Relaxation, Therapy, and Escape from Self
Most of the participants stress the relaxation that comes from the practice, along with the therapeutic value. It appears that being a puppy offers people an opportunity to let go of adult responsibilities and instead embrace a joyful exuberance unencumbered by expectations about “appropriate” behavior for an adult. As Wignall and McCormack (2017) point out, this playful “freedom” is perceived as a relief from the stresses and strains of adult life and operates as a powerful form of relaxation.
The role of handler carries responsibility for looking after their puppy or puppies and so does not provide such a straightforwardly relaxing opportunity but is instead more focused on dominance (especially within D/s sexual practice), ownership and/or care with more vulnerable, playful, and sometimes somewhat irresponsible others. The standard joke within the community is that “All handlers are is a walking rucksack for water” (Benny), albeit clearly their role within dominant sexual activity, and in training and looking after pups, means they are much more central to this activity than simply being people with rucksacks to hand ready to provide water to a dehydrated pup. Being a handler therefore involves “helping others,” notably pups in this case, to move from human to pup role and then play as a pup safely, with minimal adult responsibility.
As has been noted previously (Wignall & McCormack, 2017), the notion of puppy headspace is a critical aspect of the experience of puppy play. Although some participants report being able to enter headspace on their own in quiet contemplation, detailed descriptions of experiences of puppy headspace reveal something akin to a physically active mindfulness for many others.
Temporality is key here as the focus is intensely in the present, with worries about past or future stripped away. Participants describe a sense of being a puppy as “simple” and “immediate,” unfettered by an excess of cognitive processing or reflective thought. What is felt is then intensified. Even though it was clearly possible for some to experience the puppy headspace without use of any equipment, for many the process of becoming a puppy is facilitated through the use of puppy paraphernalia. Participants described the use of “gear,” notably including the puppy hood, knee and paw pads, collar and tail as well as shifts in their body, moving on to all fours and becoming nonverbal, communicating only as a dog would. Hoods served to limit visual awareness with a more limited focus, and restrict hearing, while also involving auditory feedback through hearing your own breath, both likely helpful in enabling the wearer to stay focused on mundane repetitive tasks like batting a ball around.
In addition to the impact of hoods, gloves, and tails, there were also certain activities and sensations that played a role in the transformation process of moving from human to pup role. Some described how the sound of a squeaky toy or act of playing with a ball would also help shift their perception from human to dog. It is important to note that the psychological benefits of puppy headspace are not the result of mimicking a puppy per se. That is, even though being a puppy necessitates a person acting like a puppy (on all fours, non-speaking, being playful, etc.) this is not sufficient for the experience of puppy headspace. In addition to mimesis is the need to “become a puppy.” By becoming a puppy the practitioner is able to switch off—or strip away—being human, at least temporarily. The essence of puppy headspace is an unreflective and unprocessed now, in which a person’s adult sensibilities and responsibilities are cast off, as if one actually were a dog.
In a similar manner to headspace among submissives/masochists in BDSM, puppy headspace (or “pupspace”) indicates the moment in which there is minimal reflective self at play. That is, in line with the arguments from Baumeister (1988, 1991) about the appeal of masochism, a central feature of the psychological experience of puppy play is an escape from self. Indeed, Baumeister’s (1991) description of the key elements of masochism as escape from self is also remarkably resonant for understanding puppy play too. However, there are some subtle but important differences in the process of stripping away the self between the pup experience reported here and Baumeister’s theory of escape from self. He argues that the process of stripping away the self is achieved through reduction in esteem, loss of control, becoming someone else, merging with the partner, and becoming concrete and rigid. Much of this is highly salient for puppy play of course but—as mentioned above—although the aim is to cast off a person’s human (reflective) self there remains a degree of agency and control in puppy play, along with a focus on play (discussed below), that marks it off experientially from being simply understood in exactly the same terms as masochism or submission.
