Bdsm

Inside the World of Pet Play

Published: OCTOBER 31, 2023
The pet play dynamic is all about exploring dominance and submission, escaping from reality and having a bit of fun.

The ins and outs of pet play - which is a form of role play where at least one participant plays the part of an animal - may still be shrouded in stigma, but there is evidence that this kink is growing in popularity. In the most basic sense, dressing up as and behaving like an animal is nothing new. It can be as simple as going as a cat to a Halloween party. But for longtime pet play enthusiast Erik Freudenberg, better known to his followers as Pup Kiva, participating in pet play has become an outlet for uninhibited sexual expression unlike he’d experienced before.


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“I can shape Kiva into anything I like. I used that as an opportunity to admit to myself that I’m gay,” says Freudenberg, who was initially drawn into the colorful world of the furry-fandom before discovering he related more deeply to the kinkier world of pet play and BDSM. “I used Kiva as a way to finally live out my gay feelings. I’ve never been happier since I came out, and putting on the puppy-hood played a major role in attaining that happiness.”

I’ve never been happier since I came out, and putting on the puppy-hood played a major role in attaining that happiness.


From adding a thrilling new layer to D/s dynamics, to becoming a tantalizing outlet for sexual pleasure, to providing a means of escape from your day-to-day identity, there are countless reasons people lean into pet play and even more ways to practice it. Whether you’re brand new to the space or an established pet/owner looking to gain a little more insight, here’s an intimate look at the world of pet play from the people who make it a part of their life. (In other words, straight from the pony’s mouth!)


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Read: Beginner's Guide to Pet Play

The Basics of Pet Play


A pair of pups dress in pet play gearA pair of pups at Folsom Street East Festival in San Francisco
Image:
Flickr/istolethetv


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There are a few culturally resonant theories about where exactly pet play came from. Throughout the 20th century, it’s clear that BDSM practitioners became drawn to dressing as animals since doing so explores themes of dominance, submission and degradation through scenes involving training, riding, or disciplining a pet. Pet play also has significant roots in BDSM leather culture, particularly in the gay community, since dressing in a leather mask, harness, or a collar is par for the course for leather play. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that while a significant part of the pet play community is made up of gay men, this experience is truly for everyone, no matter to what degree you plan to engage.

While pet players and the furries who first caught Freudenberg’s attention certainly have overlap, they’re also distinctly different. Furry fandom is a culture interested in anthropomorphic animal characters who typically have human personalities. A furry fetish takes that a step further toward the sexual. Pet play falls under the BDSM umbrella and is more commonly associated with sexual role play.

Pet play is all about finding and embracing your inner animal, but most people in the community engage in it as a kink. In fact, according to one study by Langdridge and Lawson, 90% of people who enjoy pup play do so sexually. However, when asked the one thing he wants people to know about pet play, Freudenberg says he’d emphasize that this fetish is not in any way connected to zoophilia.


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“I get this way too often from people not familiar with it and I can’t stress it enough,” he said.

Refining Your Pet Persona

While Freudenberg began by exploring pony play, he’s been a part of pet play culture as a puppy since 2021.

“I felt like I could relate the most to the puppy-to-human and puppy-to-puppy dynamic, therefore it was easiest for me to get into the headspace of a puppy,” he says.


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Read: An In-Depth Look at Pony Play

While people choose the animal they role play for a variety of reasons - kittens or puppies because they feel the most familiar, ponies because of the service element of pulling a cart - there’s no rhyme or ritual to what animal you feel closest to if pet or animal play is of interest to you. Experimenting as a fox, pup, pony or beyond and seeing what feels right can be a cathartic part of developing your animal persona.


If experimentation looks to you like putting on ears or wearing a butt plug with a tail attached, there’s plenty to discuss when it comes to gear. But, according to Freudenberg, you don’t need all of the bells and whistles to tap into your animal self.


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“Fetish-specific equipment is not the quintessence of pet play,” he said. “For a long time, I was afraid my gear wouldn’t be enough to take part in the community, but I now know that even when I wear just my chain with a dog tag, it can be the catalyst to get into the headspace.”

To start practicing pet play in your day-to-day life, you don’t need much more than a basic understanding of what you’d like to get out of your experience. According to one study by Langdridge and Lawson, the motivations to dive into pet play range from sexual pleasure, to relaxation therapy, to self-expression, to building relationships. So ask yourself: What empowers you to express yourself as an animal? Do you want it to become a pivotal part of the foreplay experience when you’re having sex? Are you looking to be owned or to own? Is this an experience you’d like to have with others, or does it spark more joy to envision practicing pet play on your own?

Want to experiment with pet play? Ask yourself this: What empowers you to express yourself as an animal?

