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The Scientific Reason Behind Why We Find Dogs So Cute
A recent study revealed the science behind why humans find dogs so adorable, and it’s at least partially our own fault!
It’s no secret that dogs are adorable, and most pet owners would argue that their furry friend is the cutest in existence! But have you ever wondered what it is about your dog’s appearance that makes him so irresistible? Scientists have recently uncovered a genetic reason behind your fur baby’s endearing puppy dog eyes, but we’re going to have to go back in time many years to fully explain it.
It’s thought that our bond with wolves — the ancestors of domesticated dogs — began approximately 40,000 years when most humans lived as hunter-gatherers. Dogs weren’t born until humans started selectively breeding wolves with the most desirable traits an estimated 33,000 years ago to act as their companions. Thus, the dogs we know and love today were born and man gained a new best friend, forming a bond between our species that has withstood thousands of years.
But a new study has found that humanity has imparted more on dogs than we initially realized, and it’s a key factor in why we find them so cute. In an effort to communicate with their human counterparts — and as a result of selectively breeding dogs whose facial expressions looked similar to our own — dogs have learned to mirror the expressions of their owners. Consequently, the looks our dogs mimic are what makes us fall in love with their appearances.
Specifically, dogs developed different facial muscles from wolves that allow them to replicate human expressions through eyebrow movement, with the evolutionary purpose of making themselves more endearing and communicating with their owners. While wolves primarily utilize “slow-twitch” muscle fibers that are useful for long, extended movements like howling, dogs predominantly use “fast-twitch” muscle fibers. These muscles allow dogs to mimic the facial expressions of humans when they’re sad, and to make their eyes appear larger, giving them an almost childlike appearance that really makes those puppy dog eyes sweep us off our feet. The study also found that dogs are unique from other mammals in that they are the only species that can demonstrate the bond they share with their pet parent through a mutual gaze.
In the past, research suggested we found dogs to be cute because they subconsciously reminded us of babies and we are instinctually hardwired to want to care for and protect our young. It’s a phenomenon called kinderschema, of which dogs are a perfect example. Kinderschema describes mammals with large rounded eyes, small noses, and disproportionate head sizes with little mouths and chins that we find adorable because it reminds us of our own babies. This new study is one of the first times science has really investigated the role our dog’s facial anatomy plays in dog-human interactions and in developing affection toward our pets, and we are here for it!