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Puppy Dog Eyes Are The New Opposable Thumbs

How Dogs Evolved To Be Cute

It’s late after a day of work and you’ve just gotten home from a long day of work to discover that your furniture is torn to shreds and there’s a mess all over the family room. With rage in your heart and your fists clenched tightly you look for the guilty party only to discover the canine culprit looking up at you with eyes as big as saucers. Before you know it, all rage has subsided and you’re giving your puppy an extra treat.

If this situation hasn’t happened to you, then chances are that you can at least relate to the temptation to succumb to the infamous "puppy dog eyes." But why are we such suckers for that furry face and how does it affect the lives of dogs everywhere? A team of researchers at the University of Portsmouth believes they have the answer to those questions.

Recently, a team of scientists observed 27 shelter dogs and examined their ability to utilize the puppy dog face in interspecies social environments. It’s no surprise that humans find their own young to be cute, seeing as this provides a biological incentive for humans to care for their community’s youth. It then makes sense that the preference for these traits carries over across species that can accurately display these features.

Studying Shelter Dogs

The study led by researcher Dr. Bridget Waller confirms this conjecture with a simple test that has indicated that the puppy dog face provides an observable advantage that affects the course of the evolution for domesticated dogs.

Waller’s study is based off of the observation of 27 shelter dogs that were either Staffordshire bull terriers or Mastiffs. The dogs were between 7 months and 8 years of age and observed in a typical shelter environment. The research team proceeded to count the number of times that each dog raised their brows to make a "puppy dog face" and took note of which dogs were adopted.

According to the study, dogs that made the expression were consistently adopted faster than the dogs that did not. The team was able to use this observation to reach the conclusion that our canine companions may have evolved to make these expressions. "The results of this research suggest that wolves which produced child-like expressions may have been more tolerated by humans, and so modern dogs have inherited these features," stated Waller.

The most novel result of the study was the finding that certain features were not consciously selected to breed domesticated dogs yet still influenced our ancestor’s breeding and taming practices. Additionally, it explains why your dog’s face is just so darn cute.

What Does This Mean For Doggie Development?

Though the results reveal the initial tendency toward cuteness, today, the desire for cuteness is actively affecting dog evolution through the practice of selective breeding. Many breeders take extra time and effort to produce a breed of dog that is particularly small or retains its cute features for longer, such as the Cava Poo Chon. Because people are naturally predisposed to prefer these dogs, it might mean that we will see an increase in the practice of selectively breeding “designer dogs.”

Unfortunately, this trend is bad news for many dogs. Because dogs that do not make a “puppy face” are passed over for those that do, the demand for designer dogs creates more animals in a world where shelters are full and strays are being euthanized each day. In other words, the most crucial time to say "no" to the puppy dog face, is when you're looking for a pet that needs a home. So just remember when looking for a rescue dog that you want to truly rescue, that the cute dog will almost certainly be adopted. As for the dog without the jovial expression and big, begging eyes? Well that's entirely up to you.