What is puppy play? It is the mental, physical and emotional process whereby a human takes on the role or persona of a dog. A human, often referred to as “hooman” in puppy slang, gets into the mental state (headspace) of letting go of their fears and inhibitions and simulates the characteristics of a puppy. There is a lot that is part of “puppy,” ranging from headspace to aftercare, gear, moshing and, most importantly, safety. All of this combined makes up puppy play.

Now, here is where we come into play.

Handling a puppy is fun, and the benefits to you as the handler are just as rewarding to you as they are for the puppy. People say that puppy play is what you make, which is true. Having said that, my way is not the only way to do things. I speak from the perspective of a handler/ trainer and my personal experiences in the community. 

Our job as a handler is to let pups be pups while helping them to let go of their human side.

Even though we need more handlers in our community, don’t be discouraged if you don’t have one or can’t find one. Just because you don’t have one doesn’t mean you can’t “pup out.” Sometimes an alpha, beta, omega, dog or service pup may step up to play the role of handler, which isn’t uncommon.

As I said before, there are a lot of aspects that go into being a successful handler. Safety should be the first priority. Talk to your pup before you go into any type of play. You should talk about any physical or mental-health issues, types of play they would be open to, whether sexual or non-sexual. Always make sure you’re both on the same page about expectations and what aftercare may be required. 

An important note is that gear is not required for puppy play, As a handler, however, there are some things you should have available for any play session: 1. At the very least, a cup with a straw is necessary to keep your pup and yourself hydrated. 2. I also recommend you keep knee pads (maybe even a second set for yourself), a leash, squeaky toys, treats and protective mitts for a pup’s knuckles, especially if moshing. 3. If you can afford it, get yourself some cushioned floor mats. I have found some on Amazon.com that are relatively inexpensive. 

Let’s talk more about gear for a moment.

Puppies do not have to have a hood, mitts or a tail to be involved with puppy play. Some of it may be cost prohibitive, perhaps for pups just entering the community, so some things you can substitute are socks to put over their hands to restrict movement and make it seem more like paws. Some gear also provides safety, especially MMA-style mitts and wrestling knee pads. If your pup doesn’t have a collar, a bandana could be used as a substitute. Don’t let any pup be discouraged if he or she can’t afford a hood or gear. “Puppy” is an expression of an individual personality, which simply is not defined by the gear he or she has or wears.

There also are a few things to keep in mind when looking for toys.

First, look to see if they can be easily cleaned. Second, try them out. And make sure they are durable. I tend to stay away from rope toys because they are harder to clean. Kong toys are very good for both durability and they can be rinsed or wiped down quite easily.

Puppy’s love treats!

Some of the favorite treats are gummy bears, Scooby snacks, beef jerky, bacon and Reese’s Pieces. Be mindful of any allergies your pup or other pups might have. Be mindful if your pup is diabetic. When in a public mosh, there is a higher chance someone may have a food allergy. If you give your pup a treat and they chew on a toy, the next pup that comes into contact with it may be allergic to the treat you just gave your pup. Be especially mindful of the potential for a pup who may suffer from a nut allergy, since that might require an immediate response in the event of an acute reaction.

Headspace is different for every pup and handler.

You might be surprised that handlers get into headspace as well. You may never notice it, and I didn’t at first until someone pointed it out. Every time I see a puppy, my mind goes a little bit into headspace. When a puppy is in headspace, they act on instinct, while, as a handler, we need to provide the logic in any situation. When I am in my headspace, my focus is on the pup or pups, having fun with them and caring for them. Further, my mind is on the safety of the area they are playing it and anticipating any nonsense they might get into. Try not to get too wrapped up with playing or taking care of your pup that you forget to take care of yourself. Or other stray pups who may need your guidance or help. Just like pups, our headspace is a major part of our lives and personalities.

As handlers, part of our job is to safely take pups in and out of headspace.

There are several methods that can be used to achieve getting into and out of these stages of mind. Hypnotism has helped some pups and provides trigger words that help ease them in and out of it. Gear can help as well. By putting on the knee pads, mitts and/or hood like a ritual may help the pup relax and get into personal headspace. I also have found that guided visualization — talking about playing or imagining other pups around playing and barking — is effective.

The best thing I can tell someone having trouble with developing headspace is to “pretend and don’t overthink it.” Just pretend you are a dog and be in the moment. It can help if he or she has a bio-dog at home or another human pup whom they can romp around with. Don’t get discouraged if your pup is having trouble with headspace, since this develops with time and patience.

