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Gay Sex Ed: Pup Play

Sex Ed is back and we’re asking the age old question: Who’s a good boy?
Bobby Box
Sex Columnist
December 2, 2021
April 16, 2024
min. read
Gay Sex Ed: Pup Play
Table of Contents

Art by Zach Brunner

Summer 2020 was coming to a fateful end, so I asked a few friends to join me at the nude beach, a local queer hotspot, for boozy freezies sold by big-breasted and bare-chested women, and for gay cruising nestled within the surrounding foliage.

As fate would have it, moments after we arrived, the sunny skies turned dreary and grey. When the rain came minutes after our arrival, many of the beach-goers had begrudgingly picked up their towels, their jockstraps, and fled for the city, save for a few 20-something otters in pup gear.

Being the only others on the beach, I observed as these four men fumbled with a tennis ball and frolicked in the wet sand together. Each wore a leather mask with ears and snouts, a spiked collar, a silicone tail, and a clear plastic cock cage. They topped a communal dog bowl with White Claw and would take turns lapping it up and licking one another.

“Bobby, are you crying?” a friend asked, concerned.

Surprising even myself, a few tears had trickled down my cheek. Something about the pups’ playfulness was just so beautiful to witness. They didn't have a care in the world and, as a radical neurotic, I admired and envied their devil-may-care attitude.

After their play session, the pups laid down on a bundle of blankets fixed like a dog bed and took a nap nuzzling each other. I, on the other hand, was an emotional wreck and had to go home.

Making fetch happen

Pup play is considered a subset of the “pet play” fetish, where individuals behave and inhabit the headspace of a particular pet or animal. While pups are the most popular, many other animals are emulated as well, from ponies and foxes, to cats and dragons. No biological animals are involved and, while categorized as a fetish, pup play isn’t necessarily sexual.

In fact, when a survey asked over 4,000 pups and handlers to rank pup play from 1 to 10—1 meaning “purely social” and 10 meaning “purely sexual”—the average score was 5.5.

For Pup Fox (real name: Ray),  the fetish is a combination of the two. Sexually, Fox uses his pup persona and gear as a way to allow himself to surrender to his deepest desires. Non-sexually, he uses the persona as a coping tool to subdue his anxieties. In both cases, Fox’s “pupsona” helps him feel more confident, sexually and socially.

“I never used to be able to be social in any setting,” Fox tells me, sheepishly. “But as a pup, I feel confident enough to put myself out there and play with others. In my pup world, every experience is a good one.”

Generally speaking, there are two roles one can assume in pup play: the pup and the handler. Pups typically inhabit the submissive role, whereas handlers (or sirs, masters) are dominant, though every pup and handler has their own dynamic.

“For pups, it’s generally about finding a top or dom that helps them get into that puppy headspace,” Pup Amp, sex educator and co-host of the YouTube and Twitch channel, Watts The Safeword, tells Grindr. “Sometimes the pup is looking for a lifelong mentor, sometimes short term play or direction, or just looking for some quick sexy times.”

The hierarchy among pups is more nurturing than authoritarian, and these roles are especially common among “packs” (a community of pups who belong to the same social group). The most common roles being: Alpha, Beta and Omega.

Alphas are the dominant pup, offering guidance and structure to Betas and Omegas. They’re the “top dog”, so to speak. The Beta is in the middle, following the guidance of the Alpha while serving to train and care for the Omega(s). Sort of like a vice president. The Omega serves the Alpha and Beta and devotes themselves to supporting and learning from the pack, while “strays” belong to no one and roam on their own.

“For the handler, the appeal is about training a pup, taking control of a leash and providing directions,” Amp says. As a queer person, mentorship can be crucial and hard to come by. Finding a handler is one way some will seek this support.

“I enjoy giving my pups lots of attention and affection, in the same way it’s fun to pet and love up on a real dog,” Dan, a 43-year-old handler, shares. “I even have a treat pouch that clips to my pants to hold M&Ms or gummy bears to give my pups as a treat when they’ve been good boys.”

Handlers take pleasure in guiding their pups in the right direction and protecting them from the dog-eat-dog world. In return, they receive unconditional love and affection. “I think of pup play as a power exchange that's much more focused on positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement,” Dan says. “It's got a much different vibe because its operant metaphor is different from, say, sir/boy or master/slave.”

Art by Zach Brunner
Art by Zach Brunner

Headspace or tails

The “pup headspace” is arguably the most important aspect of the fetish. This allows pups to let go of their inhibitions and embrace their primal side.

For some, entering the pup headspace is as easy as putting on gear, getting on all fours, and playing with a chew toy. Others advise that you meditate and envision the type of dog you want to emulate, analyzing how it moves and barks, and trying it out yourself.

For some, pup headspace can be difficult to achieve and the difficulty can differ by the day, but there are courses, online and off, that one can take for more personalized tips for entering the headspace, as well as Youtube videos and even pup-themed playlists.

Art by Zach Brunner
Art by Zach Brunner

Pup life

To better understand the pup life, I reached out to Support Pup Cooper, an educator and coach for pups and kinksters, to chat about his inaugural experience as a pup.

