Have you ever seen a video and knew it was going to go viral? Well I hadn’t, until I saw Endo the dog.
In December, the service excellence liaison at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Senesa Stinebaugh, emailed me a video she captured of a dog who was jumping endlessly as his owner checked him in for a dermatology appointment. (That’s Senesa’s contagious laugh you hear in the video.) When I saw the video, my first thought was the video had all the qualities to go viral. I responded to Senesa’s email saying, “Endo is going to be famous.”
I decided to post the video to CSU the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences social media accounts, and the rest is history. Virality ensued.
But there was one weird (and awesome) thing that happened that has not occurred in the past when our videos have gone viral: other big social media accounts tagged us and gave us credit. Maybe it’s weirder that in the past large influencer accounts didn’t give us video credit, but I think sometimes when a video takes off in the social world so quickly, it’s hard to track down the original source of the video. Not this time. And the benefits were huge. The virality bumped our Veterinary Teaching Hospital Facebook followers to more than 20,000 (finally), and our Instagram account gained almost 2,500 followers literally over night. It was unreal. The good news is our 2,500 new Instagram followers are still enjoying the content we’ve shared since. Will they eventually ditch us after they realize we aren’t an “only cute, viral dog videos” account? I’ll keep ya posted.
All of this made me start wondering why I immediately assumed the jumping dog video had the potential to go viral. Why do people love animals, especially dogs, so much on social media?
What the research tells us
There are two studies that might help provide insight into why we love dogs so much.
One study led by a psychologist asked participants to, in a fake scenario, decide whether they would save their dog or a human (stranger) from being hit and killed by a bus. In some cases, more than 1/3 of respondents chose to save their dogs over the human. The study tells us two things: (1) a lot of people love their dogs more than strangers (of course) and, (2) try to avoid situations where you and someone’s dog are both in danger.
Another study conducted by Northeastern University gave college students one of four fake news articles about a violent attack. Each article had a different victim: a baby, a puppy, an adult dog and an adult human. After reading the article, the college students answered questions about their empathy for the victim. The results? Overall, participants felt equal empathy and distress for the baby, the puppy and the adult dog, and felt empathy to a lesser extent for the adult human. Research lead Jack Levin said:
“Dogs and cats are family pets. These are animals to which many individuals attribute human characteristics.”
I’ve witnessed empathy for pets first-hand at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Countless times, animal lovers have selflessly given money to sick pets whose owners cannot afford treatment for them. Most recently, people are banding together to raise thousands of dollars to help Logan, a 12-week-old German Shepherd, receive a life-saving heart surgery at our hospital. As of today, almost $30,000 has been raised.
I’m no psychologist, and I’ve conducted absolutely zero research other than Google searches, but I can’t help but add my own speculation.
Attributing human characteristics to animals can be seen across many of the famous Instagram accounts for pets, like @rambothepuppy, @tinkerbellethedog, and @tunameltsmyheart. The pet-influencer trend began in the early 2010s, and really took off when Instagram became one of the main social media platforms in power. Today, we’re dressing our pets up like humans, buying them Halloween costumes, and including them in pictures for our holiday cards. This holiday season, millennials spent double the amount of money on their pets compared to what overall consumers were spending. Animals aren’t just pets anymore, they’re family members.
When we humanize our pets, we feel closer to them and develop deeper bonds with them. But, there’s one big difference between human-human relationships and human-animal relationships: Dogs likely won’t disappoint you in the way a human will, so maybe we see them as overall better. Animals help some people go through the biggest challenges in their lives: loneliness, depression, stress, anxiety. But, a dog or cat won’t pass judgement on us the same way our friends or family might. Maybe we have humanized dogs to such an extent that we now subconsciously believe they are just better versions of humans. I mean, we’ve all heard the phrase, “we don’t deserve dogs.”
Instagram users are also endlessly describing dogs as “pure.” We see dogs as innocent, precious beings that haven’t been tainted by the many evils that plague humans. In a stressful and busy world, an adorable dog jumping joyfully (and relentlessly) is a welcomed distraction in our feeds. The scroll-stopping #snootchallenge has captivated our hearts and free time, because who doesn’t love a good “boop” on a Monday?
I’m not a researcher, and I can’t tell you exactly why Endo the Jumping Dog went viral or how we had a feeling he would. But, our humanization of pets and our craving for wholesome, soul-nurturing entertainment has likely helped pave the way for good boys like Endo to become (unknowingly) famous.