What the Kink? An Introduction to Puppy Play
“Such a good pup!” your partner says adoringly, ruffling your hair with their hand. You’re on your hands and knees, wiggling to show your appreciation. Your silicone tail sways. “Would you like a treat?”
Has any pup – human or not – ever said no to a treat? You do your best to woof in the affirmative, though it kind of sounds like a cough and a sneeze at the same time. You’re still working on it.
“I thought so,” your partner murmurs. They rub their thumb over the shell of your ear and then take their hand away, reaching for a wand vibrator instead. As it rumbles to life, you start wagging your tail again. “Okay, Lucky. Lay down.”
What is Puppy Play?
So what exactly is puppy play? It’s the kinky act of one or more adult participants performing behaviors one might associate with dogs, particularly the playful attitude and exuberance of puppies. Wearing a leash, eagerly licking a lover, wagging their butt (sometimes while wearing a play tail), and rolling around or play-wrestling are just a handful of ways human pups might express themselves. Some players dress up to look the part, like wearing dog ears or hoods, paw-shaped mitts, or makeup fashioned like fur or markings.
Puppy play can be a form of animal role play – embodying the social role and mindset of a dog – or it can be more conceptual. “I don’t role-play as a pup, I role-play as the idea of a pup, because I’m post-modern and annoying,” writer and sex blogger Kelvin Sparks once joked on his blog. Some pups build an entire persona for their play: “My pup is a husky-corgi mix named Rowdy,” says rife, co-host of D/s Playground and property of Mx Sexsmith, “He is super friendly and loves wrestling and human attention. He enjoys the outdoors and-- OMG BALL!!”
“My puppy play identity is much more anthropomorphic than I think is typically associated with it,” Tessa Fox of the sex blog Queer Earthling tells me. Fursonas – that is, characters based on animals with human traits and intelligence – are another way people may envision their pup selves.
For some, puppy play is animal role play: embodying the social role and mindset of a dog. For others, it’s about playing a part, bringing out their more playful or doting side. “To me it’s largely about giving a name to certain aspects of my submission and personality,” says Tessa, “It’s a name for my eager-to-please nature and tendency to wiggle my hips when excited, but it’s also a way of letting go of human stress.”
Sometimes – but not always – this kink involves an element of power exchange, such as having a designated “alpha” dog, owner, or handler calling the shots, with a submissive pup obeying commands or vying for approval. (Not all pups engaging in authority exchange roles are submissive, though. “I tend to be a bit of an over thinker when it comes to topping or domming, so being able to leave the over analytical side of me behind when I get into a pup headspace is quite freeing,” says Kelvin.)
Puppy play can involve sex, but many indulge in this kink for nonsexual reasons. “For me, it is a playful, nonsexual way to be extroverted in kink spaces without the anxiety of having to be verbal,” notes rife.
What Does It Mean To Be a Pup?
“Puppy play is a lot broader as a term than I think people give it credit for,” says Kelvin.
“Pet is a role with connotations that are immediate and obvious: owned, cared for, loved. But it can also mean spoiled, training, treasured, obedient, protective, horny,” I wrote in 5 Ways You Can Role Play in Bed. “Depending on the animal you’re taking inspiration from, or the dynamic you’re catering to (an owner with a firm hand? A fiendish breeder?), being a pet can embody any number of sexy overtones.”
“A role in puppy play is like any kind of actor role where it gives someone a preconceived idea or a starting point for them to kinda take off. And helps define the part that person is playing within a scene,” explains kink educator Amp in Human Pup Roles. “[The role] can be incredibly complex or pretty simple. It’s all up to the individual,” adds co-host Bolt.
“[Puppy play] is woven throughout my everyday life. It mostly manifests in things like wearing ears and a tail around the house, fetching my dom’s slippers, sitting on the floor (although I can't do that much lately because I am a Sore Creature),” says Tessa. “Honestly, anytime I do a favor for Damien and they tell me what a good dog I am and I wiggle like I’m trying to shake a Yahtzee cup with my ass because yes I am good dog thank you. It’s less "a specific scene" and more "something that happens approximately once a day."”
“One of my favourite pup play scenes I’ve done involved myself, another pup, and a handler. The handler didn’t directly interact with either of us, but got us to rough house and play with each other, and then got me to dom and top the other pup,” recalls Kelvin. “I think the ease at which that scene took on non-standard power dynamics and the fact I felt so non-self conscious while topping makes it a perfect example of what it is that pup play gives me.”
Whether you craft a pup persona and join a pack, or keep things casual and only take up the leash every blue moon, your interpretation of being a pup is valid.
