“Survival of the fittest.”
Good ol’ Darwin. We all know what this statement means: the weakest of a species die out while the strongest survive and propagate their kind. Every animal has to be stronger, faster, smarter…but wait. Did dogs find a loophole?
“Survival of the cutest” is more like it! This too is a Darwinian statement…although Darwin surly used more scientific terminology than “cute”. He pointed out that there are some qualities in young animals (humans included) that makes adults want to care and nurture them; this is what ensures the species survives. Humanity, though, is unique in the fact that our need to nurture crosses species lines. We think baby hippos, lions, and elephants are down right adorable…and out in the wild these creatures (even in cuteness-overload baby form) could and would kill us in an instant.
Wolves fit into this category (the category of “things that would kill us without a second thought”) thousands of years ago, but as discussed in The Evolution of your Best Friend Part 1, they decided they needed us. A partnership was born. A working relationship. Yeah, yeah…they barked when something came to threaten us, they helped us hunt and see at night…but that doesn’t explain why the heck we love them so damn much! Maybe Darwin can.
You might think I’m crazy for saying this – but dogs look a lot like people. (And no, I’m not talking about your ex-boyfriend.) I believe
that wolves evolved into dogs which then evolved into super-cute-dogs-that-humans-will-always-want-to-take-care-of. Look at your dog’s face. What other animal (I’m going to ask you to exclude monkeys and apes for the time being…we’ve all seen a few that look eerily like our own species) has those eyes. And those eyebrows! At the risk of being completely anthropomorphic – tell me you can’t tell the difference between your dog’s “happy eyes” and “confused eyes.” I know it sounds unprofessional for someone who studies and works with dogs, but I swear my pup Buffy has “cute eyes” that she gives me if she wants something or if she knows she is about to get in trouble. (P.S. They TOTALLY work) I don’t think it’s coincidence that when dogs are playfully panting they look like they are smiling. Tell me the last time a squirrel smiled at you…how about a cow? Raccoon??
Now, of course humans themselves had a role in this. We inevitably invited the cutest pups into our homes and lives, while the meaner, rougher looking dogs were left out to fend for themselves. As a species, though….before we went a bit nuts with breeding hundreds of different variations…I think dogs got cute instead of strong to survive. Wolves have bigger brains; they are better problem solvers. Dogs are loyal and kind and sweet and wonderful (ok, I might be a bit bias here) and down right the cutest things ever! Modern day dogs, behaviorally , are extremely like young wolves who never grow up. So not only are the absolutely precious, they have this childlike quality that taps into our biological need to nurture. Brilliant!
So, maybe survival of the fittest doesn’t apply to man’s best friend. Maybe the reason why we love dogs so inexplicably much is that they were literally made for us. They evolved into creatures that our species simply couldn’t resist…and I couldn’t be happier!