“It’s primarily about getting in touch with that primal side. It’s about releasing, romping around, playing fetch, and just enjoying yourself without the day-to-day worry. Putting on a hood, and not being the same person you were five seconds ago.” – Michael D.
It is late in the afternoon – evening really. I’m grumbling, annoyed at memes, or laughing at them or some combination of the two. My phone rings, on Sunday no less, and when I answer it is Tiffany Anton, a sex therapist.
“…I think you have the wrong person,” she tells me. I realize she has completely, and understandably, misunderstood the nature of my original call. “I’m not really the person to talk to about emotional support animals or service dogs.”
This misunderstanding is my fault, and I have to step back a moment and just laugh at myself. Slowly, between laughs, I explain that I wasn’t asking about service dogs at all. No, I’ve called Tiffany about Pup Play.
For those new to this particular kink, pup play falls under a broader category of general pet play. In the scope of pet play, the most familiar is pony play. While there are definitely exceptions, pup play is primarily a facet of the gay leather community. My interest leads me to two charming, cheerful gay men, both of whom are switches, having played the role of both pup and handler.
But getting back to sex therapist Tiffany Anton. Tiffany a graduate of Loyola, who has one of the best website addresses I’ve ever seen. She’s also nice, warm, funny, and just a great pleasure to talk to. I find myself warming to her immediately.
When she was a kid, she was asked the question, “If you could be any animal what would you be?” She went with a Persian cat. “All the other students had these fabulous examples of zoo animals, or you know someone would say, like ‘a German Shepherd,’ or something. But to be able to say a big fat Persian cat, they were looking at me like, ‘that has no adventure at all.’ But it was about receiving loving attention. Being petted and groomed, with a really high level of safety and comfort.”
She ties this to people engaged in puppy play. There is that childlike sense of peace, “So if we’re looking at the kink and fetish community, there is puppy play, in particular, but there are also other animal fetishes, and the view would be when you come home from work, who’s excited to see you? Your animal. We actually pet our animal more than we do humans, in regards to hand-holding, snuggling. We kind of pet each other in the literal sense like rubbing someone’s back, rubbing on their arm when we’re sitting next to them. And then when we pet animals, it actually reduces our heart rate and our blood pressure. Yet humans need as much touch as animals do. And animals are non-rejecting, non-judgmental. They love you no matter what. So it’s really safe to be an animal because you’re going to receive that love back.”
She continues, “In regards to taking it into the sexual realm, there are parallel dynamics. We can be a playful puppy, so we can be standing up and behaving like a puppy. Or you can get on all fours, and it’s about how you’re going to get so much loving, fun attention from your handler. And there’s a different degree of behaviors engaged in. Sometimes it is just the submissive relationship between the animal and the handler that is more about role-playing.
And then there’s the particular dynamics of the submissive and the dominant, and that’s taking it to another level where you’re engaged in bondage, or ‘impact play.’”
She points out the value of consent and rules: “When you’re in a sub/dom relationship, you have all the agreements made prior to the play. So, as the puppy, you would say prior to when you got in puppy play, ‘this is what does and doesn’t work for me,’ and the dominant would say, ‘this is what does and doesn’t work for me.’ And then you would come to the middle ground, so it is a win/win.” As an example, she says, “Because then you can become more dominant and then you can be a bad dog, and so then you would receive impact play, like let’s use the example of when we swat the newspaper at our pet.
“So if we think about the stereotypical relationship between the dog and their owner, it is a mutually loving experience where we also correct behavior.”
Michael D. (not me, I have my own kinks, thank you very much), is a man of smiles. Just being around his cheerful visage, makes me feel a little happier. It’s a sunny day outside Cafe Envie in the French Quarter. Most of the interview goes by pleasantly, minus the occasional aircraft and especially loud car music. Michael is the president of The New Orleans Pups and Handlers Association, or NOLA PAH, for short.
Of himself, he says, “I’m a bit of an enigma. I like community service, I like community work.” Like many in New Orleans, he works in the tourism industry.
He explains his lifestyle, “Human/puppy play or pup play would be the correct terminology. There’s also a handler aspect to that as well.” He continues, “Pup play is in the realm of kink and fetish. You have your dom and sub-aspects to it.” He adds, “Pup play is a release of your structure, of your day-to-day life. To kind of get in touch with that more primal aspect of yourself, and that’s pet play in general really, and just letting loose and being just like a puppy. Like you would have to be free and romping around playing. Your handlers will train you. Your sirs will train you, accordingly, to their own standards, as you would a real dog. It’s just an escape.”
An escape, he explains, that takes you out of the humdrum details of your day-to-day life and allows you the freedom of being a happy, healthy, playful puppy. “You know, you didn’t close that deal at work today, and you’re just stressed out–you go home, you put on some of your gear, and you just don’t think about it. You get to just have that endorphin release, I guess.” Adding, “It’s just a release to de-stress, to calm down, and be free.”
While being a pup can be a release, being a handler isn’t quite the same. “It depends on the dynamic you have with the puppy you’re handling, or the submissive that you’re handling if that person is a submissive.” He continues, “So if they’re a puppy, you’re handling, and they’re not that into a lot of other stuff than being a puppy, they can be a little rambunctious; so you have to be aware of: are they getting too rough with other pups? Are they in need of water because they’re dehydrated because they’re in a headspace and they don’t necessarily think about these things? You have to the one that takes care of those kinds of things to make sure the puppy is good.”