Bringing pups out of headspace is extremely important.

You don’t want them to go home barking at their neighbors. There are many ways to bring them out of it. It can involve simply taking off their hoods and mitts or asking them questions that require cognitive thinking, such as math problems or questions that do not require a yes or no response. Part of your discussion beforehand should include talking about how to best get them out of headspace and when they want to come out of it

There are several ways to mosh or romp around.

If you are at home and wanting to romp around, look at the area you will be playing in. Handlers should down on all fours and look around. Be aware of sharp edges on tables and other things that could injure your pup or yourself. Mosh or romp around in something comfortable like shorts or a singlet. Remove all jewelry and dangling things before getting down, as they may get caught on something. It is easy to step on someone’s paws, so remove your shoes and get into some comfortable socks.

More and more handlers are becoming community handlers at moshes, and I love it!

When approaching a puppy to play at a mosh, act as if you were meeting a bio-dog for the first time. First, check to see if that pup has a handler at the mosh. Then, get down (if you can), extend your hand and wait. The pup will either come to you or keep playing, or you can stay on the sideline and toss a ball. I’m sure some pup will fetch it. Do not force a pup to play with you; that is how you can get bitten. 

Sometimes pups are not into moshing and like stay in a quiet area, wanting to be cuddled or get skritches. There is nothing wrong with that. I love a lapdog who wants to lay, cuddle or get skritches in the quiet area in a mosh.

Consent is paramount when it comes to puppy — let alone any other kink.

I’m sure it goes without being said, but I will say it anyway: NEVER touch a pup’s collar or tail without asking first. Ask the handler if he or she is present. If there is no handler present or the pup is a stray, it is fine to ask the puppy for permission to touch his or her collar or give him or her skritches.

I have been asked many times how do you deal with a pup who is misbehaving or doing something wrong.

There are a couple things you can do. First, find the pup’s handler. If you cannot find the handler, you should speak to the designated safety marshal at the mosh. These people are typically identified by an arm band or vest. Pups are playful by nature, but if they are biting, or too much rough housing is occurring, immediate correction is needed. So, carefully remind pups about consent and the rules of conduct for the event. There is quite a difference between cute and assault.

At moshes, pups like to take clothes and socks. That’s just them being mischievous and playful. As handlers, we seem to set ourselves up for that and I enjoy it. I have lost my pants and socks in plenty of moshes, and I had a pup take one of my socks and refuse to give it back. For a while, it’s fun chasing them to get it back, but they can take it too far. Corrections should start with stern verbal commands like “no, stop, give it, drop it” or others. When that doesn’t work, a playful light bop on the snout is sometimes enough to let a Pup know he or she is misbehaving and get his or her attention. Try to handle it in the most passive and non-confrontational way you can. At some point, you should talk to them and explain what happened and why you did what you did. I have noticed at most moshes, it doesn’t get this far and most pups are well behaved.

 Outside of moshing, there are other things you can do with your pup.

Walkies, training and tricks are some of my favorite things to do. Walkies can be with or without a leash. If you have your pup on a leash, be careful not to pull too hard or let it get caught up in something. I am a trainer, so I like to do a lot of training. Some of you have seen me at moshes doing training with my pups. I teach them verbal and non-verbal commands, as well as going over some tricks and rewarding them for positive behavior.

Feeding your pup is another fun activity. Do not use real dog food, of course. That can be dangerous. Instead, try a chunky soup or cereal. Be creative and safe with what you do and feed them.

Aftercare is different for every pup.

Coming out of headspace and back to reality can be overwhelming emotionally for them, because escaping from the real world can be relaxing and therapeutic. Cuddling, positive reinforcement and skritches are ways to sooth them. Some pups want to play video games or watch TV. You should talk to them about what works best. Aftercare is important, although some pups do not require it. They know what works best for them. Still, you should always check up on them.

It’s a different world for us handlers.

We have a major responsibility when taking on or handling pups because they are trusting us to be there for them and to care for them. We provide them with a safe, caring and loving environment while they are letting go of their human side. I know there is a lot to take in and keep in mind, so I hope this article helps you. If in doubt, try to think about how you’d gently treat a cute bio puppy and apply many of the same principles.

At the end of the day, being a handler is a selfless act and we just want our puppies to be happy.