Top Scientific Reasons Dogs Are Cute

Have you ever looked at a dog so mind-numbingly adorable you can’t resist the urge to snuggle it?

Cuteness is what makes us spellbound for puppy pictures. This cuteness makes us rush to forgive our dogs for the occasional naughty misstep. But why are dogs so cute?

scientist dog sitting in lab

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The how and what of cute

Ever wondered why most of us can spend hours looking at videos or pictures of cute dogs and puppies?

It turns out the science of cuteness is fascinating stuff and far more interesting than you‘d think. 

The quick answer is – It’s all about how we perceive dogs.

Konrad Lorenz studied the cuteness in dogs and other living things. He put together a list of things we consider cute. Things that have a small body size, large eyes, and round cuddly features.

Researchers have even developed a cuteness rating system based on objective measurements including the proportion of forehead to overall face, cheek chubbiness, and how big the eyes are.

All the cute stuff makes people kind of crazy. The cuter the dog is, the more activation is found in the pleasure center of the brain called the Nucleus Accumbens. The squee cuteness gives a happy feeling and causes a burst in the pleasure center.

Do you know: Adorability can be engineered. Artificially boosting a dog’s cuteness score by using photo-editing software could elicit a stronger “cuteness” response in humans.

The science on why we think dogs are cute

It’s not just because we love dogs and we want to look after them. There is some science behind it. As human beings, we all have an innate sense of what is cute and what is not.

Whether it’s learned through social constructs or through our natural instincts, we already know that a dog is cute and a shark or a full-grown snake is not so cute. That’s a given.

So, why do dogs make us feel inclined to pet, smooth, and cuddle them?

Well, it’s all to do with a dog’s appearance and how this creates a natural response in us to love, protect, and nurture them.

Welcome to SirDoggie
Welcome to SirDoggie

Puppies are often unable to walk, see, hear or do anything but wriggle for the first few days of their lives. They have the appearance of being helpless and innocent, which in turn makes us want to protect them from harm.

Our brains are actually wired to respond to cuteness cues! Seeing a small puppy triggers a warm, nurturing feeling that makes us want to take care of it, cuddle it, and simply go “awwwww”. 

Why do we find dogs so cute?

Evolutionary psychology relates to why we find some features attractive and others repulsive. Such preferences have been adaptive in our ancestors, although this may seem subjective and elusive. It is definitely fun to think about.

Dogs and puppies didn’t evolve to be cute. We evolved to think that dogs are cute. Humans have had immense control over the evolution of domesticated dogs, changing their appearance over generations through selective breeding.

If you look at a picture of a puppy and a baby, you’re going to feel the same warm, fuzzy feelings for both.

“Animals like dogs and cats have been essentially bred to look like babies. They have big eyes, they have big ears. When you see them, your brain is thinking ‘this could be a baby’. And it’s only later on, by the time you already have reacted, you say ‘oh, that’s not a baby. But maybe I should still look anyway!” Says Kringelbach

Cuteness triggers our nurturing instincts to look after anything that looks like a cute dog. Our affinity for cute is an evolved biological response. If we didn’t get all gooey over cute things, we wouldn’t take care of them and protect them. We respond to cute cues because it’s in our very nature to nurture our beloved, adorable dog.

Humans have developed strong inclinations for features like disproportionately large heads, big eyes set fairly low on the face, small noses, and round soft bodies. We find dogs cute for their juvenile features, unaggressive behavior, and childlike traits.

Why do we find puppies so cute?

The reason we find puppies cute is that we’re using criteria that have evolved to help us evaluate members of our own species. Puppies are cute because natural selection has made us go all mushy when we see the big, round head of a human infant. 

Puppies grab our attention, we enjoy looking at them and, at a neural level. They trigger activity associated with reward and also compassion and empathy.

Do dogs know how to act cute?

Most pet parents agree that their dogs are really cute. Some of their expressions and actions simply amplify their “cuteness.”  The question is: 

Are they born with the innate “cuteness” or do they learn how to be cute?

The dog smile

There is nothing more adorable than a full-blown dog smile. Your heart melts when your dog pulls back the corners of its mouth and shows just enough teeth to be sweet. But are dogs really smiling at you or is there another explanation for this sweet facial expression?

Historically, the facial expression we call a smile actually communicates submission to the leader of the pack. Domestic dogs interpret the “smile” the same way their ancestors did. So, your cute “smiling” dog may simply be indicating that it readily accepts its subordinate position in your family.

The adorable head tilt

Who can resist the cute head tilt? When dogs cock their heads to the side and look up at you, are they doing it to be cute, or is there another reason?

The answer is more physiological than romantic, and there are three reasons for this:

  1. To see better: Dogs have eyes that are set on the sides of their heads which makes it difficult for them to focus on objects that are directly in front of them. If they angle their heads, dogs get a clearer view of things that are front and center.
  2. To improve communication: Dogs cock their heads slightly to see you better. To make an accurate analysis of your facial expressions, dogs must clearly see your face. They assess your facial expressions, eye movements, voice tone, and body language to improve their communication. Dogs often have difficulty seeing a person’s entire face because their muzzles may get in the way. To see you directly, dogs need to turn their head. That cute head tilt actually broadens the range of vision. It allows a dog to more clearly see a person’s face and communicate better.
  3. To hear better: The human external ear canal is engineered to pick up the sound so efficiently that you do not have to tilt your head to capture the sound. This is not so with our canine friends! Dogs have ear flaps that partially or completely cover the ear canal and block sound transmission. For a perfect sound collection, dogs usually tilt their heads.

So even though you recognize that the dog head tilt is a cute doggie feature, the reason behind it may be based on improving vision and hearing.