His tone changes a bit and he smiles as he says, “But if it’s a submissive, the puppy who’s into all the kink and fetish, and-” He laughs, “what not, you can get some sort of release, because you can flog them, spank them, tie them up. You know there’s just some kind of release, as a dominant, you can get with those kinds of actions, more so than if you are just handling a puppy being a puppy.”
Sex isn’t necessarily what this is about, he says. Many people do nothing sexual in these situations at all. It’s the freedom of being a pup itself. “Sex is a bonus,” Michael says, “to pup play. Pup play is not an innately sexual endeavor. It’s primarily about getting in touch with that primal side. It’s about releasing, romping around, playing fetch, and just enjoying yourself without the day-to-day worry. Putting on a hood, and not being the same person you were five seconds ago.
“There are three levels of pup play.” Ah, yes, rules, and hierarchy. “There’s an alpha pup which is like the leader of the pack, keeps all the other pups in line. Then you have the beta. Betas are kind of more submissive. They’ll listen to the alpha, or sir, or handler, based on who’s around at the time.” Alphas, betas, and…“And then there’s an omega. Omegas are innately submissive. They are completely like, you say, ‘Hey, go do this.’ They don’t care who it is, they’re going to go do it.”
This brings me to one of the more uncomfortable questions. Regarding bodily functions, do people stay in “pup headspace?” Michael explained that while some people do that, most just go to the restroom.
Jeffrey’s experience is similar to Michael’s in several ways. He started as a handler, but has begun to explore his “pupside.” He says that being a handler means, “Being their protector, being sure they’re taken care of.” But his tone is more excited when I ask him about being a pup, “Pup for me is… FREEDOM, actually. When I get into it, I’m actually in my pup headspace.” Headspace seems to be the common theme here for this role. It goes back to the elation that submissives told me about when they spoke of the liberation of giving up control to “subspace.”
He continues, “Or when I’m with other pups, I don’t think about anything. I don’t think about, ‘did I leave the oven on.’ I don’t think about, ‘Am I going to look weird doing this?’ I don’t. I slip into that puppy headspace, and it’s basically about play, eat, shit, sleep.”
“I don’t think about anything extraneous.” Jeffrey says, “Everything is just in the moment.”
When he puts it like that, I realize, that frankly, I’m kind of jealous of the zen-like state that I’ve been hearing about. “That sounds absolutely glorious actually. I’m kind of envious.”
Jeffrey points me to a study in England which extols the mental health aspects of pup play, and how freeing it can be. “An Exploratory Study of a New Kink Activity: ‘Pup Play’” which concurs that this is a fantastic way to relax. It diverges from my own interviews in that it claims pup play’s sexual gratification component is paramount.
Michael got into this gradually, having been part of the online furry community.
In the case of Jeffrey, he says, “I was kind of thrown into this actually. I met my puppy Bo Jangles, who everybody knows, about three years ago. And just, he was like, ‘you’re my handler.’ I’m like, ‘okay.’ I didn’t know what that meant, so I researched it, and I found the local NOLA PAH group, and I got sucked in, and I’ve been doing it ever since.” He describes Bo Jangles as obedient, playful, but “a little brat. And he has to be spanked from time to time. But as long as I’m the one doing it, he doesn’t really mind.”
Jeffrey adds that his relationship with Bo is not sexual at all. I remind him of the spanking, and he points out that, “Not sexual, sensual. There is a difference.” I am slightly confused by that difference, and if you’re reading this, maybe you are too. “With any kind of spanking, or flogging, or any type of impact play, while it can lead to, and can be sexual in and of itself, and part of your foreplay, it doesn’t have to be that. It can be sensual, it can be just about that. It can just be about the touch of the type of leather you’re using for whatever flogger or paddle you have. It’s running the paddle or flogger up somebody’s skin and hitting them with it. It doesn’t have to be carnal. It can just be about the sense of it.”
When I ask him one of my favorite questions, he’s quick to respond: What would you want my readers to know, who might not know much about this, from the outside looking in? “It is not about bestiality.” That it could be about bestiality hadn’t occurred to me. But I guess I’m a bit inured to this scene at this point. “And that occurs to a lot of people, especially when you have pups who are in hood, and have their hoods on, and people see that and think that their brains automatically go into, ‘Oh, you want to fuck a dog.’
“Yeah, I’ve gotten those comments a couple of times. I try to keep them away from the ears of the puppies, as their handler trying to protect them. But yeah, it’s not about bestiality, at all.” Returning to pony play, he points out that when people see pony play, very few people, “are like oh, I want to fuck a horse. It’s about breaking and training. And puppy play is about the same thing, it’s just a lot more playful.”
He adds another important point, “You don’t have to have gear to be a puppy. Puppy is on the inside of you. And if that’s how you feel, contact your local pup organization. Or get on Facebook. There are so many different things that can be seen in puppy play. So get on there. If that’s what you feel. If it’s not, at least try to educate yourself about it, because nobody likes ignorant people.” He adds, “Don’t yuck my yum.”
This article is part of an ongoing series. You can find the previous pieces here.
Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He covers culture, tourism, and satire here for Big Easy Magazine.