Stealth, Shadows and Call of the Wild!

If you encounter a coyote, it will most likely be a surprise encounter for both of you on a path. Or, it could be that you will see a coyote off in the distance hunting, or you might see it watching the world go by before it moves on. These glimpses of a coyote can be thrilling and exciting for us city dwellers: finding wildness in our own back yard becomes the highlight of an entire week! The feeling we get from seeing such a wild animal is that the world belongs to all of us.

But another feeling you can get from coyotes is that of stealth, shadows and ghosts! In these cases, usually when it is dark, you might get the feeling that you have seen something move somewhere, but you are not sure where. Your eye actually saw it but only registered it in part — our own senses have not been honed for living in the wild. Next to a coyote’s, our senses are rather dull. A coyote may very well follow or watch you as you move about — it is its nature to be aware of its surroundings. When a coyote knows it was not seen, it may prefer try to remain that way, so it will travel at a distance and in a line where it would be hard to detect. Also, because of a coyote’s lightness and litheness, it can move about in almost total silence. I have sensed these “ghosts” on some of my walks when the light was very dim.

But today in the late morning I sensed something new. I sensed being wild. I had decided to visit an overgrown area where I previously had seen fabulous moss on damp stones. I ducked into this area off the beaten track — you had to duck, you could not stand up. The moss was green and damp and the ground was soft. Yes, this is where I would take some moss photos. While I was there I spotted a banana slug — that was something new for me to get an image of. The light was not good, so I had to fiddle around with my settings. I made soft clicking sounds, which no one could have possibly heard — maybe. I made myself comfortable so as to enjoy the coolness of the place and I became pensive. It was wonderfully peaceful. Then, did I imagine I saw something move? I couldn’t really tell. I became very still. All of my senses became finely acute — there was an intensity of awareness in me which I was not used to. It was emphasized by the total quiet around me.

Something was happening. Overgrowth surrounded me so I could not see beyond just a few feet. Then, from outside of the canopy of leaves in front of me, the sun revealed a silhouette. I saw the head and ears and knew what it was. I then saw its coat as it sat down for only an instant before it was gone. The silhouette never faced me, so it probably didn’t actually see me — it just sensed me with its keen smell and hearing. This experience was the closest to “the wild” that I have ever sensed being: Not only did it involve a tremendous sharpening of my own senses, but I could see that the coyote, with all of its very acute senses, was gathering the information it needed for its own survival. I had the opportunity to touch the wild today: watching a coyote’s stealthy and acutely sensitive behavior, and having my own senses intensify the way they might have had to if I had to survive in the wild.

Bouncing Greeting

Jumping up high several times from the hind legs — or bouncing — is used by coyotes as a greeting for a few SELECT dogs. My dog and I were greeted this way on various occasions several years ago when we came across a coyote for a period of several months. There was no mistaking the friendly intent: “Hi there, I’m so glad to see you”. Could it have had a sexual component?

Since that time, I have come across another walker who reminded me of this behavior. The walker let me know that a coyote, not the same one that I used to see, had just seen him and his dog at not too great a distance and began this jumping. I asked him if the encounter was a surprise one that might have made the coyote defensive. The walker said absolutely not, he wanted to make it clear to me that it was a greeting, and that it actually occurred fairly regularly. It didn’t happen every time he came across this coyote, he said, but often enough so that he knew how to read it. I recalled my own experience when I had a dog, and I knew he was right.

The dogs involved in both of these cases were large males who never went after the coyote and pretty much ignored it. The only reaction these dogs had was a playful bark which made the coyote move back a little — this was probably the intent of the bark. There seemed to be a mutual respect for personal space and a mutual respect for “differences” that both types of canines were aware of and lived up to. The coyote, after the greeting, often followed for a few minutes or lay down to watch, carefully observing all the moves of the dog it had just greeted. Coyotes are able to read every detail of a dog’s character and intentions from its eye contacts, body movements and energy. From observing, the coyote can confirm for itself the friendly — or at least not unfriendly — nature of the dog and whether or not the coyote should expect any adverse behavior.

I have seen other dogs, those which have chased the coyote, approached in a totally different manner by a coyote. The approach was extremely brief, only a few seconds long, but it involved a kind of oneupmanship and testing from both the coyote and the dog: a sequence of short coming-in close and retreating. This is totally different from the behavior I have described as a bouncing greeting.

By the way, I have never seen a coyote greet another coyote in a bouncing manner. Coyotes greet each other by coming in close to each other, face to face, and they often caress — at least those within the same family. If a coyote does come up to a dog, it tends to do so towards the rear end of the dog.

I have not been able to get a still photo of this, but three years ago I did get a video, with my Canon point and shoot camera, of the “bounce” which I have put up on YouTube:

Looking Up To A Coyote Sibling and Sibling Curiosity

Of course, the pups in a family always look up to their mother. And she, the mother, leads and disciplines with care and firmness and affection. But when the mother is not around, or at least not close by, I’ve actually seen a hierarchy among the siblings. It’s less that there is a leader than that there is a follower, though I’ve seen the leader check on the other. The follower waits for, and looks up to the other sibling. I’m still seeing this behavior at one-year of age. Maybe this hierarchy is permanent? They BOTH constantly check on what the other is up to — there is always an immense curiosity and interest in this!

The leader is generally bolder and can be seen more often exploring on its own, or exploring just with the mother. The follower is much shyer and prefers not to be seen by people, flees quickly, and only hangs around if either the sibling or mother are there.

Carrying Off Its Prey

Here is a young coyote running off with a gopher in its jaws instead of devouring its catch right then and there, which would normally be the case.

It is pupping season. Because new mothers at first must remain with their new pups to keep them warm and to feed them, other members of the coyote’s family, including pups from the previous year’s litter, will chip in to supply food to the new mom. Here are photos of a coyote carrying prey. Could this coyote be feeding another?

