Pawsimony: He’s Just Not That Into You

Written by Tiro Miller, PhD

One of the precious few things the Internet could agree on in 2016 was that capybara are awesome. The giant South American rodents supplanted 2015’s darling, the three-toed sloth, as Esoteric Animal of the Year, as videos of them chilling with ducks, eating various vegetables, and generally being adorable popped up on our feed.

Here’s one example of a particularly famous capy called JoeJoe, viewed over 18 million times by legions of his adoring fans.

Is “flirting” really an appropriate description for what’s going on here? That’s unlikely–being from very different branches of the mammal family tree, dogs and capybara aren’t likely to share much in the way of…adult interests. But let’s be maximally charitable here and ask, is this behavior at least affiliative? Is JoeJoe having a good time?

I reached out to my friends at the Akron Zoo in Ohio, where capybara make up just some of the 700-plus animals in their collection. Stephanie Miner, a keeper working with their capybara, had this to say:

The hopping around appears to be something like a play behavior seen in juveniles. I dug a little more into other social behaviors that are common in capybaras, and licking/grooming is one component to the building of bonds in groups, which have been known to stay together for years. 

Behaviors that would be expected if the animal was being aggressive or feeling threatened would most likely include loud grunting or alarm barking vocalizations as well as running away, none of which are seen in this short clip.

So there you have it: JoeJoe does in fact seem to be engaging in solicitous, affiliative behavior with the Australian shepherd in this video. Hooray! But what about the dog’s opinion? Unfortunately, the canine element of this particular star-crossed duo seems a little stressed, at least from this short clip. The Aussie’s heavy panting for most of the clip, pinned ears, lip-licking and ‘whale eye’ are all suggestive of a dog that is not jiving with JoeJoe’s funky flow. So even if JoeJoe is flirting, he should probably learn that no means no (at least, not today: another video sees them make it to at least first base!).


Tiro Miller, Ph.D, is the managing editor of this journal, IAABC advertising and promotions Chair, and volunteers with dogs at San Francisco SPCA. He writes at Dogs+Ethics Blog, and less seriously at Occam’s Rover.