The Origins of Pet & Puppy Play

Human Pup is being photographed.

The Unintended Social Construction of Puppy Play

When music confuses the heart
and the longing goes dancing
when one's soul goes astray
then only a prayer will help
God, save us from horror
whose terror tempts us
don't let us look in the depths
whose abyss touches us
God, free us from the urge
to do what is forbidden
let the inclination towards doom
resting at the bottom of one's soul
And forgive us our yaws
after the evil and the night
don't let us lose our heads
when the beast within us awakens!
God, protect us from the addiction
of wanting more than we should
and stop us from escaping
when lust overcomes us.
God, enclose our desires
blind us to temptation
give us strength not to be weak
make us stronger than we are

[Lyrics from The Song „A Prayer“ from the Musical „Dance of the Vampires“ (translated from German)]

As we have seen, the definition of “animal” and “human”, of “nature” and “culture” make up a big part of our socialization. We have to control both the outer nature, for instance, in the form of animals, as well as inner nature, for example, the so-called “animal within.” This seems to be clear.

It’s also clear that some people get pleasure, often even sexual pleasure, from doing the exact opposite, i.e. from taking on the role of an animal in pet play. So how is this possible?

My suggestion is that this form of socialization inevitably leads to enormous internal pressure. We cannot consistently control these inner tensions between what we are (i.e. one animal among many) and what we are supposed to be (i.e. the opposite of an animal). These tensions, therefore, have the potential to discharge themselves in play, sometimes even in sexual play, by letting ourselves fall into precisely that which we are supposed to avoid altogether. In other words: it might turn us on to allow what we should continuously suppress. The forbidden, the danger, the taboo develops at the same time an incredibly strong potential of arousal and relief. Because we must always control our “inner animal”, it can be incredibly arousing for us to allow the forbidden, to let ourselves fall, to “become an animal”. The Pet Play fetish is born.

Because we must always control our “inner animal”, it can be incredibly arousing for us to allow the forbidden, to let ourselves fall, to “become an animal”.

But why dogs?

Dogs being taken for a walk on leashes

But out of all the species, why are dogs the most commonly used one? Of course, there are similar fetishes with other animal species, such as cats, horses, pigs, foxes, etc. I once saw an interview with someone who wanted to be butchered like a pig. Ironically, he grew up on a farm, which, again, supports the theory that these fetishes are a byproduct of our socialization. However, no animal species seems to be better suited for pet play than dogs. And there is a reason for it: No other animal species’ domestication is more visible in most people’s everyday lives.

No other animal species’ domestication is more visible in most people’s everyday lives than the dog’s.

I quote a 36-year-old male pup player I once interview for this theory, asking him why he likes to play a dog and not another animal species:

“Dogs are always on a leash. Of course, you can put any other animal on a leash as well. But with a dog, it is just most natural. And above all the training, (…) that’s something you associate with – for me – I associate it much more with the dog. (…) Cats… yes, I don’t know, for me every other animal is not as interesting (…) [as a dog], who really follows its master foolishly faithful. (…) For me, the beauty of being a puppy is to sit between the legs of a master. And to stay there for a longer time and do nothing. Which in my opinion, is something that neither cats really do (…). Cats are rather seen as egomaniacal.”

The domestication of the animal is much more evident in the submissive dog than in the less human-oriented cat. Pigs, cows, and other farmed animals are also socially oppressed by the billions, and their subjugation is much crueller in factory farming than the comparatively gentle domestication of the dog. However, this happens in windowless buildings, to which most people have no access. Their suppression is stronger but invisible. Thus, it does not have that much of an effect on most people’s socialization. What remains is the most visible form of domestication of the animal: the dog.

The popularity of the dog for the pet play fetish is due to the social visibility of its open domestication. This does not mean that the domestication or suppression of other animal species may not be visible to some people with different lives, experiences, childhoods and backgrounds. Other animal species might also potentially be suitable for the pet play fetish (which for some they are). For the control and subjugation of nature, of the (inner and outer) animal, of the instinct, the wild, the danger, for this control by humans, by their reason, their culture and their civilization, the dog remains the symbolic animal par excellence. The dog might offer the highest potential for releasing the inner tensions created by the human/culture vs animal/nature dualism. Breaking out of this dualism by slipping into the role of a dog thus might offer an unbelievably strong potential for liberation.

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