Why Are Puppy Dog Eyes So Cute?

As the old saying goes, ‘The eyes have it.’ When it comes to our dogs, we’re suckers for their signature puppy dog eyes. This is why that “look” often makes an appearance when they’re after an extra treat or have chewed up your clothing. Unable to talk, dogs use their eyes to communicate with humans and other dogs. While particular looks may convey anger or humorous displeasurepuppy dog eyes are a sign of trust and can help establish a crucial emotional connection and bond with their pet parent.

Below, discover why your dog loves flashing those adorable eyes at you and how to make your bond better with your dog through eye contact.

What Are Puppy Dog Eyes?

Puppy dog eyes involve large eyes with a soft stare that comprises a good dose of vulnerability. Despite being associated with dogs, this look is something humans – particularly children – have displayed for thousands of years, and we have the research to prove it.

Aside from just looking cute, there are deeper reasons why we find puppy dog eyes attractive and appealing. Studies suggest humans have an innate preference for larger eyes; the more vulnerable appearance of the puppy dog gaze motivates feelings of caretaking within us. In a study where participants were shown images of dogs with slightly altered physical characteristics, they preferred dogs with larger, wider-set eyes.

How Have Puppy Dog Eyes Evolved?

Experts believe that dogs’ ability – and tendency – to adopt that puppy dog gaze isn’t something they’ve always possessed. Instead, this developed during domestication, as dogs realized that humans prefer paedomorphic (childlike) characteristics. Adopting juvenile-like behaviors also makes them appear less aggressive and more appealing to potential parents.

Additionally, dogs have evolved physically to adopt the puppy dog gaze. They’ve developed a particular muscle that allows them to lift their eyebrows to make their eyes appear larger. One study found that dogs are more likely to use these eyebrow muscles when their pet parent is looking at them. Meanwhile, researchers in a shelter noticed dogs who moved this facial muscle getting adopted faster.

How Do Dogs Use Puppy Dog Eyes To Communicate?

Eye contact is a vital form of communication between dogs and parents. Humans look into a dog’s eyes to help gauge their emotions. Meanwhile, dogs use visual cues to determine their pet parent’s readiness to communicate. While dogs look at various facial features to “read” us, research reveals that the eyes are the most important element in helping them to process visual human emotions and messages.

Looking into puppy dog eyes impacts humans emotionally and physiologically. In fact, research shows when a dog gazes at their pet parent, it leads to higher concentrations of oxytocin. Caroline Wilkinson, a certified animal behaviorist with Barket Place, says oxytocin is associated with bonding and social connections.

Lastly, dogs use their eyes and body language to communicate their feelings and send messages. For example, holding eye contact while dipping their body into a bow indicates they want to play. Meanwhile, avoiding eye contact and cowering their body can signal stress or fear.

A cute dog with puppy dog eyes


How Can Eye Contact Deepen Your Bond with Your Dog?

In addition to the bonding hormone oxytocin, science associates eye contact, like puppy dog eyes, with improved mood and enhanced trust. So, how can you encourage those moments of eye-to-eye connection? Here’s some how-to’s for eye contact from Wilkinson:

  1. Speak with them quietly and softly
  2. Engage in play or agility training
  3. Give them a reward, like a tasty treat
  4. Pet them in their favorite spots, like around the ears or near their tail
  5. Avoid intense eye contact or staring too deeply 

Unsure if your dog likes eye contact? It might be their breed! Researchers in Hungary found that breed and personality can influence a dog’s likelihood to engage in eye contact. Young, playful dogs are more likely to hold a gaze than lower-energy, stubborn pups. So don’t take it personally if your dog doesn’t seem too keen to look you in the eye!


Puppy dog eyes are one of the many adorable traits we love about our pups. While it might just seem like a tactic to get extra treats or pets, dogs look at us to show their affection and how much they trust us. Remember that the next time your pup gives you the cutest puppy dog eyes you’ve ever seen.

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