There are no wrong or right answers. Simply start by trying to nail the physicality of becoming the animal of your choosing. Bark or meow the way you think they might. Get to know your interests, comfort level and boundaries. If you’re planning to enjoy the D/s element of pet play with an owner or partner, know that communication is key to ensure that everyone's desires and boundaries are understood and respected throughout the experience.

You can enhance your pet play experience, no matter how you choose to practice it, by developing a distinct animal personality and getting to know that alter ego well. If you’re a long time practitioner looking to delve deeper into the space, take the time to write out the answers to the following questions:

  • Name: Your pet name is usually different from your go-by name.

  • Species: Consider what type of animal speaks to you most.

  • Color: Determining what your puppy or kitten self looks like can go a long way in helping you sink into the headspace during a scene. It’s helpful in selecting gear as well.

  • Traits: Are you mischievous or bratty? Sassy or sweet? Aloof or friendly? Aside from making your pet persona more distinct, knowing your pet’s typical behavior can also make your roleplay more spicy.

  • Role: If you’re planning on engaging in pet play with others, it's useful to know how you fit into groups, such as whether you’re a beta or an alpha.

Read: I Tried a Realistic Horse Dildo. Here's What It Was Like.

Pet Play In Practice

Role playing as your animal of choice will look different to everyone. Professional and lifestyle dominatrix Aviva Diamond knows this better than anyone, as she’s worked with countless practitioners who like to be trained, treated like a domestic animal or disciplined.

"Puppy and pony play are great for submissives who enjoy training and protocol,” she tells Kinkly. She often teaches her subs tricks, trains them on desired behaviors, and uses them for service acts - like fetch.

“Pet play is deeply dehumanizing, so I find that a lot of pet play subs also enjoy humiliation and degradation.”

Whether you’re a pet or an owner, if humiliation is part of your play, having your puppy hump your leg or riding your sub like a pony can be incredibly stimulating. Diamond also recommends tapping into sensory play by having your pet sniff various parts of your body similarly to how a real animal would.

While Diamond says a lot of her clients identify as pups, she doesn’t work with as many kittens since their bratty nature doesn’t quite align with her own kinks.

“Kitten play is good for bratty bottom subs who want to take on a cat’s demeanor and prefer to be pampered and cared for as an owned pet, rather than being in service to their owner,” she explains.

Ideas for a Pet Play Scene


When asked how she’d normally conduct a pet play scene, Diamond detailed the following:

Start With a Ritual

Start with the submissive stripping naked, getting on their hands and knees, and kissing the owner’s feet - or another ritual of your choice. “A ritual like this lends itself easily to starting a pet play scene,” she says. By beginning the scene immediately with a decisive act of submission, the pet may more quickly enter subspace.

Set the Scene

Diamond likes to have certain props on hand to make the scene come to life. This might include a collar and leash, dog or cat bowls filled with food and water, puppy pads, an animal cage, treats and toys, and beyond. When she’s working with a pony, she’ll include a saddle and a riding crop. Of course, if your role playing dynamic doesn’t lend itself to elaborate props or gear, you can repurpose your usual kitchen bowls or a belt to use as a leash.

Set Boundaries

Together, determine what behaviors are commonplace. It’s important to collaborate before any BDSM scene on what all parties are comfortable with and what boundaries need to be respected during play. Have a conversation beforehand about what rules or behaviors will be typical of your pet play. For example, will the submissive party be allowed any clothing? Will they be expected to remain on their hands and knees? “I prefer not to have my subs speak when they’re behaving as my pet, so they only make animal noises as a response unless they use a safeword to slow down or end a scene,” Diamond said.

Read: How to Make a BDSM Contract

Try Dirty Talk

Dirty talk can bring the reality of the scene to life for all parties. Diamond relies on praise to reinforce good behavior, such as “good boy,” “good girl,” “what a good puppy,” and beyond - consistent with how you might handle an actual pet. She also engages in verbal humiliation with her submissives. Think: “You’re just a filthy dog, “lick the food off the floor,” or “no dogs on the bed, stay down there on the floor.”

Consider a Training Objective

Teaching and rewarding is a key part of pet play when it comes to BDSM. Diamond recommends using a specific reward, such as an orgasm, to bring the training element to life.

Getting Involved With The Pet Play Community

If you’re thinking about getting to know the pet play community, the first step is understanding that this practice is truly for everyone. This is something that Ryan Warn from Puppy Play Expert strives to emphasize when he talks to pet players, both new and old, in the space.

“Our community takes pride in its inclusivity and open-mindedness, welcoming individuals of any gender, sexual orientation, identity and age with open arms,” he said.

Read: Welcome to the Dungeon: How to Join the BDSM Community

When you’re looking into the world of pet play and want to connect with other pets and owners locally, taking those initial steps can be daunting. However, according to Warn, there are simple ways to get involved.

