There’s little that melts our hearts or brightens our bad day like the cute little face of our furry friend. Isn’t that right? For many people, there is no face they would rather see than that of their beloved dog.
And, for whatever reason, we find dogs to be irresistibly cute. Seriously, objectively look at a Chihuahua and be honest about how that face could be considered cute. Yet, we look into those big brown bugged-out eyes and just melt at the cuteness.
So why do we find dogs to be so darn cute? Let’s find out!
The Science Behind Your Dog’s Cuteness
It might surprise you, but there is a cold, hard, scientific reason as to why dogs are so cute — and it’s the same reason we find babies so cute.
Have you ever wondered why people think those screaming, red-faced, wrinkly-skinned little creatures are so adorable? Objectively speaking — they’re not.
But we are hard-wired to love, care for, and think that babies are cute.
It happens largely because of oxytocin. This hormone commonly known as the “cuddle chemical” causes us to feel happy, as well as protective and loving. A mother’s brain releases it when she gazes into her baby’s eyes.
The baby also experiences this rush of oxytocin. This creates a positive feedback loop that is largely responsible for the deep emotional bond mothers have with their children. The more time they spend looking into each other’s eyes, the deeper their bond becomes.
Turns out, according to animal behaviorist Takefumi Kukusui at the Azabu University in Japan, the same thing happens with dogs!
In the experiment, Kukusui and his colleagues found that owners interacting with their dogs and particularly gazing into their eyes, experienced this same feedback loop. Both the owner and the dog had higher levels of oxytocin after interacting with one another.
So, scientifically speaking, you mostly think your dog is cute because it makes both of you feel good!
Our Relationship with Dogs Through Time
It is not known exactly when our relationship with dogs began. However, it is thought to have begun several thousand years ago when humans lived as hunter-gatherers.
Human beings formed friendships with wolves and the domestication process began. In fact, wolves were the first species ever to be domesticated.
As is easily evidenced today, the species genetically diverged over time. Though they have the same ancestors, the wolves and dogs of today are not the same. It’s hard to even imagine that a Cavapoo and a wolf have common ancestry.
Aside from obvious differences in their physical characteristics, dogs are much cuter than wolves. They are also much more interactive.
For example, when you point with your finger, dogs will look at where you’re pointing. This demonstrates their ability to understand our intentions (i.e. I want to show you something). Not even chimpanzees will do that.
No wonder these fabulous creatures have become man’s best friend!
Evolution of Dogs’ Cuteness
So now the question begs to be asked, are dogs cute because we love them or do we love them because they are cute?
The answer — a little bit of both.
Somehow, humans developed that first connection with wolves. It can probably be linked to Kukusui’s mutual gazing idea. As the human and animal gazed into each other’s eyes, their rising levels of oxytocin formed an emotional bond.
However, this did not happen with all wolves. It happened with some wolves and as the generations passed, the wolves that formed the strongest links started turning into dogs.
Whether intentional or not, humans selectively bred dogs to have the most desirable qualities. In general, the qualities we consider cute include:
- A disproportionately large head
- Big, forward-facing eyes
- Rounded body shape
- Soft-elastic body surfaces (perfect for petting!)
- Floppy limbs and toddling around
What else does this sound like?
That’s right, a human baby!
In other words, dogs developed their cutest traits because of their relationship with us. The traits we find the cutest are the ones that have survived our somewhat unconscious selective breeding through the years.
Your Cutest Best Friend
On top of dogs being generically cute, you might notice that your own dog seems to be cuter than all other dogs. This is reinforced by the positive feedback loop with oxytocin. You spend more time gazing into your dog’s eyes than those of other dogs. So you have bonded and feel better with your dog, thus making him cuter in your eyes.
There you have it! Though you don’t need a reason to believe your dog is cute, there is a real scientific one. The next time somebody tells you that your cuddly scruff of fluff isn’t as adorable as you think he is, just tell them that cuteness is in the eye of the beholder!