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Cute dog looking out car window

The essentials

  • Man’s best friend is objectively adorable — Dogs are not just charming in appearance. Their cute personalities and behaviors can make us even more endeared to them.
  • The science of cuteness is why we love puppies — Studies have shown that when looking at pictures of puppies, people experience an increase in the hormone oxytocin, which is associated with bonding and feelings of love and trust.
  • The psychology of cuteness is powerful — Research has shown that ‘cuteness’ can have a powerful effect on our emotions. And cuteness is often associated with innocence, vulnerability, and trustworthiness.

Dogs have a reputation for providing unconditional love to human beings, which makes them even more adorable. It’s important to note that cuteness is highly subjective, and people may have different opinions on what behaviors and actions they find cute.  Some dog owners discourage certain “cute” playful tendencies, while others enjoy any dog’s boisterous behavior.

From jumping, barking, or cuddling up next to you to making a silly face or wiggling their tail when they’re happy, dogs always seem to know how to put a smile on your face. Whether it’s their fluffy fur, big eyes, or bouncy gait, dogs have undeniably earned the title of “man’s best friend” for their cuteness, loyalty, and lovability!

The science of cuteness

Studies have shown that when looking at pictures of puppies, people experience a surge in the hormone oxytocin associated with bonding, social interaction, and feelings of love and trust. The parts of our brain that respond to babies also respond to an overload of cuteness. It’s no coincidence that people often use the same expressions and language when talking to a puppy as with a baby.

The baby schema effect

The baby schema effect is the presence of specific physical characteristics, such as a round face, large eyes, and soft fur, which can elicit a nurturing or protective behavior from people. This is why it’s so common for people to have a solid emotional attachment to their dogs   and why they often refer to them as “fur babies.”

“The baby schema concept was originally proposed as a set of infantile traits with high appeal for humans, subsequently shown to elicit caretaking behavior and to affect cuteness perception and attentional processes,” according to Frontiers in Psychology. “Our findings confirm the generalization of the baby schema response to animals, specifically to the most common pet species (dogs and cats).”

Oxytocin helps build trust

Oxytocin, also sometimes called “the cuddle chemical,” is a hormone produced and released in humans and dogs during positive social interactions, such as cuddling and spooning. It has been shown to help build trust and create strong bonds between individuals. Studies have shown that their oxytocin levels increase when humans and dogs interact.

Cuteness may be one of the strongest forces that shape our behavior, according to several scientific studies. So much so that when a dog stares at you, and you stare back, both male and female dogs experience up to a 130% rise in oxytocin levels, and both male and female owners a 300% increase! An increase in oxytocin is one of the many reasons dogs stole our hearts a long time ago.

Survival of the cutest

Cuteness is often seen as an appealing trait, which means that people are likelier to choose animals with specific cute characteristics over those without. For example, many pet owners prefer puppies and kittens with shorter faces, flatter noses, and fluffier coats.

The French bulldog breed was the American Kennel Club’s most popular dog in the U.S. in 2022, and its unique features, like the iconic bat ears and squished face, are considered by many to be epitome of cute. According to the AKC’s breed standard, the head is large and square, with heavy wrinkles rolled above the short nose. Pugs are known for their flatter noses, and the Bichon frise is known for its fluffy coat. Both score a  ten out of ten on the scale of cuteness, according to owners.

🚨 There are some health issues associated with flat-faced or brachycephalic breeds, and breeds with short noses can suffer from breathing problems or respiratory difficulties. 

The psychology of cuteness

The psychology of cuteness is a phenomenon that many people find hard to explain, but research has shown that it can have a powerful effect on our emotions. Cuteness is often associated with innocence, vulnerability, and trustworthiness – factors that may trigger humans’ instinctive desire to protect and nurture.

Attachment and emotional responses

On an emotional level, research suggests that the bond between humans and their canine companions may positively impact overall mental health and well-being. Dogs can also provide comfort during times of stress, increase feelings of security, and even serve as helpful social mediators in certain situations.

“Pets are increasingly acknowledged by mental health professionals as important sources of social and emotional support,” according to  the Human Animal Bond Research Institute. Plus, dogs rely on humans for care and protection, and this dependency can evoke feelings of compassion and nurturing.

Cuteness equals positivity

Cuteness can lead to positive feelings because when we see something that is cute, it often evokes feelings of warmth and happiness. For example, seeing a puppy can induce smiling and laughing. Dogs also act as companions to us, providing emotional support during difficult times. Studies have shown that having a pet can reduce stress and anxiety, contributing to overall well-being.

