While being regarded as a pup is fairly new for me (it actually still catches me off-guard when people refer to me as one), I’ve still hovered around the pup scene for quite some time. I think the reason it originally didn’t resonate with me had less to do with pup play specifically and more to do with a disinterest in power exchange at the time I was introduced to it. As my desire to explore power exchange dynamics began to delve into dehumanization, suddenly it made a lot of sense both conceptually and in practice.
One of the things I like most about the pup community is that there is such a healthy attitude about how people handle things differently. There are plenty of approaches regarding how to train pups, fairly different headspaces, and even a wide array handler/pup dynamics. While I truly do believe the community is very open to these differences, visibility is still an important part of teaching diversity and some ways of pupping are innately bound to overshadow others. I feel like social moshes are the part of the scene that will naturally have more presence, and they’ve left things feeling somewhat one-sided for newcomers. Events like On Leash are a great step towards remedying this, but to make greater strides education is important as well.
Despite how varied many of the nuances of these relationships are, they primarily seem (to me) to fall under two distinct categories. The first, and most common, version is actually somewhat closer to how pups from the furry fandom approach pup play: the headspace is tantamount to a persona, usually one the individual strongly identifies with. The second, which is firmly rooted in the traditional pet play found in BDSM, is based on stripping away certain aspects and behaviors that make someone human. Both “core” approaches are equally valid, but they tend to resonate with different individuals. I’ve been calling them “expressive pups” and “regressive pups” for some time, and I wanted to talk about some of the key differences a bit.
Expressive pups: these are what has become the bread-and-butter of the pup community, and their dynamics that emphasize fluidity can confuse or even frustrate those accustomed to structures that favor rigidity - hence the pushback from some leatherfolk. They see being a pup as a part of their identity as a whole, and are often not shy about sharing this part of themselves with others. Expressive pups tend to enter headspaces of varying depths depending on circumstance, ranging from casually barking at people/pups to reflexively curling their hands into paws or similar physicality to a full-on, tunnel-visioned romping headspace. Their ability to express themselves as pups so flexibly and openly is largely what is responsible for the community’s explosion, and their ability to have a varied depth of headspace lets them engage more actively in human socialization. Many expressive pups have little to no interest in sexual activities while in headspace and they may be prone to romp and play purely as a social endeavor.
Regressive pups: much less visible, regressive pups tend to rely on reinforced dynamics to access their headspace. While expressive pups may use power exchange for training or within the context of a pack dynamic, regressive pups tend to be purely based on power exchange as a means of enforcing behavior. Rather than having a pervasive, puplike personality that bleeds into many aspects of their character, being a pup to them is more apt to represent a deliberate denial of personhood. Essentially, a regressive pup may be closer to a gimp-like headspace than a boy-like one, which may entail a further diminishing of agency. With their behavior being sculpted by rules and expectations instead of expressing themselves in varying degrees, regressive pups are less likely to be able to (or desire to) access hybridized headspaces. One of the challenges for these pups gaining visibility is that a substantial motivating factor for this sort of play may in fact be the somewhat stricter denial of human-to-human social interaction within the context of these scenes.
It’s worth noting that both sorts of pups need somewhat different sorts of handlers. Expressive pups are likely to need a primarily nurturing handler that is prone to encouragement and positive reinforcement. Depending on the pup, this may be a side of themselves they have been repressing for a substantial portion of their life; unearthing a part of themselves that deeply buried usually takes making someone feel good about it. Regressive pups may need a stern approach, potentially rooted in corporal punishment or timely correction. Since a regressive pup’s motivation is having their identity stripped away, their immediate desires may often be in conflict with the demands of the dynamic, making the need for discipline more prevalent.
I guess what I really wanted to get at is I’ve heard from a lot of pups having trouble finding the sort of play they’re looking for because all they see are expressive pups/handlers - I know a few who have actually left the community over it. While I definitely don’t think the community is engaging in kink-shaming or anything similar for regressive pups, it’s hard to tell people their version of pupping is okay when they don’t see anyone engaging in play the same way that they want to. If you’re a pup who wants this sort of enforced headspace, hang in there: keep having open discussions with handlers and you’ll find one that enjoys the extra rigidity you’re aching for. If you encounter a pup who seems to be interested in this, try to be just as actively supportive as you would for an expressive pup even though you may not see their pup side as often. Most of all - for the love of god - if you see an event that tries to cater to pups who feel this way, keep your mouth shut if it’s not for you: there are more than enough moshes and similar social events. Let the pups who need this structure have it just like they let you have the freedom you enjoy at your mosh.