If you’ve ever seen a rulebook for pup play, I hope you let your pup chew it up and then pee on it. Because the one thing that human pups don’t need is a set of rules. There are as many types of human pup as there are breeds of bio-dog - probably more, in fact. And within those types, there are so many variations in personality, motivation, environment, and experience, that every pup is a very unique creature and needs unique care.
This doesn’t exactly help learning to become a handler.
If every pup is different, it means that every handler also needs to be different. On top of that, if (like me) you’re handler to more than one pup, you’ll find that your dynamic and handling style will change with each of them. So once again, rulebooks are out. Learning to become a handler, I’ve discovered, is something to do with your pup. No matter how many resources you study (and I do recommend researching what you can, just for ideas and inspiration) you’ll never find a perfect ‘How To’ manual on handling. Instead, let’s talk a little about the ’How Not To’ of being the perfect handler for your pup.
Even the cheekiest of pups can benefit from and enjoy training. Training can cover a huge range of activities, from learning commands, to socialisation skills (for nervous pups), to performing chores (for service pups), to pushing limits (for kink pups), and it can even be a tool to help the non-pup side of your companion get through day-to-day anxieties and issues. Training should be something that both pup and handler enjoy and want equally. Training should never be used to change any aspect of your pups persona to suit you.
Training involves a level of obedience, and while disobedience can (in the right dynamic) lead to some form of punishment, it’s essential that this fits with the ethics of any other power play - it must be safe, sane and consensual. Anything else is abuse. As with bio-dogs, you’re gonna get better results by rewarding good behaviour rather than punishing bad behaviour, so keep the punishments to a minimum unless they really fit with your individual kink dynamic.
Pup or pups?
There’s nothing wrong with handling multiple pups. I have three pups that I call my own, and one of those is collared to me. I also enjoy filling the role of handler in broader social situations - at moshes, munches, or even just at the bar, if a pup approaches me they’ll never miss out on skritches and belly rubs. I always have a lot of fun when I’m surrounded by pups, but there’d be something kinda weird if I wanted to collar and keep every pup I connected with. I’ve seen handlers (and pups) fall into a trap where they seem to collect as many pups as possible. There are two main reasons for this, and neither of them is good:
The thing with pup play is that there’s a high level of affection, connection, and physical contact among many pups once they’re in headspace. Y’know - the kind of affection, connection, and physical contact that you may be used to with a significant other. Confusing the two can be damaging to everyone. A pup that gets a lot of attention from a smitten handler will be hurt when the handler realises there’s no substance to their bond. A handler who tries to care for too many pups will burn out and forget the importance of self-care.
The other type of ‘collector handler’ is really just that - someone who thinks that the more pups you have, the more prestige you get. Don’t be like this. Seriously.
A good handler is looked up to by their pup, by the pups friends or pack, and very often by the community around them. Handlers are seen to be leaders, protectors and nurturers, and it’s common for handlers to be given a lot of respect by the pups around them. Never forget that respect is a responsibility. It’s never ok to use your position in the community (in any community) as a way of gaining power over someone. It’s never ok to make a pup feel like they have to obey your rules, like they have to play with you, like they are less than you. This is a complete breach of trust and it’s emotionally or physically abusive.
Be the best you can be, because you’re not the best there is
It seems that no matter how much we accept that there are no rules or structured ways to be a pup or handler, there’s always someone out there who thinks they do it better. Sure - what they do may work for them, but no handler and no pup has the right to judge the dynamic you have with your pup.
Anyone who knows me will know that I like my pups cheeky. There’s a time and a place for dominance and submission, but overall my pups get away with pretty much whatever they want. They bring me a lot of joy. Masters with slavepups may not comprehend my handling style, and they’d probably flinch to see the chaos my pups wreak when left to their own devices, but that doesn’t mean either dynamic is wrong.
At the end of the day, if you’re a Master and you find yourself with a cheeky pup, or if you’re a nurturing handler faced with a slave pup, you may have to understand that it’s the wrong pup for you. More importantly - and this is important - you’ll need to accept that you are the wrong handler for the pup.
Written by the volunteer contributor: Ben Riethmuller