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Why Are Puppies So Cute? What Science Tells Us

Golden retriever puppy chewing on toy

There is no question that puppies are cute. It does not even seem to matter what type of puppy we’re looking at — as long as the pooch is small and new, they are downright irresistible to most humans. So, why do puppies seem to be so cute? Here is what science tells us about why puppies happen to be so darn cute.

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Puppies Evoke a Caregiving Response

Puppies are reliant on our care and protrude a “babylike” quality that melts our hearts just like babies tend to. The babylike features of a puppy evoke a caregiving response that makes us want to act as protectors.

Features in puppies that help conjure this response include:
  • Large round eyes
  • Big cheeks
  • Small chins

A puppy’s head typically looks larger than it should when compared to the body, which seems to be endearing to humans. Many philosophers, including Darwin and John Bowlby, thought that the feelings that we experience when looking at puppies or babies are part of our attachment system.

german shepherd puppy milk from nipples
Image Credit: Happy monkey, Shutterstock

Puppies Activate Our Reward System

Looking at puppies tends to tap into our brains on a neural level and activate our reward system. Simply laying eyes on a cute puppy makes us want to reward ourselves with fuzzy feelings. Cute puppies also tend to invoke empathy and feelings of goodwill. Just like with babies, we want nothing more than to make sure the puppies we spend time with are safe and comfortable.

Puppies Are Completely Harmless

A cute puppy cannot do anything to harm you, so it is easy to “ooh” and “aah” over the puppy when you are feeling completely safe around them. Not only do the looks of the puppy make it attractive, but their innocent actions also add to the cuteness factor. A puppy that is just sitting there is cute enough in itself. However, when that puppy starts to roll over on their back or cuddle up in your lap, your heart melts just a bit more.

puppy getting hiccups
Image Credit: JACLOU-DL, Pixabay

Puppies Can Create Cute Aggression in Humans

A study published in the Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience journal set out to determine how cute aggression affects us when we look at cute things like babies and puppies. Essentially, the study found that our minds create something called cute aggression to help us counteract the overwhelming feeling of love and care that we develop when looking at cute things. If we are so enamored with a cute puppy that we cannot care for it, the puppy would likely end up dying.

Therefore, our cuteness aggression kicks in and keeps us on an even keel so we are not so overwhelmed with the cuteness, and we can focus more on the practical side of caring for the pup. It is important to note that cute aggression does not equate to wanting to harm the things that we think are cute. But it can be attributed to thoughts like, “That puppy is so cute, I could eat it!”

The Cuteness Helps Puppies Survive

A small study was done to determine when a puppy is most attractive to humans. The study involved three different breeds of dogs: the Cane Corso, the Jack Russell Terrier, and the White Shepherd. The people in the study were shown pictures of the different dogs during different stages of life while they were monitored. As was expected, people showed that they preferred the looks of the dogs when they were about 8 weeks of age.

This age just so happens to coincide with the time that a puppy’s mother will kick them out of the den and expect them to start fending for themselves. The researchers believe that we humans instinctively know that puppies this age require nurturing and care to survive. Therefore, the fact that puppies are so cute may be nature’s way of making sure that they can survive when humans are around.

Huskimo puppy on log tongue out
Image Credit: JStaley401, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

There seem to be many reasons that we are so obsessed with the cuteness of these animals! Thanks to our empathic ideals and nurturing instincts, we have the capacity to take the love that we feel when we see a cute puppy and turn that love into tangible interactions through petting, snuggling, feeding, and generally caring for the pup.


Featured Image Credit: Photology1971, Shutterstock

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