When Matthew Nelson began rating dogs on Twitter under the handle @dog_rates, he didn’t set out to make a living on it.
But since starting the account as a college freshman in 2015, Nelson has made WeRateDogs his full-time job. He dropped out of school last year and brings in a six-figure salary for himself rating dogs on the internet and selling merchandise.
‘I was trying to make a few more people smile’
“Cute animal accounts have existed on the internet forever, but no one was really taking advantage of the character space above those cute photos,” Nelson told Yahoo Finance’s Midday Movers.
After gaining about 100,000 followers in the first month, Nelson knew he was on to something.
“I was trying to make a few more people smile,” he said. “And then it just turned into a lot more.”
Nelson’s account now has more than 7.2 million followers and receives about 800 submissions per day. For the Dogfather, which is what Dog Rates’ loyalists affectionately call Nelson, the crowdsourced content fuels an operation dedicated to highlighting the wonderfulness of dogs.
WeRateDogs adopts a very specific vernacular that has recently filtered into other corners of the internet. NPR last year coined the term “DoggoLingo” to refer to the phrases that have become popular among cute animal accounts such as WeRateDogs and the Facebook group Dogspotting.
“Some dogs are doggos, some are puppers, and others may even be pupperinos. There are corgos and clouds, fluffers and floofs, woofers and boofers. The chunky ones are thicc, and the thin ones are long bois,” NPR explained.
This is Biggins, a rare elevated corgo. He only tolerates getting his nails cut when he thinks he’s flying. 14/10 good boy Biggins pic.twitter.com/utzurIAwFA
— WeRateDogs™ (@dog_rates) September 7, 2018
‘It would have been pretty dumb not to try to monetize it’
Around this time last year, Nelson made the decision to withdraw from Campbell University in North Carolina and fully commit to the account. Nelson has scored partnership deals with big brands such as Cottonelle and Disney in addition to opening a webstore with WeRateDogs-branded merchandise.
Nelson explained that his initial goal “wasn’t to monetize this. But … once I saw that we were building a following, it would have been pretty dumb not to try to monetize it. So we started with an e-commerce store, and my base was very receptive to that idea.”
Nelson credits the success of the account to the fans, especially how committed they are to the Dog Rates brand. “We just took some of the phrases that my audience had shown us that they’d enjoyed,” he said, “and we put them on hats and shirts.”
‘they’re good dogs Brent’
Readers unfamiliar with @dog_rates may not understand the phrase, “they’re good dogs Brent,” which is emblazoned on everything from shirts to mugs in the online shop.
Back in 2016, a Twitter user named Brant criticized the rating system enacted by WeRateDogs. “Your rating system sucks,” Brant said. “Just change your name to ‘CuteDogs.'”
Nelson adopted his DoggoLingo voice and fired back at Brant, simply saying “they’re good dogs.”
they’re good dogs Brent
— WeRateDogs™ (@dog_rates) September 12, 2016
Brant isn’t alone in critiquing the system. Yahoo Finance’s Rick Newman asked Nelson about the “great inflation” of Nelson’s grading.
“At the beginning, I do have to admit that they were below 10 of 10. I want to say it started as a very legitimate rating system,” Nelson said. “The first time I rated a dog 11 out of 10, people kind of lost their minds. So it was clear that that was a trend that I had to continue.”
He added that there are no ratings below a 12 out of 10 at this point. However, it takes an especially exceptional dog to reach a 15 out of 10. There’s only been five of those so far.
This is Piper, the Airport k9. After a year-long battle with cancer, he passed away last night. He was a badass runway protector, and our second ever 15/10. Rest easy Piper pic.twitter.com/jAG5ujfHUg
— WeRateDogs™ (@dog_rates) January 4, 2018
“There’s just been dogs that have gone through things that … your normal dog wouldn’t go through, and have like, shown perseverance,” Nelson said. “It’s weird to talk about, but these are dogs that just stand above the rest.”
In a followup email, Nelson mentioned that @dog_rates has started highlighting gofundme campaigns for dogs in need. Nelson contacts the owners and sometimes helps write campaigns “to make sure they’re being as transparent as possible.” He said the initiative has helped raise nearly $200,000 so far.
And while his dog rating account still has its critics, the most prominent detractor changed his tune in July.
Folks… we have come full circle. This is Charlie, dog of Brant. He naps in a pineapple and really likes french fries. 14/10 you’ve got a good dog, Brent pic.twitter.com/iYnjpphWau
— WeRateDogs™ (@dog_rates) July 23, 2018
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