How To Try Out Puppy Play
Like any kink or sex act, deciding whether or not puppy play is right for you – and how you want to engage in it – will take some exploring. Discussing your interest with your partner, negotiating what you’re each willing to try, and researching the safest way to play comes first.
Deciding what you and your play partners want out of the experience – and if the experience is singular, or something more extensive – is key.
Make Sure You and Any Play Partners Are On the Same Page.
“Practice nonverbal consent a lot and have a plan in place if your boundaries are pushed (standing up or saying “no” works),” rife suggests.
Define Things for Yourself.
“There’s as many ways of doing pup play as there are people into pup play,” says Kelvin, “and you don’t have to adhere to any kinds of dynamic or own specific bits of (expensive!!) gear to be a valid puppy player.”
Don’t See a Pup Like You? Be a Pup Like You!
“Pups come in all shapes, sizes, ability levels, and genders, so don't sweat it if you’re the only one not on your knees, or with your particular plumbing. I paw-mise, there are others like you!” rife points out.
Just because you’re trying out a new restaurant doesn’t mean you need to order the whole menu. Play some fetch with your favorite dildo, let your partner(s) pet your belly, or try tugging off your partner’s clothes with your teeth. Growl, wag your tail, or roll over as the urge strikes you.
(“Pet role play can involve a lot of physicality if you want it to. You can position yourself to be lower than your partner(s) – sitting on the floor, curled up at the foot of the bed, begging at the table – and remain attentive to their needs,” I noted in 5 Ways You Can Role Play in Bed. “You can indulge in more animalistic sex, including vocalizing with purrs or growls instead of groans.”)
Be Excited to Be Silly.
Some of the best sex and/or kink play is filled with laughter. Puppy play is intentionally playful, so even if you’re a serious pooch, look forward to those giggles when your first bark sounds more like a squawking chicken, or you accidentally headbutt your partner when you’re climbing on them for a treat.
Explore, and Don’t Hold that Leash Too Tight. “Try things out, sure, but if certain things don't resonate with you, that’s fine, it doesn’t necessarily mean you're doing it wrong,” Tessa notes. Is barking instead of talking not working for you? Speak! Literally.
Consider Props to Help Set the Tone.
A dogbone-shaped ball gag. A squeaky dog toy that’s soft enough to be safe for human teeth. A collar and leash. A blanket folded up on the floor for a dog bed. A waggable tail, either attached to a butt plug, or attached to your belt. A rolled up newspaper…
Explore the Puppy Play Community.
Finding Your Pack: Puppy Play and Community
Need some inspiration, guidance, or a friendly space to explore this kink with others? Puppy play actually has a thriving subculture within the BDSM community. You may have even noticed pups at your local Pride events, decked out in neoprene hoods and leather harnesses.
Puppy play is particularly visible on social media, where pups post selfies in their gear, engage in light role play, or form friend groups or packs.
“The puppy play scene has seen rapid expansion in recent years,” notes Wignall and McCormack in a 2017 study on puppy play. Scene members interviewed for the study attributed this rise to the spotlight from several documentaries, including 2016’s The Secret Life of Human Pups in the UK, and Pup play: Men who live as dogs in Australia. While not perfect, these documentaries “brought the practice and the community into the public eye, and generated a substantive amount of media attention. […] The new visibility of the practice appears to have lead to a surge in membership, and the community in its current form take shape.”
Anyone can be a pup and most events and organizations are inclusive of that, but the most visible parts of the community tend to be white gay men. “I found out about puppy play on gay porn Tumblr blogs, back before the porn ban when I had just turned 18,” Kelvin says, “It’s definitely somewhat problematic that the pup scene leans so heavily towards queer men (and cis ones at that) but when I first started getting into pup play, that was actually quite a bit of the appeal. […] I was trying to figure out what models of queer male and masculine sexuality appealed to me.”
In a 2018 thesis, Erik William Boyd details how puppy play helped several gay men he interviewed “more fully accept their true sexual selves.” “For all six participants, this search for authenticity permits them to live pride fully amongst LGBTQ and BDSM, fetish, kink, and leather communities. Such narratives of seeking and finding acceptance in pup subculture opens a conversation about how human pups shed their humanness (e.g. engrossing themselves in the ‘scene’) and subsequently experiencing sex, liberated from human restrictions such as shame, humiliation, and stigma.” These themes are universal, and will continue to inspire people (especially of marginalized identities) to seek out and explore puppy play and subsequently the community.
Maybe you will too.
Betty Butch is a queer, sex-positive blogger who reviews pleasure products and writes about identity and kink at bettybutch.com. You can find her on Twitter via @betty_butch.