May 08, 2018 05:35 PM

Chris Young confesses the Instagram account started as “a joke.” But almost 48,000 followers later, Porter the dog has turned into country’s latest canine celebrity.

Actually, make that “Porter the puppy” at the moment. Young’s almost 5-month-old German shepherd has yet to grow into his big, adorable ears — but that cuteness factor no doubt is a huge draw to the “awww”-worthy photos that Young has been posting by proxy. (Hey, he’s still a puppy. Don’t expect Porter to figure out the app yet!)

While the pup has been capturing an ever-growing number of fans’ hearts, he clearly has had Young’s since day one — sight unseen.

The platinum-selling artist, 32, discovered he was a new dog owner last Christmas when his sister, Dorothy, asked him to unwrap a small box that she’d placed under the tree. Inside Young found a dog tag stamped with the name “Porter.”

“I knew immediately that she had gotten me a dog,” Young says. “I could see my mom looking at me, and evidently my mom was really nervous about it, like, ‘He’s either going to be really excited or this is going to be too much.’ I was real excited, for sure.”

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Only a few days old, Porter was still with his canine mom. But Young’s sister had done her homework to ensure she’d made the right choice, sleuthing out the breed Young was partial to and even catching him in conversation about dog names. A friend of Young’s owns a dog named after Dolly Parton, so Young had been thinking about a namesake for Porter Wagoner, Parton’s longtime duet partner.

Since leaving his litter, Young’s new best friend has been splitting his time between the singer’s Nashville-area home and a nearby training camp, with occasional weekend stops at Aunt Dorothy’s when Young is on the road. But Porter, says Young, is clear on who his go-to guy is.

“He definitely knows who feeds him, first of all,” Young says with a laugh, “but he definitely knows that I’m his person … He’s very attached, so I can be in a room full of people and most of the time he’ll be sitting with me.”

Young describes the puppy’s personality as “cool” — as in laid back (though of course he’s the other kind of cool, too).

“He’s very, very quiet for a dog,” Young says. “About the only time he really and truly barks is when he really needs to go out. He will let you know. But he’s just very, very chill, and just like most other German shepherds, he’s constantly watching everything.”

Young is finding out, even at Porter’s tender age, that he’s still earning respect for his guard-dog pedigree. “Everybody always goes, ‘Can I pet him?’ because he’s a German shepherd,” Young says. Admirers have been assured Porter welcomes affection, though Young warns, “he might lick you to death.”

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At this point, Young still hasn’t decided whether Porter will undergo training to be a protection dog. “I may just do basic dog training with him,” he says, “and let him be a pup.”

But Young is certain of one thing: When Porter is old enough, he’s going out on tour with his master. “I may try to take him this summer,” Young says, “if it’s short trips to just get him adjusted to the road. Really and truly, until dogs are about a year old, you’re just having to check them to make sure they understand boundaries and understand what’s going on.”

Young is also considering play dates with other country canines, such as Brett Eldredge’s 2-year-old Weizsla, Edgar (who now has 186,000 Instagram followers, just in case you’re feeling competitive, Porter). So far, Young has been in conversation with pal (and duet partner) Cassadee Pope about getting together with her beloved French bulldog, Cuppy.

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Young definitely has enough on his plate at the moment, with a full summer of arena concerts that conclude in late September in Philadelphia. Fresh off an ACM nomination for male vocalist of the year, he has been enjoying regular sellouts on his Losing Sleep tour.

He’s also been finding time to give back. Young is hosting Tuesday evening’s CMA Foundation’s Music Teachers of Excellence event in Nashville to honor 34 teachers from across Tennessee, as well as Chicago, Cincinnati, Seattle and Los Angeles. A CMA Foundation board member and a product of a Tennessee high school choral program, Young has long been an active proponent of music education.

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