Have you ever felt overcome with emotion at the sight of a cute and fuzzy animal? Does seeing a picture of a Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy smiling make you want to pinch their cheeks? If you said yes to either question, you might be experiencing a response known as cute aggression, also known as playful aggression. Despite how the name might sound, this superficially aggressive response doesn’t mean you want to hurt anyone, only that you have an urge to squish them because they’re just so adorable.
Here’s how to tell if you have cute aggression and what you can do about it.
What Is Cute Aggression?
Cute aggression refers to an urge to squeeze, bite, or pinch something cute like a young animal or a human baby without any desire to cause them harm. “Since humans have an exceptional drive to care for their young, baby-like features such as a small nose, round cheeks, and large eyes can evoke this response,” says Ali Smith, a professional dog trainer and founder at Rebarkable.
In response to positive experiences, some people express their feelings in a dimorphous manner, meaning they show both positive and negative reactions. For instance, they might cry at a wedding or scream at the top of their lungs when they see their favorite band perform at a concert. Both of these are considered relatively normal behavior.
Researchers have found a link between cute aggression and brain activity, related to caretaking behaviors (e.g., holding, touching) and the feeling of being overwhelmed. People with cute aggression tend to display this response across a variety of situations rather than one specific occasion.
How Can I Tell If I Have Cute Aggression?
Cute aggression is a common response to dogs with infantile features, particularly puppies or Toy breeds such as the Pomeranian, Chihuahua, or Shih Tzu. One way to tell if you’re experiencing this urge is to notice your body language. When you see a puppy, do you grit your teeth or feel the urge to smother them in kisses?
Other signs of cute aggression are “tension in the jaw, the desire to pinch or squeeze cute things, or even punch them,” Smith says. “But it’s an inhibited desire. People don’t typically do it because they know it would be wrong.”
Since research on this phenomenon is still in its early stages, “there aren’t any standards for defining it,” says Dr. Jo Myers, DVM, a veterinarian expert at JustAnswer. “Cute aggression is not an illness or disorder, so there’s no ‘diagnosing’ it. It’s just a common human reaction to seeing something cute.”
Are There Any Dangers of Cute Aggression?
So long as you don’t carry out these slightly aggressive urges, you won’t be harming anyone else or yourself.
“Cute aggression responses pose absolutely no danger to the human experiencing them or to dogs or whatever cute thing is triggering the reaction,” Dr. Myers says. “Cute aggression is just an urge. It doesn’t lead to actual violence.” In contrast, inflicting harm or suffering on an animal is animal abuse, which, to be clear, is not the same as cute aggression.
Most people have enough self-control not to squeeze a puppy too hard. “But theoretically, if you didn’t have that inhibition, the result could be broken bones or even death,” Smith says.
What Can I Do to Reduce the Urge?
If you experience cute aggression, Dr. Myers recommends using “self-control to stifle the reaction since you don’t really want to hurt or scare the dog or put yourself in danger.” Some dogs might not be comfortable meeting people they don’t know, so it’s always best to ask the owner for permission before petting their dog.
“Avoid hugging or squeezing dogs since this is not part of normal canine body language,” Dr. Myers says. “Some dogs may find it stressful or even alarming to be hugged.”
When you’re petting a dog, watch for signs of stress such as the dog yawning, panting, tucking their ears in, or licking their lips. It’s important to be mindful of a dog’s comfort level, especially when you’re interacting with puppies and Toy breeds, which are tiny and adorable, but also very fragile.
What If My Child Shows Cute Aggression?
“Many dogs feel threatened and trapped when hugged and may respond aggressively by snapping, biting, or lunging,” Dr. Myers explains. “For this reason, it is very important to teach children to never hug dogs.” The same rule applies to pulling at a dog’s tail or trying to pick them up.
If your child expresses feelings of cute aggression, Dr. Myers suggests saying, “A lot of people feel that way. Isn’t that fascinating?” Statements like these reinforce to the child that it’s normal to have these reactions which can help them become more in tune with their emotions and learn how to regulate them.
To keep everyone safe, “it’s really important that your child and puppy are not left in each other’s company unattended,” Smith says. She suggests using toys such as a stuffed dog to help your child learn how to interact safely with the family dog.
Consider getting a collar or harness for the toy that matches your dog’s gear, so your child can practice how to hold the dog on a leash and how much pressure to apply. “You can teach them skills with the pseudo-puppy and then transfer those motor skills and behavior successfully to the actual dog or puppy,” Smith explains.
The urge to squish something cute might feel overwhelming but it’s not uncontrollable. In fact, cute aggression responses like screaming or clenching your fist have a purpose. They help people gain control over their emotions to avoid acting on their feelings and causing harm to others.