Puppy Play: How these grown men relieve stress
EVER been in a hurry to get out the door for a busy day at work and found yourself enviously glancing over at the sleeping dog or cat? If only I had a carefree life like that.
Well some people take this thought to a whole new level. In the kink scene, it’s called “Puppy Play”.
Human “pups” wear dog masks, collars, mittens, tails and harnesses. And just like a real dog, pups have “handlers” who dish out commands, affection and training. Handlers will even take their pups for a walk.
“It’s joyous, it’s absolutely joyous because there’s no worrying, there’s no: ‘Am I too fat, do I look good in this?’ There’s no self-consciousness,” 44-year-old Brand Pup from Canberra says to me (he requests we use his puppy name, rather than his human name for this story).
“It’s about really modifying your body temporarily in such a way that you inhabit the physicality of the puppy,” he continues.
When I bluntly suggest some people might view human puppy play as odd behaviour, Brand Pup responds with a hearty, barrel-chested laugh.
“It’s no more bonkers than as a small child dressing up and being a princess or a knight on a horse. It’s harmless, it’s fun, it’s something that happens between consenting adults,” he says, “and who is any one person to call someone else’s sanity, you know? We all live in various degrees of insanity.”
On the contrary, Brand Pup says this type of play is “a nice way of quieting the mind and being more in the moment” and “just responding in an immediate sense to your surroundings and what’s happening right now”.
For Brand Pup, “there’s a sense of fraternity in puppyhood and it is not necessarily only bounded by the edges of the pack.”
That’s right. Some handlers have “puppy packs.” Brand Pup says a pack may consist of just a couple of puppies — or in some cases more than a dozen.
Even though evidence of animal role-play has been around since at least the 1940s, Brand Pup believes puppy play has increased in popularity “over the last five to seven years.” He says this is especially true in countries like Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.
Why? Well, one possible explanation is that it’s a reaction to our overstressed lives.
“Some people who find puppy play really rewarding are the people who … have really high-pressure jobs and all sorts of things happening for them.
“They can come into being a pup and have the hood on and letting go of all of that stuff is such a break from the everyday,” Brand Pup says.
According to Brand Pup, a “whole spectrum” of people are involved in puppy play — gay people, straight people, men, women and everyone in between.
While he has been involved in puppy play for four years, Brand Pup’s 21-year-old friend Rike — yes, that’s a puppy name too — only took it up a few months ago. For Rike, it’s built his confidence and transformed life.
Before taking up this pastime, Rike describes his former self as “socially anxious” and “very, very insular.”
“There were times I had barely left my room for days,” he confesses.
Everything changed when Rike stumbled upon some YouTube videos of puppy play.
“I got really interested in the way they were talking about it … so I decided to have a closer look at it and I bought some gear and went and played for a night,” Rike says.
This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Rike went along to an under 30s kink event in Canberra.
“I left the bathroom after getting changed I thought: ‘What am I doing? I could just go home … I shouldn’t have done this, this is a really bad idea’,” Rike recalls.
His panic subsided when another puppy and handler came over “and we played around for the night and it was a lot more fun than I thought it would be.”
“To know that I can do something like that and everything was OK and everyone was accepting, it’s a very amazing experience,” he says.
Rike echoes Brand Pup’s notion that puppy play allows all insecurities to fall by the wayside.
“Once I’m in that moment it doesn’t matter really what I do,” Rike says, “it’s quite relaxing and exciting at the same time.
“Putting the mask on does separate almost two personalities and … it does help you enter that [pup] mindset.”
After chatting for a while, Rike and Brand Pup don their leather gear and we go outside. Watching the pair engage in puppy play together in the garden is lighthearted and even funny at times. In practice, the puppy play is surprisingly affectionate.
Yet even so, Brand Pup’s height coupled with his handmade cowhide mask makes him appear momentarily intimidating.
“For some people it’s very much tied into the BDSM side of kink and for other people it isn’t,” Brand Pup says, “in my case it relates quite strongly to a more BDSM type of thing because it’s about power exchange. There’s a dominant and submissive thing going on with your handler.”
However, Brand Pup explains that for some pups, the experience is more straightforward than this: “They can be more interested in the freedom.”
While some pups like Rike prefer to play in private. Brand Pup doesn’t. He’s been known to dress up in full pup gear and visit various prominent Canberra locations including: the National Museum of Australia, the Australian National University and even Parliament House.
“For me going and being in public is about challenging perceptions and reducing stigma and getting people to realise that there’s all different types in this world and just to be a bit more open-minded,” he says.