Cooper met his first handler, Cutter, a handsome Alpha pup transitioning to Handler, online, where their relationship quickly evolved from in-app chatting to video messaging. Cutter would ask Cooper to send him photos in full gear and ask him to send videos playing fetch and feeding from a dog bowl.

“It would make me so excited and so nervous,” Cooper says. “It made me feel submissive, especially when the things were recorded because then I knew they were out there.  It was one of the first times I felt the coveted puppy headspace.”

Eventually, the two decided to meet at MAL (Mid-Atlantic Leather), a three-day event celebrating the leather community,  and initially met in their hotel lobby in their human clothes. He requested when they meet the following day, that Cooper be fully geared up.

“As I met up with Cutter in the lobby, he immediately asked me to sit at his feet on all fours,” Cooper explains. “He put a collar on my neck and the click of the leash made chills go through my body.  Suddenly I felt cared about and safe, like I belonged.”  

After hotel staff informed them that they’d crossed the line of what was appropriate in their lobby, Cutter invited Cooper and another pup to his room. When they entered the room, Cutter sat in a chair and played fetch with the pups on the floor.

“We played like that for a while, and then Cutter unzipped his pants and had us come and play with his thick cock,” Cooper says. “Then he had me do something I wasn’t expecting. He had me play with the other pup’s ass and asked if I wanted to fuck him, and I did. The other puppy was on all fours and I was behind him, fucking him like dogs do, while Cutter watched and played with his cock in his chair.”

It was an eye-opening experience for Cooper, who would later meet with Cutter in his hometown, where more good times followed. Not much else occurred between Cooper and Cutter after that, save for the fact that Cooper knew without a doubt that he was a bona fide pup.

“Many aspects of that experience were not things I’d imagined I’d have done or enjoyed, but doing them opened my eyes to a whole world,” he says. “Pup play is about playing like a dog, of course, but it’s also a sexy and freeing place to grow in, and a place to be cared for and cared about.”


Finding your pack

The simplest way for a pup to find community is to begin online. The advent of the internet is responsible for the pup play explosion in the ‘90s and again with social media’s growing prevalence in the 2010s. According to many pup sites, the fetish traces as far back as 17th century Europe, though much of its history, at least from an academic perspective, is largely speculative.

“I’ve found social media is a great way to find pups in the community and make connections, even if there isn't a thriving pup community in the immediate area,” Spot (real name: Garrett), shares. “There’s a large active pup scene on Twitter especially.”

Amp agrees. “Twitter is a large platform that allows anyone with ‘pup’ in their username to find each other, myself included.”

There are also resources like pupspace, an online community and app designed specifically for pups and handlers, as well as less specific sites like FurAffinity, which welcomes furries and pups alike. Fetish-based sites like Recon and FetLife are other worthwhile options, and have sections dedicated to pups and handlers.

“Most local groups, also known as PAH (“pups and handlers”) groups,  will have a website, Facebook group or some sort of social media presence to learn about events near you,” Amp says. “If you live in a small city without a PAH group, larger events and kink conventions exist in larger cities as well.”

If you happen to live in or near a larger city, there is a good chance your local gay/leather bar hosts a pup night or “mosh.” Just do your research, ask around and do some sleuthing, Scooby!

Doggy style

For many, pup gear is paramount to entering the pup headspace and their first purchase is usually a hood. Before making the investment, spend some time entering the headspace, fully envisioning your persona.

For example, are you more of a quiet and trustworthy Golden Retriever, or a yappy, rambunctious Jack Russell Terrier? Once you have a better sense of your pupsona, it’ll be easier to find a matching hood.

When it comes to tails, there are two types. One can be clipped onto a belt or harness, whereas the others are shoved up your ass. In either case, it’s considered disrespectful to touch one’s tail without permission from the pup and/or their handler.

Since pups spend much of their time on all fours, knee pads and gloves (or “paw mitts”) are another worthy investment. These are padded gloves specifically designed for pup purposes, forcing your hand into a fist so you cannot use your fingers.

Collars are a bit more complicated and can mean very different things to different people. At its most rudimentary, the collar signifies that a pup is subordinate to a Sir, Alpha, Beta, etc. and is the responsibility of the individual who collared them. For some, a collar is considered on par with a wedding ring, whereas for others, it carries a more casual meaning. Some will even throw collar ceremonies, which are celebrated similarly to weddings.

Leashes can be simple dog leashes that attach to your collar, or you can opt for a full-body harness. Queer retailers like Mr S Leather, Eagle Leather, Fort Troff, Square Peg Toys and The Stockroom will have any and all of the above.

Art by Zach Brunner
Art by Zach Brunner

Good boy!

At first glance, pup play can be perceived as silly. I’ll admit when I first laid eyes on the pack of pups on the beach, I scoffed. But I was ignorant and uneducated. The more I witnessed these young pups, the further I drifted from my initial reaction, because I dropped the societally influenced bullshit and saw the fetish for what it is: an innocent and powerful form of escapism.

Pups have an incredible ability to tap into that nostalgic, imaginative place that once powered our childhoods, like when I’d wholeheartedly believe I was Storm summoning rain in the shower (I can’t possibly be the only one who did this).

Stripped of all the barking, the hoods and the tail plugs, pup play is a group of people with like-minded interests supporting and caring for each other. And if you can’t get on board with that, then go fetch.

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