Those cute puppy dog eyes

It is impossible to resist sweet ageless puppy dog eyes. Even a senior dog can have precious puppy eyes. This wide-eyed expression makes dogs look cute and vulnerable and simply melts our hearts. 

Why are puppy dog eyes so cute? Well, dogs have evolved to raise their inner brows to make their eyes appear larger. Research suggests that humans have a definite preference for dogs with childlike features that include big eyes. When choosing a furry child, we prefer dogs with baby-like features and that raise their inner brows to make their eyes appear larger cute. It’s likely that human selection of this trait has influenced breed characteristics.

Do dogs look cute on purpose?

Dogs and humans have lived side by side for 30000 years. They have learned how to interact with each other. Dogs are intelligent animals and through years of evolution, they have discovered that humans appreciate those positive facial expressions and cute faces pay well with humans.

Here’s what your dog’s cute face is trying to tell you.

  • That soulful gaze: Between dogs and humans, eye contact is an integral part of communication. People mostly reward eye contact. Dogs have acquired this understanding and use their gaze to win approval from and show love for their humans.
  • Breaking eye contact: With humans, dogs are perfectly comfortable breaking eye contact. It indicates a comfortable rapport between a dog and its person.
  • Blinking or squinting during eye contact:  If a dog blinks while making eye contact with you, he may be contemplating what you’re thinking. That’s in fact a good thing. Your dog lives to appease its owner.
  • Squinting or blinking in general: Squinting and repetitive blinking may mean something entirely different when a dog is not looking into your eyes. Squinting and rapid blinking can indicate pain, illness, stress, or fear. 
  • Eyebrow-raising: When your dog raises one eyebrow or both while making eye contact, it’s a sign of alertness and interest. This is an opportunity for you to engage with your fur buddy or teach them a new trick.
  • Head lowering: When your dog lowers its head while gazing up at you, it’s a symbol of submission. You can consider this as a sign of a healthy dog-human relationship.
  • Yawning: Yes, a yawn might indicate tiredness or moments of stress.
  • Lip-licking: A dog who is licking its lips can be communicating a desire to submit to its owner. You can consider it a positive form of doggie communication.
  • Smiling: A smile on a relaxed and wiggly dog signals that all is good. It signifies happiness, contentment, or agreement.

Research indicates that the dogs show a much wider range of facial expressions when the human was paying attention. They use a special gesture involving raised eyebrows when interacting with humans. This eyebrow-raising makes their eyes look bigger, which people find cute.

If your furry child never makes cute faces, this is not a huge concern. Just like us, all dogs are different and have unique personalities.

The top 5 cutest pets 

Have you ever dreamt of seeing the top 5 cutest animals in your home? Here is a compiled a list of some of the pets we think is the cutest.

Pet% Adherence to the Golden Ratio
1Cat46.51%
2Ferret 46.20%
3Rabbit40.30%
4Hamster31.46%
5Dog (averaged across 100 dog breeds)29.64

Despite being number five, dogs are undeniably the most popular pet choice around the world. 

The Dalmatian that became famous from the Disney film 101 Dalmatians is officially the cutest dog breed in the world. The Irish Water Spaniel comes in second place and the Wire Fox Terrier is the third cutest dog breed.

It also seems that size doesn’t change how cute we perceive our dogs are. Some large breeds like Newfoundlands and St. Bernards make the list alongside small dogs like Pugs and Schnauzers.

All dogs are cute, but we took some time to develop this list of the 15 cutest dog breeds.

  1. French Bulldogs 
  2. Beagle
  3. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  4. Golden Retriever
  5. Dachshund
  6. Bernese Mountain Dog
  7. Yorkshire Terrier
  8. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  9. Pug
  10. Pomeranian 
  11. English Bulldog 
  12. Bichon Frise
  13. Siberian Husky
  14. American Eskimo
  15. Cairn Terrier

Of course, it’s entirely up to you to determine what characteristics deem a dog breed cute or beautiful.

Our own dogs are the cutest

While all dogs, in general, are considered to be cute. However, it seems that we are pre-programmed to find our own dogs the cutest and most appealing. This is because dogs very quickly become an important part of the family. We give them cute names, celebrate their birthdays, enjoy their presence, and share their photos like proud parents.

The strong bond of love that develops between owners and their dogs is not surprising when you consider what goes on chemically when you interact with your furry child. 

Petting our dog triggers our brain to release a chemical into the bloodstream. This so-called “cuddle chemical” helps us feel good and allows us to develop a strong bond of affection with our dog.

Although dogs have looked cute for a very long time, they are now deliberately being bred to look more and more adorable. Today’s popular breeds, such as Pomeranian, Yorkie, Shih Tzu, Maltese, Havapoo, Pomapoo, Peekapoo, and Cockapoo are a far cry from their ancestor, the wolf.

One thing is for sure: All dogs have and will always have that cute factor!

Continue Reading: How Do Dogs Think Without Language? [ANSWERED]

Final thoughts

So, it’s not just you that loves dogs and feels compelled to cuddle them and shower them in kisses. Your brain is responding to natural ‘cute cues’ and telling you that your dog needs someone to love it!

Cuteness lies in the eyes and brain of the beholder. Scientific evidence shows our biology leads our taste or maybe co-evolves with them.

Even if people think dogs are especially cute as babies, it’s a scientific fact that all dogs are perfect at any age. It’s our job to remind them that every day!

So, next time you look at one of your dogs and feel the urge to hug them, there is actually a purpose behind what you are feeling. Somewhere deep in your brain, nature is making sure you take care of him as best you can.