“First off, we recommend dipping your paws into the online community,” he says. “Many cities have active pup play groups on Facebook where you can join and stay in the loop about upcoming events and meetups. It's a fantastic way to start building connections and getting to know fellow pups in your area.”

Another excellent option, especially for beginners, is to keep an eye out for monthly pup meetups at local bars. According to Warn, these events are often hosted by experienced pups or handlers who are incredibly welcoming to newcomers, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pup.

Already ingratiated in the space and seeking a long-term pet playmate? Online groups might once again prove to be your best friend. Warn says that apps like Grindr, Pup Space and Facebook can be valuable resources if you’re looking for like-minded individuals.

“Once you've connected with potential playmates, the next step is to meet up in person. This meetup can take various forms, whether it's grabbing a coffee together, arranging a pup play date, or simply going for a leisurely walk in the park to get to know each other,” Warn said. In this way, it’s a lot like vanilla dating. “The most crucial aspect is that you feel comfortable around your potential playmate, both when you're in pup mode and when you're not.”

All in all, you can expect the pet play community to be vibrant and welcoming. It's a place where people come together to explore a different side of themselves. When you dive into pet play, you get the chance to step away from the stresses of everyday life and create a persona that's all about being creative and having a blast. It's a journey of self-exploration, and Warn says the community is filled with individuals who are eager to experiment and break free from societal norms.

“If you're curious about what to expect at an event or convention, envision a space filled with friendly (pup) faces, a lot of playful pup moshes, and a genuine eagerness to socialize and learn from one another. It's an environment where you can truly be yourself and embrace the unique world of pet play,” he explains.

Procuring Your Pet Play Toys

If you’re just beginning your journey into pet play, Warn recommends starting with a hood.

“It might sound simple, but putting on a hood and looking at yourself in the mirror can be a powerful way to switch into that mindset,” Warn says. “When you see yourself wearing adorable ears or a boop-able nose, it's a reminder that you're leaving the worries of the everyday world behind.”

Puppy play kit with ears, tail and butt plugThe Tailz Pet Play Kit provides a simple ear and tails to help you get in the spirit.

To complement your hood, consider a latex bodysuit or some lacey lingerie that aligns with your persona. Whether you’re drawn to something snug-fitting or something adorned with fur that makes you feel more animal-like, covering your whole body in gear might make it easier to embrace your pet persona.

Looking to fully explore the D/s aspect of puppy play with a partner? Take a page from Diamond's book and explore props for impact play, leashes and harnesses, or toys that transform your bedroom into a puppy playland. Ultimately, building a sex toy chest is all about whatever makes the role playing experience most colorful for you.

Puppy play set including bone-shaped gag, butt plug with tail and collar with leashThis Puppy Play Set from Tailz has everything you need to get started as a pup.

“If you're a seasoned pet looking to take things to the next level, we recommend exploring local gear makers or custom pieces on platforms like Etsy,” says Warn. “This allows you to create a gear ensemble that perfectly matches your unique pup identity.”

Whether it's customized hoods, suits or accessories, going the custom route lets you express your individuality and create a gear collection that truly speaks to your inner pet.

The Bottom Line

It doesn’t always take an elaborate array of props to engage in a satisfying D/s scene with your handler, or to join in on the fun that’s taking place amongst pet play practitioners in your area. Ultimately, pet play is about freeing yourself of inhibitions and finding a unique form of self-expression, just like Pup Kiva. It’s about relinquishing control to live out exciting sexual experiences.

When it comes to the community that underscores pet playing, Warn attests that you can expect “a warm and friendly atmosphere where people are playful and open to connecting with others.”

“It’s a place where you’ll see pup packs forming, which are like close-knit groups of pup friends,” he tells Kinkly. “People love to share tips and tricks, and there's a wonderful exchange of knowledge and experiences among the different roles within the pet play community.”

Sometimes, adding a new layer to the way you express yourself sexually is simply about putting one paw in front of the other. To further enhance your experience with pet play, investigate getting to know your animal persona better by thinking about their looks, personality, or how they interact in groups. Or, do some research into custom gear. It could go a long way in bringing your fantasies to fruition.

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Elizabeth Kirkhorn

Elizabeth Kirkhorn is a writer and essayist living in Manhattan. She is a graduate of The New School's MFA in Writing and currently lends her voice to a Creative Strategy Role at Dotdash Meredith, where she focuses on health & wellness brands. Elizabeth's writing spans a wide range of kinks and curiosities, and can be found on O.school, MysteryVibe, Byrdie, and beyond. Elizabeth's personal passions include creating fetish content that's friendly and accessible to all...

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