Handler David |||

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard terms like pet play” or pup play” and are interested in what that means. Great news, you’re in the right place for that. This article will cover the foundational concepts of pet play and (hopefully) leave you with an initial concept to explore further if you so choose.

Before going you read too far in this article, I’d like to stress that while this article tends to reflect common beliefs and practices in pet play as I’ve observed them; it’s not meant to dictate how any one particular person should enjoy pet play. Everyone tends to practice pet play in their own way, so don’t be afraid to stray” if it might mean you enjoy your practice more. There is no single right” way to enjoy pet play.

What Is Pet Play?

Pet play (as I like to define it, at least) is an interest centered around folks who like to embody and enjoy the headspace of pets (most traditionally, dogs or pups”) and the people who love them. That is, the primary group of participants in pet play (“pets”) enjoy the experience of what’s called the headspace” of their animal(s) of choice, setting aside the challenges and complexities of daily human life and embracing the relative simplicity of the mind of a pet. Other participants in pet play tend to play more supporting” roles in the space, such as Handlers and Trainers (no need to worry about what these mean just yet), and may or may not enter a headspace of their own as part of their participation.

A (Very Quick) History of Pet Play

Despite its increasing popularity and visibility, pet play has been around for quite some time, with some earlier forms of pet play being observed in the early 1900s. Some argue that the roots of pet play go back even further. Many of the historical forms of pet play center around embodying the mindset (and in some cases, appearance) of an animal, but the specific executions on that concept tend to vary over time.

The forms of pet play seen today took shape around the same time as the dawn of the leather scene, but there is debate about whether pet play technically falls under the leather umbrella.”

Roles in Pet Play

When someone interested in pet play introduces themselves, they’ll typically describe themselves in part by sharing what their role is in the community. These roles distinguish different types of pet play enjoyers and can enforce certain power dynamics between different individuals in the community. Among the most popular roles are pets, pups, kitties, Handlers, and Trainers. Some (but not all) dynamics in pet play follow the Dominant/submissive (“D/s” for short) model from the BDSM community. This means that in pairs of people following this model, there is one individual who assumes a Dominant role (who assumes power over the other person) and another who assumes a submissive role (by submitting” to the other person). This is often seen at play when observing pet play dynamics such as Handler-pup and Alpha-beta, which can have inherent power structures built in, but not all those in the pet play world adopt such dynamics. In fact, some dynamics in the community don’t include a power dynamic, or those involved may see each other as equals.

Pets, Pups, and Kittens, Oh My

The most common role in pet play (and rightly so) is a pet, or someone who enjoys the experience of the pet headspace. While the most traditional (and arguably most common) form of pet is a pup” (someone who embodies the headspace of a dog or puppy), pets can embody the headspace of just about any animal. Other common pet types are kittens and bunnies, though pets don’t have to identify with animals that are commonly kept as pets (I’ve met a dragon or two in my day). Many pets participate in part of a pack or have a Handler or Trainer, but some either are or choose to be independent (commonly referred to as stray” pets).

Pets vs. Furries

You may be wondering, isn’t a pet basically just a furry? While there is some overlap with regard to the animalistic nature of pet play (and there is certainly overlap between those who are pets and those who are furries), pets and furries are not one and the same. Though I don’t remember where I read or heard this (if anyone does know, please reach out so I can provide appropriate credit), there’s a great way to distinguish pets from furries: pets are humans who like to embody the traits of animals and furries are animals” who like to embody the traits of humans. When you put it that way, pets are almost like anti-furries.

Pack Dynamics

Many pups (especially those of the canine persuasion) may choose to integrate pack dynamics into their relationships with other pets. Simply put, a pack” is a formally-established g/roup of pets, similar to a chosen family. While members of a pack tend to establish formal in-pack roles for themselves, it’s worth noting that packs may be very fluid with how these roles are expressed or even what roles might apply to a given pet in a pack in a given moment based on the situation they’re in or who they’re with.


The leader” of a pack, Alphas are the most dominant pets in a pack. Pets in other roles look up to Alphas and respect their authority, and in turn Alphas care for their betas, deltas, and omegas.


Betas can be thought of like second in command” in the dominance hierarchy. They acknowledge their Alphas as their Dominants and deltas and omegas as their submissives. Sometimes a beta will step in to lead the pack when their Alpha(s) are away.


Deltas are somewhat of a middle role in pack dynamics. They’re not quite the most dominant but they’re also not the most submissive. Deltas acknowledge Alphas and betas as their Dominants and gammas and omegas as their submissives.


Gammas are another middle role in pack dynamics. They’re not quite the most Dominant but they’re also not the most submissive, but more submissive than deltas. Gammas acknowledge Alphas, betas, and deltas as their Dominants and omegas as their submissives.


Omegas are the least dominant in pack dynamics and often operate in a service-oriented capacity. Omegas recognize all others as their Dominant.

Service Pets

The role of Service Pet” is a particularly interesting (and helpful) role in the pet play world. Service pets are typically characterized by their dedication to serving their community, making sure their fellow pets and pet lovers are enjoying themselves (especially at pet play-oriented social events), and (to a lesser extent) the role fluidity” that accomplishing these goals often requires. Service pets tend to adapt on the fly” to accomplish these goals, switching between different roles as needed (and even switching between multiple roles in a single situation to do so). A service pet may even exhibit the qualities of a Handler or Trainer if it means allowing another pet to enjoy something like a mosh.


