Mind & Body

Science Has Determined That This Is the Cutest Age for a Puppy

Picture this. It's 10 on Monday morning and you're stuck in another meeting. Your phone buzzes — you've just been texted a photo of the cutest puppy ever. Or is it? Soon, you and your friend are trading pictures of progressively cuter puppers until you finally figure out who has the better sense of floofiness. Literally, every one of us has been in this scenario (Editor's note: just go with it). Unfortunately, we might never know which puppy is the cutest in the world — but thanks to a new study, science has gotten us closer to answering that question.

Melting Hearts by the Numbers

According to a new study by Nadine Chersini, Nathan Hall, and Clive Wynne from the University of Florida, dogs are at their cutest at a couple of months old. This is very important work. To figure that out, they gathered 51 participants to channel their inner "We Rate Dogs" and assign cuteness scores to photos of puppies from their earliest weeks of life up through young adulthood. They also made sure to choose many different breeds so that their results wouldn't be biased by a crowd-friendly canine. But whether they were looking at Jack Russell terriers, cane corsos, or white shepherds, the participants consistently ranked puppies in roughly their eighth week of life as cuter than younger and older ones.

As it turns out, a dog begins its life with many wonderful qualities, but cuteness isn't one of them. People ranked the newborn dogs as the least cute, with adorability gradually increasing over several weeks until it finally hit that sweet spot (6.3 weeks for cane corsos, 7.7 weeks for Jack Russells, and 8.3 weeks for white shepherds). After that point, cuteness tends to decline slightly, and then level out in adulthood.

Sure, this study might seem a little silly. But it was actually in line with the researchers' hypothesis that optimal cuteness was tied to the age at which female dogs start to kick them out of the den. Yes, when we think dogs are at their cutest, their mothers are feeling like it's time they leave the nest. But what does that tell us about canine evolution?

Survival of the Cutest

Here's one big difference between dogs and wolves: Dogs might start pushing their puppies away at just eight weeks (right around the time they're weaned), while their wild cousins are willing to put up with their progeny for up to two years. To the researchers, this close correlation of the puppies' time of greatest need and their humans' time of greatest squee was likely a result of the domestication process.

Think about it this way. Especially in the early days of dog domestication, humans would have gravitated toward training puppies — and we'd hazard a guess that the cuter the puppy, the better it was treated and the more likely it was to be bred. Those pups that reached peak cuteness right when they were ready to leave Mom and go to puppy-training school were more likely to breed later in life — and therefore produce more eight-week cuties. Now that that puzzle is solved, we've got to get to the bottom of the pointy-nose vs. smush-face debate.

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For more heart-meltingly adorable puppers, check out "#WeRateDogs: The Most Hilarious and Adorable Pups You've Ever Seen" by Matt Nelson, which was named one of the best comedy books of 2017 by Splitsider. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas June 6, 2018

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