As I fly home from Tampa, Florida, I’m given a few hours just to reflect. For those of you who might not know, I had the honor and opportunity to compete in a little competition called International Puppy 2014 . . . No Biggie. What made the trip so exciting and wonderful were the many different types of puppies we met, the different kinds of handler and pup dynamics, and just seeing how these types of puppies conduct themselves in large social settings. We met rubber pups, leather pups, boy pups, slave pups, alphas, betas, strays, and even puppies who didn’t want or need a handler. Even better, I was able to take this trip with my handler by my side, giving me constant support as I competed. My handler was, in all respects, there for me: helping me practice my speech, which you can view here, assisting my costume changes, and ensuring I was hydrated during photo shoots while emotionally and physically holding my hand and encouraging me 110%. As a puppy, having that sort of bonding time with your handler is what makes puppy play what it should be: Fun! I have a new respect for not only my handler for all he does, but handlers in general for putting up with our butt plugs, barking and constant need of nuzzles and attention. Even at competitions like International Puppy where the focus is mostly on the pup, we have to give credit to the handler in large part. It just wouldn’t run as smoothly without them helping behind the scenes, whether it’s grabbing entire costume changes at the last minute or providing first aid for obstacle course injuries — to name just a few of my own experiences. Being a handler is by no means a small responsibility, but I want to take this opportunity to thank mine from the bottom of my heart for being my handler and making my pup self the luckiest puppy ever!
Making the connection…
With that said, let’s get into the real meat of this topic: essentially it’s how and where puppies and handlers find one another. I’ve asked this question before of a number of people and have gotten a wide variety of replies. Often, the first response you hear is “online.” With social networking accounting for large percentages of online relationships, and puppies still being a very spread thin in many local communities, the internet has exploded with pups (which is ironic considering paws don’t actually make for easy typing). Every day I check my Pup Amp Facebook page only to discover a new friend request from a pup or two, usually accompanied with nuzzles and licks on my wall. As far as social networking goes, I think it’s done a wonderful thing for puppies and handlers: it has a given a low entry level for being a pup publically, allowed for making new pup friends, and finding potential handlers, whether they’re local or virtual. In fact, more than half the people I met in person at International Puppy this last weekend I had already interacted with at least once in an online chat — and many of them were handlers looking for pups.
In the very same way that social networking allows for “easy access” when searching for a pup/handler, another popular answer to “how did you meet your handler/pup” is “through online dating apps.” With apps like Recon, Scruff and Growlr, we see a whole community of handler/pup candidates at the very tips of our puppy paws who are virtually available 24/7. Ironically enough, Scruff is where I found my handler, Kevin, as well. I recommend dating apps for finding new people in your area, but with an additional word of warning about catfish as well (you can read that post here) Never assume anything about someone you’ve only met online. Always be cautious and aware that you, as a pup or a handler, have rights and can make choices when looking for your pup play counterpart.
Last, but far from least remains another fairly typical answer to finding a handler is to simply not to look in the first place! I like to think that being yourself is ultimately what someone will be drawn to or put off by, and if being a puppy just happens to be the icing on the cake — hey, even better! You’d be surprised how many times I hear how someone goes on a date, totally unsuspecting that the other person might have their own kinks, only to find a pup or handler sitting across the table from them. Similarly, I’ve even had a pup friend approached at a bar by a stranger who got the pup’s attention by calling him “puppy,” out of nowhere. And it was all downhill from there. Not looking and keeping options open is the most stress-free way to find a pup or handler, and that approach will provide for less desperate circumstances and pave the way for a more organic relationship to form.
Always protect yourself…
Once you’ve gotten through all that risk-taking and connection-making and you’ve found a prospective handler or pup, then what? First and foremost, you have to test that person out, make a checklist of need/wants/red flags and start chatting. Make sure this person is who you want and who he/she says they are. I’ll be the first to admit to doing some cyberstalking of new love interests, be it puppy or not. Everyone in today’s day and age has at least some sort of Facebook presence, and you should never feel bad for doing a discreet background check of your own to keep yourself safe. And well before you start the negotiations, you should make sure you click with the person. Get to know the person you’re interested in and consider your chat a kind of job interview, but with a lot more lube. Speaking from the personal experience my handler and I had, we moved after chatting on Scruff to very detailed e-mails back and forth where we really got to know each other and began to make a deep connection. These e-mails were also well before making any plans to meet in person. (The funniest part, we found later, was that we had more than a few common friends and had actually met at a birthday party a month or two before we found each other online and started to discuss puppies.) We made ourselves as transparent as possible and began our negotiations and stated expectations from there. While some of those initial expectations have stayed the same over time, a relationship such as this tends to also evolve as involved parties work to maintain open lines of communication.
When it’s all said and done, the most important thing is to be yourself — and expect no less from any perspective pup or handler.I can promise you will know if that next person is right for you when they come along. Explore and experience the pup community, but know that a handler does not make a pup, and a pup does not make a handler. Be open, be safe, be consensual, and don’t forget to have some tail-wagging and squirrel chasing fun along the way!