Handlers are are a form of caretaker in the pet play world that are responsible for the safety and care of pets. Members of this role typically do not identify as animals or and may or may not experience headspace like pets do, but rather behave like someone who owns and cares for a bio-pet” (a pet that at the biological level is the animal they present as, such as the family dog or cat). A Handler may have one pet, multiple pets, or no pets (some Handlers may choose not to have any pets of their own).


Trainers, similar to Handlers, are a form of caretaker, but Trainers differ in that a Trainer may not collar or assume ownership over any pets of their own (similar to how a family may take the family dog to a trainer to learn how to sit, lay down, go to the bathroom in the right spots, etc.). Rather, a Trainer helps pets learn concepts like discipline, commands, and the occasional trick.

Social Events in Pet Play


Moshes are among the most common social event found in the pet play world. How I tend to describe a mosh is simple; it’s like taking a dog to the dog park. Moshes are effectively events in which pets can play with one another as well as the Handlers, Trainers, and other folks who are there with them. It’s common to see pets play with toys, wrestle with each other, and generally socialize while in headspace, but there are also opportunities for more casual experiences like cuddling. Handlers, Trainers, and those in more supportive roles tend to be responsible for making sure the pets are playing nicely with each other and playing safely, intervening when necessary to ensure everyone involved has a good, safe time.

Moshes (in my experience at least) tend to be held in private spaces, such as a private home or a venue catering to the kink community, but may also be present at conventions or bars.


Munches are social gatherings that tend to be vanilla” in nature (some refer to this as Safe for Work”) and may even require all attendees to participate sans-gear. As I like to think of them, munches are more of an opportunity to connect and get to know the players” in pet play before the gear goes on and headspaces are in full swing. Common expressions of munches include coffee shop meetups, picnics, and lunches or dinners.


When you envision pets or pet play, chances are you envision one or more people wearing items that help them appear more pet-like, such as hoods, tails, and paws. These items are commonly referred to as gear.” Despite this, it’s important to recognize that you don’t need gear to participate in pet play. While gear can help pets enter, enjoy, and (when the time is right) leave their headspaces, the more important part pet play (and specifically engaging in pet play as a pet) is the state of mind (“headspace”). Don’t feel pressured to spend hundreds of dollars on gear if you’re not sure if you like pet play (after all, gear can be quite expensive). In fact, it might be easier to start with inexpensive gear (though I don’t like to recommend it, Amazon tends to sell less expensive knock-offs of the more expensive gear) or no gear at all.

The back side of alternate tag I created for one of my pups. The front side shows the pup’s name and the rear provides information about who he is collared by (me).The back side of alternate tag I created for one of my pups. The front side shows the pup’s name and the rear provides information about who he is collared by (me).

Collars and Collaring

Collars can hold significance in the world of pet play. While it has become more common to pets to buy and wear collars for themselves to help support their headspace or complete the look,” collars tend to be used to signify that a given pet has a formal Dominant of some kind (such as an Alpha or Handler).

What Does It Mean to Collar a Pet?

To collar a pet is to establish a formal relationship with that pet, similar to how one might formally establish a romantic relationship. That is, collaring is often considered akin to going steady” or, in some cases, getting married. With this said, collaring doesn’t necessarily have to include a romantic connection or component. It all depends on what the participants in the collaring have decided best fits their needs and desires. One important thing to note though is that it’s traditionally expected that one does not engage with a collared pet without first consulting their Handler, Owner, or collaring Dominant (or the pet themself). Collars may include a tag specifying who a pet belongs to, or the pet may tell you in some way. With consent of the pet, checking such tags can quickly help distinguish what kind of collar the pet is wearing and who to talk with (if anyone) before engaging the pet further. For example, my pups wear collars which include a tag engraved with their names and information on who they are collared by (me). Someone meeting them for the first time may check their tags (if I’m not around or my pups haven’t shared the information) to determine that they are collared by me.


The practice of self-collaring has become more visible recently. Self-collaring, or the practice of pets buying, making, and wearing their own collars, can mean different things to different pets. For some, it may simply be an aesthetic choice for a pet that doesn’t have a Handler (i.e., the pet chooses to wear a collar they obtained for themselves for the look). For others, self-collaring may be symbolic. For example, a pup may self-collar to make a statement that they’re taking ownership of themselves and their lives after going through hardship in their life, such as a bad breakup.

Consent is a CRITICALLY important component of pet play, especially when pet play makes its way to the bedroom. While I think this topic warrants its own post altogether, I’ll point a few things out here:

  • Make a practice of asking for consent before doing anything to or with a pet. With this, it’s important to understand that a pet in headspace may not be willing or open to talking like adults, rather they might communicate as their pet to indicate whether someone is or is not okay. For example, if you’re a Handler and you approach a pup with the intent of playing with them, offer your hand to them first to gauge whether they’re interested in interacting with you and pay close attention to their body language and any verbal communications before proceeding.
  • Headspace is not consent. Even though a pet might not want to sit down and have a full-blown adult” conversation while in headspace (nor should you typically expect them to), they generally have ways of communicating that can be used to determine if a pet is up for something.
  • Gear is not consent. Similar to headspace, the presence of gear on a pet does not grant anyone consent to do as they please with a pet.
  • Respect collaring.
  • Pets, remember that you should get consent from other pets as well before playing, wrestling, or something else, too.


Returning to an earlier point, there is no right” way to enjoy pet play. However, many choose to incorporate some level of sexuality into their practice. With this said, pet play does not have to have any sexual element (that’s up to you to decide).

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