Puppies become their cutest just when they need us most
Pups become most attractive to humans just as their mum starts to get sick of them, a study reveals
Puppy eyes are at their cutest at about eight weeks old, a new study on dogs’ attractiveness to people has found. This is the time when puppies are normally weaned and must stand on their own paws.
Roughly 80% of about a billion dogs in the world are feral and human benefactors improve their chance of survival.
Clive Wynne, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, wanted to study the association between puppy cuteness and vulnerability after spending time in the Bahamas, which has many street dogs, and he designed an experiment to do this.
“It came out exactly as I’d hoped it would: that there is indeed an optimal age of maximum cuteness, and that age does line up pretty closely with the age at which mothers wean their pups,” said Wynne, director of the American university’s Canine Science Collaboratory.About 50 participants had to rank the level of attractiveness of a series of puppy photographs, from the first weeks old to young adulthood, among three “distinctive-looking” breeds: Jack Russell terriers, cane corsos and white shepherds.
The researchers discovered the maximum attractiveness to be:
• Cane corsos at 6.3 weeks old;
• Jack Russell terriers at 7.7 weeks old; and
• White shepherds at 8.3 weeks of age.
At birth their attractiveness was lowest and increased to a peak before 10 weeks of age, before levelling off.Wynne said: “Around seven or eight weeks of age, just as their mother is getting sick of them and is going to kick them out of the den and they’re going to have to make their own way in life, at that age, that is exactly when they are most attractive to human beings.
“[Eight weeks is when] the hook is biggest, the ability of the animal to grab our interest is strongest, but having grabbed our interest, we continue to love them all their lives.”
The results were published this week in Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals.The relationship between humans and dogs is the oldest of any animal-human relationship and Wynne thinks this has contributed more to the survival of the canine species than intelligence.
“It’s this tremendous capacity (dogs have) to form intimate, strong, affectionate bonds and that starts at maybe eight weeks of life, when they’re so compelling to us.”
The social nature of the domestic dog exceeds that of other pets like cats and birds, or hand-reared wolves, in his view.
Another recent study conducted by the Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, found that dogs show more facial expressions when people are looking at them.Dog cognition expert and lead author Dr Juliane Kaminski said of their results: “We can now be confident that the production of facial expressions made by dogs are dependent on the attention of their audience and are not just a result of dogs being excited.
“In our study they produced far more expressions when someone was watching, but seeing food treats did not have the same effect.”
The most common expression was “brow-raising” which makes the eyes look bigger, “so-called puppy dog eyes”.
The team studied 24 family pets of different breeds, aged one to 12, for the experiment. They were filmed through different interactions with people.Many mammals’ facial expressions however are “involuntary and dependent on an individual’s emotional state rather than being flexible responses to the audience”, the researchers noted.
Co-author and facial expression expert Professor Bridget Waller said “DogFACS” captures movements from all the different muscles in the canine face.
“We knew domestic dogs paid attention to how attentive a human is; in a previous study we found, for example, that dogs stole food more often when the human’s eyes were closed, or they had their back turned.”
Kaminski, who led the study, said the findings indicated that dogs were sensitive to people’s attention and were actively attempting to communicate.
Next time you get that hangdog look, give your dog a bone. Or a pat. Or both.