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Kabosu (Japanese: かぼす), the female Shiba Inu featured in the original meme, was a pedigree puppy who was sent to an animal shelter when her puppy mill shut down. She was adopted in 2008 by Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Satō, and named after the citrus fruit kabosu because Sato thought she had a round face like the fruit. Another Shiba Inu featured in the meme is Suki, a female belonging to photographer Jonathan Fleming from San Francisco. His wife had accidentally put a scarf in the wash, making it shrink. He took a photograph of Suki wearing the scarf outside on a cold night in February 2010.

Kabosu was first pictured in a 2010 blog post by Sato; afterwards, variations of the pictures using overlaid Comic Sans text were posted from a Tumblr blog, Shiba Confessions. However, the use of the intentionally misspelled "doge" dates back to June 2005, when it was mentioned in an episode of Homestar Runner's puppet series.

The most common pronunciations of "doge" are /ˈdoʊdʒ/ DOHJ and /ˈdoʊɡ/ DOHG. In non-English speaking countries, "doge" is occasionally pronounced /ˈdɒdʒ/ "dodge". Those unfamiliar or unacquainted with the meme also use the pronunciations /ˈdɒɡi/ "doggie", /ˈdɒɡeɪ/ DOG-ay/ˈdoʊɡeɪ/ DOH-gay, or simply /ˈdɒɡ/ "dog".

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