How Puppies Steal Hearts

What do you love most about puppies?
By Karen B. London PhD, November 2018
Photo by Phil Hearing (

Photo by Phil Hearing (

Photo by Phil Hearing (

Photo by Phil Hearing (

Rosie is a contender for my favorite puppy of all time

Loving puppies is so universal that people who don’t love them tend to stay quiet about it lest they be shunned by society. Because puppies have the characteristics of any other young mammal, including our own human offspring, it’s no surprise that we find them incredibly endearing. Those big eyes, oversized heads, chubby cheeks, small mouths and small noses are cues that evolution has made appealing to us to ensure that we take care of the young and helpless. Animals we perceive as cute prompt our bodies to produce oxytocin, a hormone whose many effects include feelings of love and the urge to care for others.

Many qualities about puppies seem to make us fall in love with them and cause us to say “Awwwww” without being able to stop ourselves. Yet each of us is moved more by some traits than by others. It’s not unusual to have a favorite puppy characteristic—something you just love about puppies that not everyone finds so completely charming.

Loose skin. By far my favorite thing about puppies is loose skin. Their skin is so big for them that it often seems like a second puppy could fit in there with them. I love the folds and the softness of this excess outer layer. It just seems so cute that they have room to grow right within their own bodies.

That puppy smell. It’s hard to describe the distinctive smell of puppies, but across breeds and geographic areas, the same aroma just goes with puppies. The puppy smell is strongly associated in my mind with puppies, so perhaps I have simply been classically conditioned to feel happy when it is present. From the smell of their feet to their distinctive puppy breath, the nose knows puppies!


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The way they move. Puppy locomotion is endearing in more than one way. I enjoy seeing them trip over their own paws as though they were just placed in this new body and they are trying to figure out how to operate it. Sometimes puppies seem a bit confused about the proper order of leg movement, and it doesn’t always look like they have it right. The way they bounce when they walk or run is equally charming and I don’t understand how anyone could feel anything but delight when they watch the up and down prancing of a happy puppy.

Those spontaneous naps. It fills me with joy when I see a puppy fall asleep right in the middle of doing something else. Whether they are eating, playing, chewing on something, rolling on their backs or running around, there seems to be no activity so important that a puppy can’t suddenly take a snooze instead of continuing with the task at hand. The best of all is when they fall asleep in your arms. Along with most everything about puppies, that is just a little slice of heaven!

What do you love most about puppies?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She has authored five books on canine training and behavior.

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