The value of adult play features as a critical factor in puppy play for most participants. This notion is of course immediately present through the choice to be a puppy rather than dog in most, though not all, cases (one participant identified as a “hound” or “service dog,” another as a “wolf,” for instance). Puppies are inherently playful, mischievous and also much loved in Western cultures (McHugh, 2004). Play is associated with freedom with recognition of how this is typically associated with children’s play.
In classic leather/BDSM terms, puppies also require discipline and training in order to mature into dogs that are pleasant to have around the house. Interestingly, for most participants in our study the focus of their practice remains consistently fixed on being a puppy with a transition from puppy to dog abandoned. A key reason for this is the importance of engaging in play, the appeal of chasing a ball and having fun with physical rough and tumble play with others. The freedom of the pup can be contrasted with the role of the handler, who carries not only the water but also much of the adult responsibility, keeping an eye out for safety and the passing of time as the pups play.
Participants were clear to explain this was not a delusional practice: they do not believe they actually are puppies, but instead a serious creation of a play space in which they may lose themselves in a moment of role-play through physical exertion, joy, and a vibrant physicality that is apparently unavailable to them in other ways in their lives.
The inherent physicality of puppy play, with people running around on all fours batting balls to and fro, playing rough and tumble with each other or otherwise being “playful puppies” is undoubtedly important for many participants. Puppy play also appeared to serve a beneficial purpose in terms of the value of bodily touch and changing a person’s body , providing an important barrier-free (non-sexual) space for physical affection and even the opportunity for an improved sense of body . Not only is there an escape from the self in psychological terms but also a sense of being able to step back from a person’s bodily inhibitions and enjoy and embrace their physicality.
Concerns about prejudice regarding age, something that is felt to be particularly acute within gay/bisexual male communities (Monaghan, 2005), may also be ameliorated through the use of gear in puppy play allied to a pup attitude. There is clearly some sense of being able to “pass” (Goffman, 1963) here, with the puppy gear allowing people to express how they feel they are “inside” rather than feeling bound by expectations around age appropriate activity.
The physicality of pup play is not all positive, however, as some participants reported feeling detached or alienated from their environment if they were unable to engage in the same physical manner as others, particularly if they were less physically fit or older. Regardless, even these situations were creatively refigured so that their detachment made sense. In the example below, we can see how this participant sought to story his experience as “a dog hiding under the table during fireworks” as a way to make sense of his activity and place within the setting.
Beyond the psychologically benefits of relaxation, mindfulness, escape from self, and play described above, it was also apparent that puppy play had an additional psychological role in how it enabled some participants the opportunity to explore different aspects of their personality. BDSM practice has previously been discussed for the potential benefits it might have for exploring different aspects of selfhood (see, for example, Easton, 2013; Henkin, 2013). What is unusual here is how there can be human and (non-human) animal “I-positions” (Hermans, 1996, 2001, 2003) that express different aspects of selfhood. This might involve an otherwise quiet and/or reserved person feeling more confident or outgoing or a serious person being more playful. The key is how the puppy role enables the participant to explore a new “I-position,” a new aspect of selfhood, try it on for size, or express some personal perception of the “real me.”
Further, participants also describe how their puppy persona can be helpful to their human persona, with these two otherwise separate aspects of selfhood coming into dialogue with each other over time. Here, participants not only experience a new I-position but demonstrate the power of the (non-human) animal aspect of a dialogical self (the mind’s ability to imagine different aspects of self in dialogue) to transfer to the human I-position in such a way that they can learn and develop on the basis of their puppy identity and practice.
At its most extreme, this can also be an activity in which the puppy persona assists the human in managing their mental health. In the example below, the participant describes how they believe their puppy persona helps reduce worry and that they facilitate the process of carrying this aspect of their sense of self with them through symbolic identity tags (a collar and tattoo). The collar and tattoo act as tokens of an important aspect of identity and were relatively common across the sample.
