Making Fetch Happen: A Guide to Becoming a Gay Pup

"I always compare being a pup to being a drag queen: No two queens are the same."

For over a year now I’ve enjoyed learning about the fun and friendly world of pup play, a fetish that took me four years to sum up the courage to explore.

I first discovered pup play during Los Angeles Pride in 2015, when I stumbled upon a human-sized kennel filled with submissive men dressed as pups. Popular gear consists of a hood or mask, tail, paws (typically leather mittens), and collar, a symbol of a pup being owned by a sir—the dom’s preferred title—and/or boyfriend. At first, it was bizarre to watch grown men pretend to be dogs. Little did I know that I’d one day be among them, barking on all fours.

Unlike most creatures in the gay animal kingdom, pup is probably one of the harder terms to define. Unlike bears, otters, and twinks, pups are not characterized by their body types. Bears and otters can be pups just as much as twinks and muscle queens. This can make it challenging for first-timers entering the pup community. “How do I become a pup?” is one of the more frequent questions I get these days. The easy answer? “You just do.”

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You choose to be a pup and for each pup, the kind of play varies. Some pups lean into the more sexual dom-sub dynamic of the fetish, with the dom giving the sub orders to perform. The dom may tell his pup to “sit” or more commonly “lick his boot,” and once the pup has performed to the dom’s satisfaction, he may reward his pup with sexual acts. This is a form of negotiation between sir and pup—an essential part of BDSM play. After the exchange, both should feel fulfilled.

If this dynamic isn’t your cup of tea, there is a platonic portion of the community that enjoys the headspace of pup play above all else. These folks will hold non-sexual play parties where pups can wrestle, play with chew toys, and run around together. While sirs may not typically attend these events, they often attend annual pet play contests. As I’ve described it to many of my friends, think of the movie Best in Show, but with humans performing as the animals. One of my favorites to watch is the herding challenge: A non-participant—this could be a pup or any volunteer—dresses up as a sheep and the pup must herd that person into a pen.

While there is overlap between the furry and pup communities, the history of pups is more closely tied to the leather community. That is because of their parallels with “slaves” or “boys” who are serving a dom or master. However, pups stand out because of their playful nature and spirit. Being on all fours is a pleasurable and natural form for a pup. Whereas slaves or boys are typically looking to be demeaned in service to their master, a pup’s goal is to be a “good boy” and receive “scritches” (the pup term for belly rubs or head rubs).

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There’s no singular way to engage in pup play. It’s not like piss play or fisting, which is, for the most part, pretty cut and dry. It’s why I always compare being a pup to being a drag queen: No two queens are the same. There’s no right or wrong with drag. Once you realize this, everything seems to fall into place.

Many pups get caught up on finding a sir or a pack. I wish I could say I had concrete advice, but the truth is that these things often just come in time. Pups find their sirs by attending many pup events and putting themselves out there; others find their sirs online. It’s similar to dating; sirs’ tastes, kinks, and personalities often have to match with their pups. If you’re a pup who does not like forceful play then stepping into a relationship with a sir that does may not be the best fit.

A pup without a sir or pack is usually considered a feral pup. Pups can stay feral if they prefer, it’s up to them. Over time, a feral pup may find a pack or sir of his own, or, in many cases, he will start his own pack. Being feral is not a bad thing–it’s how we all start. These pups can play with other packs and sirs without restraint, testing their limits and discovering the aspects of the fetish they like or don’t like.

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Like a good love story, I found my sir and pack when I was just focusing on myself and growing as a pup, rather than outright searching. I have a more unusual dynamic with my sir, as he is also my boyfriend. While he is not as dominant as others, he does enjoy the same silliness of pup play that I enjoy. He will give me treats for when I perform acts of service for him, anything from doing the dishes to playing fetch.

There is no rule book when it comes to pup play, and this is the element I love most about it. My sir and I continue to learn from each other, and our dynamic and relationship continue to grow. And while evolution in pup play is non-stop, the strong sense of belonging remains constant.

Jonathan James is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, CA.
@jjwritestuff