along with his following.
"People reach out to him all the time," Sidon said.
At first, the couple reacted with excitement each time a brand contacted them to inquire about working with Dean. Now, emails arrive in Dean's inbox multiple times a day.
Sometimes the companies want to send Dean a free product, hoping his owners will showcase it on the account, said Sidon. Other times, they offer financial compensation for doing so.
Once in awhile, the couple bites and agrees to the pitch (though they always test the product first). For example, they offer a promotional code for BarkBox, a monthly delivery of treats and toys for dogs, and receive some money each time someone signs up using their code.
Christie Vuong's nine-month-old pug, Helmut, gained thousands of followers after she posted a parody of Drake's Hotline Bling music video starring the puppy. Now, Helmut's Instagram posts are seen by nearly 16,000 people.
The dog now receives food products and other freebies, she said.
Helmut and Dean's owners have both been contacted by agencies interested in representing the dogs. The firms match social media's doggie darlings with brands, just as they do the people they represent.
Fohr Card, a company that helps brands find human influencers, created a spinoff, Fur Card, to showcase the growing number of popular animals on social media.
The deals can be lucrative. The dogs earn a fee or freebie for posting about a brand's products, or can lend their image to merchandise of all kinds.
Boo, a San Francisco pomeranian with more than 17 million Facebook followers and upwards of 600,000 Instagram followers, stars in two books and a game, and has a stuffed animal version of himself for sale complete with seasonal outfits.
Dean's owners have been asked to lend his likeness to socks, sandals and 3D figurines, but Bright and Nathan have largely passed on the offers because they want to maintain the integrity of Dean's Instagram page and keep it relatively advertisement-free.
They prefer to opt for promotions that stay off the photo-sharing site. Recently, an American greeting card company paid US$1,500 for a photo of the dog chilling in a water tube on a lake to use on a card.
This year, the couple created their second annual Dean-centric calendar. They sold more than 500 copies and donated part of the proceeds — $1,000 cash and $200 of toys and treats — to the Toronto Humane Society.
While that may seem like a lot, Dean's upkeep is hefty.
"Some people say Dean pays for himself," says Bright. "No, he doesn't."
Plus, they're not dog owners just because of the slim possibility their dog will rise to mega-Instagram fame.
For now, they're sticking to it as a hobby, though they might consider focusing more on Dean's income potential one day.
"If we can ever make it work in a way that felt right ... I'm not saying we wouldn't pursue it further," said Bright. "But right now, it's really just like a labour of love and a hobby that we both really enjoy. I mean, he's our favourite subject."
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