Think about the naughtiest thing your dog ever did. For me, it’s the time my dog Ralph got into the kitchen cupboard while I was out and tossed a bag of flour all over the house. I was frustrated when I came home to a find flour ground into the carpet, but then Ralph looked up at me with those big, round eyes, flour dusting her adorable nose, her sweet, soft ears flopping over as she tilted her head…how could I stay mad at a face like that?
Cuteness. It’s what makes us squee over puppy pics and rush to forgive our pets for the occasional naughty misstep. But why are dogs so cute? What is it about man’s best friend that turns even the toughest tough guy into a babytalking fool every time his dog rolls over for a belly rub? It turns out the science of cute is fascinating stuff.
What Makes a Dog Cute
To answer the question, “Why are dogs so cute?” we have to start by identifying what cuteness looks like.
Of course, we can all name cuteness when we see it (our own beloved
pets being the cutest things in the whole wide world, of course). But
there’s actually a recognized list of characteristics that determine
“cute,” all fitting under the German word kinderschema, or baby schema (source).
Here’s a breakdown of what makes your dog cute:
- A large head relative to body size, or a particularly rounded head
- Big, forward-facing eyes (this is why you find your dog cute, but something like, say, a catfish…not so much)
- Big, round ears
- Floppy limbs and a teetering gait (that explains why stumbly puppies are especially cute)
- Rounded body shape
- Soft, elastic body surfaces (think of the parts of your dog that you just love to pet–me, I like the soft spot just above the nose. So soft! So touchable! So cute!)
For an example of cute science in action, look no further than the French bulldog. These unbearably squee-worthy smushballs check all the boxes on the cuteness cue list: pudgy features; loose skin that bunches in adorable rolls; round eyes; round ears; a wide, staggering gait; and that cute little smush nose.