A key element for most participants that was not explored in the study by Wignall and McCormack (2017) was the way that puppy play is inherently relational. People did of course describe moments in which they sat alone in their puppy hood or curled up in their dog basket in order to experience what they perceived as the psychologically beneficial qualities of this practice but much more common were rich descriptions of being a puppy in relation with other puppies, handlers and the wider community. For the vast majority of participants, puppy play involves deep and meaningful relationships with a number of potential others: other pups, packs, handlers (where either of those exist), and crucially the wider puppy community locally and around the world, in person and online.
The puppy self is also co-produced for very many of our participants, with one or several others playing a key role in helping to effect the process of transformation from human to pup. This may take the shape of handlers or alphas (puppies who are hierarchically more dominant) physically assisting pups in putting on their gear (lacing up hoods, pulling on mitts and so on), or finding other ways to facilitate the shift into puppy headspace by, as a commonly mentioned example, adopting a style of speech one would usually hear directed toward “real” (or “bio-”) dogs.
The relationships between puppies and the various others who help produce the transformation are invariably characterized by deep trust and affection, whether this is toward the human handler, or to other puppies within a pack, or simply to other close friends within broader pup community. Participants often deployed familial terms to describe their relationships with other puppies similar in nature to those used in LGBQ communities (“families of choice”: Weston, 1991), or associated their pack relationships with their human world attachments, romantic, or otherwise. Indeed, pup relationships often carry through into the human world as close interpersonal bonds.
To date, there has been only one study conducted on the sexual behavior known as puppy (or pup) play (Wignall, 2017; Wignall & McCormack, 2017). This UK-based study provided a valuable initial insight into this practice with the study presented herein designed to deepen and extend our understanding further. This is particularly significant given the growing presence of puppy play on the Internet and potential growth in numbers of people engaging in this practice (Lawson & Langdridge, 2019, and this study; Wignall, 2017). Through a qualitative psychological analysis informed by phenomenology, we focused on discerning the meaning of the experience of puppy play. Through this methodology, we have identified a number of key characteristics that constitute this practice, which also help to make sense of peoples’ desire to participate. These key elements include: (1) sexual pleasure; (2) relaxation, therapy, and escape from self; (3) adult play and vibrant physicality; (4) extending and expressing selfhood; and (5) relationships and community. We contend that these elements represent the key facets of this practice and discuss each of them below.
A central feature of puppy play for a large number of participants was sexual pleasure. In keeping with the historical basis of this practice in the D/s BDSM/leather community (Lawson & Langdridge, 2019; St. Clair, 2015), much of this sexual practice was focused on dominance and submission. The subservient nature of a puppy/dog fits well with this sexual framing, especially when enhanced through the use of various paraphernalia such as plug-in tails. A notable distinction between puppy play and more traditional submissive sexual activity was, however, the way that participants posited that puppy play involves more playfulness, less pain, and—most importantly—more agency and independence. It is somewhat ironic that the reduction of person to animal within a D/s sexual setting results in a practice where the submissive has more independence, but this was clearly a key (positive) element in this practice that distinguished it from more usual D/s activity. Even though sexual activity was a key driver for very many participants, the vast majority in fact, there was a set of people for whom there was no sexual appeal to puppy play at all, with a clear distinction in the motivation to participate in this practice between these two sets of people.
Find similar words to puppy using the buttons below.
Suggested Resources(0.00 / 0 votes)Rate this definition:
Aggressive Puppies Vs. Normal Puppies
Even though you probably think of a young, cuddly dog when you hear the word pup, a pup is the correct name for the young of many different mammals (even the not-so-cuddly porcupine!).
When your dog has babies, theyre pups, and the same is true of baby wolves. Whats more surprising is that so are the baby anteaters in the zoo, as well as the offspring of sea lions, gerbils, and mongooses, among others. Sometimes this noun is also used to mean a young person whos particularly naive or arrogant. Pup comes from puppy, from the Middle French poupée, “doll.” Definitions of