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One of the most nonsensical memes of late 2017 is this stock photo of a cute dog getting a pat on the head. It’s been pasted into all kinds of images, making it look like various characters are petting the dog. That’s basically the whole joke. It’s a game of finding the funniest situations where the dog fits. The white background is never removed, which adds some intentionally bad Photoshop to the mix.
The dog-petting meme seems to have started on Reddit’s me_irl, where people share memes that represent themselves, and the only post title allowed is “me irl.” Me_irl is one of Reddit’s most successful culture incubators, known for popularizing memes like Bionicles and the It Is Wednesday frog.
The dog first appeared in this image of a pole vaulter with an outstretched arm, according to Know Your Meme:
Why dogs? There’s no esoteric meme culture reason for it, it’s just that dogs are cute. Transforming images—sometimes serious or violent ones—into cute dog-petting scenes is an example of what are generally called “Wholesome Memes.” Instead of including a criticism or a punchline, Wholesome Memes are just warm and fuzzy and comforting to look at. They’re an antidote to the often negative tone of meme culture, and that has made them very popular this year.
Dog petting fits into that, and it’s also funny because it can recontextualize (or decontextualize?) any other meme. Here’s the Wednesday Frog petting the dog, for example.
And here’s the oft-parodied TV show Cory in the House:
Like most memes, you can also make a self-referential “meta” version:
The dog petting meme is very reminiscent of another 2017 hit, a meme of a monkey getting a haircut. Both use the same basic format: Photoshopping the relevant animal into a picture of outstretched arms.
The main difference between the two is that the monkey only fits in photos with two arms in the correct position. The dog just needs one arm to work, meaning he slots into a wider range of memes and funny situations. You can even turn one finger into more hands, the better to pet more dogs with.
Like much of the content on me_irl, this meme doesn’t make a ton of sense. It’s just a nested series of references—each finger on the hand forming another entire hand with its own hand-fingers … and at the end, one good boy getting some pets.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.