The Origins of Pet & Puppy Play

Human Pup is being photographed.

Puppy Play is a form of Pet Play, or Animal Roleplay, where humans take on the persona of non-human animals, in this case dogs or other canines, or their handlers. Where does this fetish come from?


A couple of years after moving to Berlin, I visited the gay-lesbian street festival, a weekend-long queer event happening each year before Pride. I was standing by some info booth when suddenly something to my left caught my eye. A very tall, muscled, dominant-looking man was standing there all dressed up in leather. He was talking to a woman in very regular clothes, chit-chatting I assume, as they seemed friendly with each other and smiling. Next to the woman was a small child, I would guess about five years old, and I assume the woman was his mother. While the mother was chit-chatting to the man in leather, the child was laughing uncontrollably at a dog barking at him in front of him. Only the dog wasn’t a dog. It was another man dressed up like a dog. And the man in leather was his handler, holding him on the leash.

The “dog” was barking at the child, the child was laughing, and the mother was chit-chatting with the handler as though this was the most regular thing in the world. This was one of the first times I was faced with pet play. But the following years saw an uprise in this fetish like almost nothing I ever saw before. Pet play, especially puppy play, became such a beloved fetish, and I was fascinated by it. I wanted to understand why more and more people got a sexual kick out of dressing up as non-human animals. And why is the dog the most commonly used species for pet play?

What is Pet Play?

But first, we must define what pet play and puppy play are.

Pet Play, or Animal Roleplay, is a form of roleplay where humans take on the persona of non-human animals or their handlers, often but by far not always within a sexual context. Pet Play has many connections to the BDSM community, as it often plays with elements of discipline or dominance and submission.

Pup Play, or Puppy Play, is a specific form of pet play, where humans take on the persona of young dogs or other canines, especially puppies, as well as their handlers. It seems that dogs are the most commonly used species for pet play, and in this article, I will try to propose an answer to why that might be.

Now, Pet and Puppy Play are not always sexual. Some people also engage in exclusively non-sexual pet play; others might change between sexual and social pet play. Apart from sexual pleasure, studies also found other motives for joining in Puppy Play1, which are

  • relaxation, therapy, and escape from self,
  • adult play and vibrant physicality,
  • extending and expressing selfhood,
  • and relationships and community.

Especially the motive of relaxation, therapy, and escape from self is linked to what puppy players call “headspace,” which they allow themselves to fall into. In studies, puppy players described this headspace was almost a “Zen-like, preverbal state” that allowed them to relax after a hard day at work.2

Pet Play is not bestiality or zoophilia. Pet Play is consensual sexual or social play involving exclusively consenting human adults.

Now, I want to make very clear that Pet Play is not bestiality or zoophilia, i.e. humans having sex with non-human animals. Pet Play is consensual sexual or social play involving exclusively consenting human adults. Finally, I also want to make clear that I do not regard Pet Play as a pathology, to the contrary. It is my and other scholars’ belief that Pet Play, just like other forms of BDSM, kinky, and social play, might even present therapeutic benefits, ranging from relaxation and mindfulness to even trauma-healing effects.

Pet Play, just like other forms of BDSM, kinky, and social play, might present therapeutic benefits, ranging from relaxation and mindfulness to even trauma-healing effects.

Now that we have defined Pet and Puppy Play, let’s move on. In this article, I will specifically look at the sexual aspect of Puppy Play by proposing to apply my theory of the origins of sexual fetishes. For this, I first need to define what I mean by fetish.

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