Just about everyone loves dogs, cats, rabbits, bears, pandas, puppies, kittens, bunnies, cubs, colts, and other critters. These animals are happy, they play, they have fun, they live in the moment and for the moment.
So, it’s no wonder that people enjoy finding their inner animal and experiencing that same feeling of joy and endless exuberance, that “pet play”! Because, well, why not? They can escape from the stresses of daily life, reframe their experiences, and even strengthen their sense of self and reclaim power.
People engage in pet play for many reasons, ranging from loss of inhibitions associated with that animal nature to taking on a role which allows for nurturing and a change from the usual roles in everyday life. In some cases, pet play is simply a loving, quiet, cuddling time where there is no need for verbalizations, and the simple act of stroking, rubbing, and holding the other person is satisfying and reassuring.
Pet play can also be a form of exotic role-play, in which one or more of the participants takes on the role of a real or imaginary animal, including appropriate mannerisms and behaviors. Other participants in the role-play may take on the roles of other animals, or of the owner, trainer, rider, or caretaker of the animal(s).
There can be a Dominant/submission (D/s) relationship involved, with one pet being dominant or submissive to another. For example, a dominant pet might hold a submissive down with a bite on the neck, or a timid person may transform into a werewolf and take the upper hand.
Pet play has been around at least since the 1970s in the US. The occurrence of animal play (including pony, kitten, wolf, etc.) by women was documented in 2015 by Jennifer Rehor (co-author of Women and Kink: Relationships, Reasons, and Stories, and President and Founder of Affirming Therapy Center) in her article published in Archives of Sexual Behavior titled Sensual, Erotic, and Sexual Behaviors of Women from the Kink Community. Her study of 1,580 women who were in the kink community showed that 54% of these women had participated in some form of animal play! This article is also the first to mention “pup play” in academic literature and has been cited in subsequent studies of this activity.
Why do people engage in pet play?
Researchers identify five main rationales for engagement in pet play.
- adult play and vibrant physicality
- relaxation and escaping from self
- extending and expressing selfhood
- sexual pleasure
- relationship and community benefits
However, there are many other reasons, too; each person has a unique relationship with the pet within.
They also identified the importance of community within pet play, and the relationships that develop between groups of pets and between pets and handlers. (A handler has the responsibility of looking after a pet, carrying the pets’ paraphernalia or gear (e.g., toys, clothing, harness), providing training on how to behave, and interacting with their pets.)
Some pets belong to packs or herds, some have one owner, and some are strays. Some have pet names for their pet personas. Some animals belong to specific breeds. Common types of pet play may include puppy play, kitten play, and pony play. Common types of pet activity may include petting, grooming, and obedience training. Not all pet play includes a sexual or erotic element, but for some it does. And, of course, this is not an exhaustive list. There is really no end to the ways that pets manifest themselves.
What does this all mean?
It means pet play is normal and, if you are involved in pet play, you are normal, too. It means there are many people like you. It means there is a wonderful part of you that is worth exploring and sharing.
If you want to talk about your pet-ness with a therapist, or if you want to talk about yourself and your relationships without your therapist stumbling over the fact that you are a puppy, tiger, mouse, or other pet, we can help!
Please contact one of your pet-friendly Affirming Therapy Center therapists today!
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