Important mission: Science sets out to determine age of peak puppy cuteness

May 18, 2018

How would you like to be a researcher investigating the “optimal age” of puppy cuteness?

A group of lucky researchers got to embark on that task to publish a recent study that gauged the exact age at which dogs are most appealing to humans. The answer? According to the study, puppies are at their cutest at around six to eight weeks of age.

There may be some significance to that. Puppies are weaned from their mothers at that age, so it's possible that there’s a correlation between puppies’ appeal to humans and puppies’ need for human care and assistance.

Study leader Clive Wynne of Arizona State University first hypothesized the connection on a trip to the Bahamas. There, he encountered a lot of street dogs, prompting him to wonder if there was a tie between pup vulnerability at weaning and their attractiveness to humans. He prepared to test his ideas in the field. The results came out exactly as he expected.

“This could be a signal coming through to us of how dogs have evolved to rely on human care,” he said. “This could be dogs showing us how the bond between human and dog is not just something that we find immensely satisfying in our lives... But for them, it’s the absolute bedrock of their existence. That being able to connect with us, to find an emotional hook with us, is what actually makes their lives possible.”

How do you judge puppies?

The study used photos of three dog breeds — Jack Russell terriers, Cane Corsos, and White Shepherds — at all ages through young adulthood. A group of university students then ranked the puppies on a scale of cuteness.

“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 of life, at that age, that is exactly when they are most attractive to human beings,” said Wynne.

This truly could be key for dogs. Live Science notes that some estimates suggest that more than 80% of wild dogs die in the first year of their lives. Human support obviously gives puppies a greater chance of survival.

But this study doesn’t mean that dogs of all ages aren’t lovable.

“The study doesn’t mean to say that we stop loving our dogs past eight weeks,” said Wynne. “The eight-week point is just the point where 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.”