A new documentary about “pup play,” the (often though not always sexual) act of dressing and inhabiting the role of a dog while another person takes on the role of handler or trainer, is about to be unleashed on Great Britain’s Channel 4, bringing new focus to a subculture that—according to some members—is ready to go mainstream.

Nell Frizzell at The Guardian explains:

Secret Life of the Human Pups is a sympathetic look at the world of pup play, a movement that grew out of the BDSM community and has exploded in the last 15 years as the internet made it easier to reach out to likeminded people. While the pup community is a broad church, human pups tend to be male, gay, have an interest in dressing in leather, wear dog-like hoods, enjoy tactile interactions like stomach rubbing or ear tickling, play with toys, eat out of bowls and are often in a relationship with their human “handlers.”

In the documentary, viewers are introduced to Tom, a theater engineer, whose relationship with his fiancée Rachel (pictured up top), ended after he realized his pup identity and moved into a relationship with his trainer, Colin.

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“I wouldn’t say it was the catalyst [of our breakup], but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he tells The Guardian. “Then I had this moment of panic because a puppy without a collar is a stray; they don’t have anyone to look after them. I started chatting to Colin online and he offered to look after me. It’s a sad thing to say, but there’s not love from the heart in me for Colin–but what I have got is someone who is there for me and I’m happy with that.”

While pup play isn’t a new phenomenon, its previous existence has mostly been behind closed doors—either at home, in chat rooms, or in private clubs. (“Members of my pack, we spend a lot of time together at home just being dogs,” explains a human pup named Kaz. “There’s nine of us and my partner is our handler. A big part of it is a feeling of family and belonging; we’re there to look after each other.”)

But as the world becomes increasingly open to a wider range of sexual identities, some human pups are looking for broader acceptance.

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“It feels like you can be gay, straight, bisexual, trans and be accepted,” says Tom. “All I want is for the pup community to be accepted in the same way. We’re not trying to cause grief to the public, or cause grief to relationships. We’re just the same as any other person on the high street.”

So what, according to human pups, is the appeal of pup play? For some, like Tom, it’s about freedom, fun, and animal instinct:

“You’re not worrying about money, or food, or work. It’s just the chance to enjoy each other’s company on a very simple level.”

For others, like Kaz, it’s about expressing one’s true canine identity:

“Even when I worked in PC World I would sometimes walk up to people and nip at their shirt. I got in trouble once; someone walked into the PC repair centre and I had part of their dad’s computer in my mouth. But the other staff knew I was like that to everyone. They didn’t find it weird.”

At home, he eats out of a dog bowl:

“It’s just nice, it makes me feel comfortable...But I always eat with a knife and fork and at a table. Otherwise it’s time-consuming and you can’t watch TV.”

Dogs do love their stories.

Secret Life of the Human Pups premieres in the U.K. on Channel 4, May 25 at 10pm.


Image via Richard Ansett/Channel 4.