Sometimes, we’re going along in life, stressed out and somewhat disillusioned, until we must stop in our tracks to take in the cuteness of a little being. Whether it’s a chubby-cheeked infant in a stroller, a perfectly round newborn panda on TV, or a neighbor’s floppy-eared puppy, cuteness shakes us out of our overactive minds and wakes us up.
Believe it or not, that cuteness is a human need. You might think I’m exaggerating with that statement, but, really, the adorableness that surrounds us does more than just make us feel happy – it is biologically necessary to the continuation of our species. (2)
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The Power To Heal
By now, you may have seen various videos of heated, impassioned political rallies in which people on all sides of the political divide calmed down as soon as they saw a cute animal. Walk into any school where dogs are permitted, any barbershop where canines hang out, and any doctor’s office sprinkled with service animals, and one fact is made as clear as the sky above us: Animals bring out the best in us. We humans love furry creatures.
It goes beyond this, though. When we interact with an animal, no matter how dramatic or tense the situation, our egos and pride fall to the side, tension and stress melt away, and we reconnect with that often-hidden affectionate and playful part of ourselves. It seems that, perhaps, animals heal us.
The Power of Puppies
When we see a puppy, however, the experience of feeling at ease and happy is exacerbated. Puppies and babies of all kinds have a particularly powerful hold on us. Most of us can’t resist petting and stroking a puppy any time we have the chance. Why is this? Why do we – almost universally, across all cultures – feel that puppies are cute?
The Obvious Reasons We Love Puppies
It’s pretty straight-forward if we look only at the surface. Puppies have shiny new eyes and sweet facial expressions that melt our hearts. Add this innocence to their silly clumsiness, waddling movements, oversized feet, and smacking tails and we have the perfect creature – loveable and funny. If you’ve ever had a puppy, you know they can also be incredibly affectionate and snuggly. And, there’s no mistaking that one-of-a-kind primitive, fleeting puppy scent that we recognize in a mere millisecond and just love to embrace.
The Scientific Reasons We Love Puppies
Feeling magnetically drawn to puppies and babies of all kinds is so much more than just a simple reaction to cuteness, however.
It is an innate response that helps keep species procreating and babies surviving. Our love of cuteness is directly connected to our love of human cuteness, specifically. There are certain traits that we are hardwired to feel are adorable in infants. Among those are big eyes, plump cheeks, and areas of squishy baby fatness. Even more than what we see, however, we’re drawn to the scents and sounds of babies. If you’ve ever held a newborn, you know exactly what those scents and sounds are; they are indescribable and incomparable. And they are simply irresistibly sweet. (2, 4)
Biology has programmed most of us to automatically find these characteristics cute. Nature has done this for two primary reasons. First, being drawn to cuteness compels us to see that which is cute as innocent. When our brain interprets a creature as innocent and unable to take care of itself, we, in response, feel a strong need to take care of them. This allows the wobbly, unknowing creature to survive because it has adults to care for it. A second reason we’re so drawn to cute infants is so that we will want to reproduce, thereby ensuring a continuation of the species. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Now, let’s think about puppies instead of people. Puppies just happen to display those exact characteristics we innately find so adorable in human infants: large round eyes, mushy cheeks, softness, a unique scent, and baby noises.
How Did Puppies Get So Cute?
Although some people (like me) find babies of all species cute, many people feel that only puppies and kittens have the cuteness quotient of a human baby. To that sect of the population, a baby alligator or newborn snake might not be so cute; they lack the big eyes, mushy baby chub, and snuggly personality, to name a few missing ingredients. Yet, puppies draw most of us in because they, unlike reptiles or insects, boast the same characteristics as human infants, which we are biologically wired to love.
Why do puppies demonstrate human-like baby characteristics? Put simply, in part because we bred them to. Our ancestors were brilliant and knew that, as pack animals and mammals, domesticated dogs had extraordinary potential for cuteness. The more cute dogs were bred with other cute dogs that displayed the traits we love, like friendliness, obedience, and affection, the more we perfected the art and science of breeding. Over many generations, domesticated dogs have become our perfect companions, tailor-made to be remarkably cute. Additionally, domestic dogs are smart creatures who have evolved to look cute so that we, in turn, would continue taking care of them as we do our own children. The evolution and domestication of dogs has allowed them to naturally and innately know that humans are their caretakers. Even without thousands of years of domestication, wild dog pups and wolf puppies attract us because they’re family-oriented pack animals that nurse, just like homo sapiens; we have so much in common even without domestication. (1, 2, 3, 4)
Enjoy Your Puppies
For the majority of the dog-loving population, the act of adoring puppies doesn’t really require much analysis, research, or thought. We know we love canines of all ages and stages, all breeds and appearances. When we see a puppy, or any dog for that matter, we can delight in their innocence and allow their cuteness to remind us of the best aspects of humanity – the parts of us that don’t bicker over politics, stress out about work, or feel led by our egos. We can simply enjoy how puppies and dogs reconnect us to our most natural and happiest state.
Ultimately, what matters most is that, when we have the opportunity to raise a puppy or care for a dog, we acknowledge them for the gifts and healing they so selflessly give us. And in return, we can only hope we offer them all the affection, attention, and care they so deserve.