Cute dog behaviors: manipulations or instinct?  

The behaviors that dogs often display, such as rolling over or barking for attention, evoke a sense of whimsy and innocence which further endears them to us. This has happened since man’s best friend joined our pack and helped us hunt for meals 14,000 years ago.

The head tilt

Why do dogs cock their head side to side when you’re talking or their favorite podcast is playing? Dogs tilt their heads when trying to understand what they hear or see. Although it might seem like they are listening to you, scientists believe this behavior is a response to sound, sight, or smell.  Dogs do this to assess facial communication better, as they need to see your face clearly to understand what you’re saying! They also often cock their head side to side when they’re introduced to new, unfamiliar inanimate objects.

A soft whine

Your dog’s body language, and a soft whine, will help differentiate if this is a sign of distress or discomfort in a dog. So it could be the dog trying to communicate how it is feeling. It could also be the dog trying to get your attention for something else, such as to go outside, or simply because it wants your attention and affection.

Big, expressive puppy eyes

Dogs have large, innocent-looking eyes that can melt our hearts. Eye contact with your dog can create a strong emotional bond. We like dogs’ eyes because of their large, round shape and bright colors. Dogs can express emotion through their eyes alone and through color variation. A dog’s eyes can be gentle, kind, and sympathetic when sad or scared.

The way a dog uses its eyebrows and facial expressions is also very endearing. Depending on the breed, dogs can pull off many different expressions — from the basset hound’s adorably sad puppy-dog eyes to a mischievous grin that conveys humor, as seen in the Samoyed.

Playful behavior

Dogs often exhibit boisterous and playful behavior (like zoomies! ) Their enthusiasm and excitement can make them appear even more adorable. Playful dog behavior includes chasing tails, fetching a toy, running around in circles, playing tug-of-war with a rope or toy, jumping up to catch a frisbee or ball, and rolling over for belly rubs.

  • Chasing their tails. This behavior could indicate that the dog is trying to catch its tail for fun. However, excessive tail chasing may be a sign of anxiety.
  • Running around in circles. This playful behavior is often just a way for dogs to release excess energy or excitement.
  • Rolling over for belly rubs. This is usually associated with submission and trust in their owners, as they make themselves vulnerable by rolling over onto their backs.

Smiling faces

Dogs’ facial muscles are much more developed than most other animals, allowing them to make a wide range of expressions showing off how they feel at any moment. This is why they can easily convey joy, sadness, or excitement with just one look!

A dog’s natural “smile” can bring joy and happiness to people. Their wagging tails and joyful expressions can instantly lift spirits. It is however important to note the distinction between a relaxed smile, and a dog bearing its teeth due to aggression or stress.

A history of cuteness

From their floppy ears and furry coats to their big expressive eyes, there’s no denying that dogs are some of the cutest creatures. Not only do they look adorable, cuddled up in your lap or chasing a ball around the yard, but their playful antics, silly facial expressions, and loving gestures make us smile every day. It’s no wonder why they are considered man’s best friend!

Wolves were the first canines to join human packs, and researchers confirm 14,000 years ago, their big eyes won over humans when they were first hunter-gatherers. Our ancestors were smitten with cute puppy behaviors as well as features like round eyes, large heads, puppy dog eyes, and small noses. Our strong bond with companionship animals is a result of years of domestication. Put quite simply, a dog’s cuteness is a result of selective breeding, and we as pet owners should be thankful for that today.

Frequently asked questions

Why are dogs so loyal?

Dogs have been bred for generations to form strong bonds with humans, leading to their trustworthiness and loyalty. Dogs will go above and beyond to please their owners, making them excellent companions.

Why do dogs have such expressive faces?

Dogs’ facial muscles are much more developed than most other animals, allowing them to make a wide range of expressions showing off how they feel at any given moment. This fact is why they can easily convey joy, sadness, or excitement with just one look.

Why do dogs like to cuddle?

Cuddling is one of the most critical ways dogs bond with their owners or other animals they come in contact with, as it’s a way for them to show affection and feel secure knowing someone is there for them. It also releases oxytocin in both parties, creating a pleasant feeling of contentment and happiness.

Why do so many people think dogs are cute?

A dog’s furry body, expressive face, endearing mannerisms, and eagerness to please make them undeniably adorable creatures that can bring a smile to anyone’s face!