Hunting In Tall Grass

I saw this lone coyote four times in the same morning. First, it was hunting way in the distance — it did not catch anything.

Then I encountered it again, headed towards me on a path around a bend, so we didn’t see each other until we were fairly close. Instead of taking off, lickety-split, this coyote casually looked at me before it wandered away from in a fairly leisurely, not too hurried manner: there was no intensity to its behavior.

Right after that I spotted it a third time, hugging along the edge of some bushes where it was harder to see it — it was obviously trying to avoid running into anyone. I should say that few people are in the parks when I see coyotes: I think when people are around, the coyotes just don’t come out so much. The exception to this observation is when a coyote comes out specifically to “monitor” dogs: to keep an eye on dogs, especially those which have previously chased it and to make sure these dogs head out of the park.

Then I spotted this same coyote a fourth time as it hunted in the tall grass. It saw me in the distance, but continued its hunting endeavor — it was obviously onto something, and it may have been hungry. What was fun here, which I didn’t capture particularly well in the photos, was that the coyote was almost totally hidden from view, but would “bounce up” above the tall grass every few seconds to get a view of its surroundings, then it would descend again! These photos show the highest level of the bounce. I was not able to capture the curved back nor the total disappearance of this hunter. Obviously it was a delicious catch. Please notice the exceptionally beautiful white markings of this coyote!

Snips and Snails and Coyote Pup Tails

Lots goes into defining a coyote. Here is some “stuff” relevant to coyotes in our parks — sort of. Well, especially the tail in a field! Of course there are the footprints after a rain storm and there is scat. I like the flowers and moons which thrill me as much as the coyotes do — they are part of the coyote’s environment! I have found a number of dead moles — I’m wondering if these are always discarded by coyotes. I continue to see raccoon prints — always in the same locations, so I think adult raccoons can hold their own against coyotes. And yes, coyotes eat snails!!!

Change of Appearance Due to Shedding

Coyote winter coats, thick and fluffy gray with strong black markings, are now being shed as the weather changes. Note the heavy winter coat above left, and the coyote to the right who is in the process of shedding this coat. The coyote’s new coat is shorter and darker, and the markings are not as intense. Also, as more winter fur is shed, the same coyote will appear much thinner. The change is so different that it makes it very possible to mistake it for being a different coyote, but in fact it is one and the same. I’ll try to add a third photo when the shedding is complete in mid-June.

The first two photos show the heavier winter coat. The third shows that coat thinning out, leaving a darker, more uniform colored coat. The last section of the coat to shed will be the neck area: a coyote in June often looks like it has a mane!

Display of Temper and Anger at Being Thwarted

This story is second-hand to me, as told to me by a volunteer at one of the wildlife rehabilitation centers in this area. Apparently a coyote was brought into the center with an injured leg. Unless the circumstances are extremely dire, this should never be done. A coyote can heal on its own, or even live with its injuries. Removing a coyote from its family situation is just about the worst thing that can happen to it. Coyotes are part of an extremely strong family network, with their social status and duties well worked out — each coyote knows what it can expect from the others and from itself. When a coyote is removed — because we humans think we can handle the situation better than they can — the scheme is disrupted. There is intense mourning for the individual lost — how would they know that the removal might only be temporary? —  nothing will ever be the same. They re-organize and begin to function in this new mode. Then the “rehabilitated” coyote is returned, whereupon this coyote now must be reaccepted and claim its previous spot. I can imagine that everything does not fall into place smoothly.

The story I want to tell, which surprised me, was that of an injured coyote who was captured and taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center. Here it was treated and confined. The coyote did not want to put up with the confinement — it was “trapped” — it was like being in jail with the added fear that it didn’t know when its captors were going to hurt it or possibly eat it. Being captured and confined is a terrifying experience for all animals. The coyote displayed its intense anger and immense temper by actually lifting its bowl in its jaws — picking up the heavy ceramic bowl filled with food, and smashing it into pieces against the floor — at every single meal. That this coyote was effectively displaying that it was mad might be revealing to some of us humans. Coyotes have all the intense feelings that humans have — we need to recognize this. This coyote wanted to be set free to rejoin its family, but the coyote could do nothing about it.

An Injured Leg

Some coyotes are less visible these days because they are having pups. But this is not the only reason one might become less visible at this time of year. Today I spotted a coyote which I had not seen in a number of days. I saw it because it had been “flushed out” by a dog. The dog had not gone after it, but the dog inadvertently came close enough to upset the coyote — the coyote had been on the other side of a bush. This coyote began an intense defensive display: hackles up, scratching the ground while bucking up, lips pulled back and teeth displayed. The dog owner and his dog turned around to go the other way to get away from the coyote, but the coyote followed them — in this case this was a behavior used by the coyote to warn the dog from coming back. When the man stopped on the path, the coyote began a long barking session: “don’t mess with me.”

I thought to myself that this particular coyote behavior could very well have been mistaken for that of a new mom coyote during pupping season — this is what first came to my mind because of the coyotes unusually edgy behavior. But there was another factor, which may in fact be the entire reason for this strong behavior: the coyote had a substantial leg injury. An injured animal may act much more protective of its personal space for its own feeling of safety.

As this coyote barked its discontent at the dog, a limp in the left hind leg became readily apparent. And yes, my photos show not only the leg being held up, but also a long red gash on the very lower part of this leg. So, in this case, rather than there being a new litter of pups involved, there was the phenomenon of a bad injury that would have kept this coyote lying low and out of sight for the past few days. I have noted several times now, after not seeing a coyote for an extended time, that its “lying low” was attributable to such an injury.

I know of at least three times within the last two years that this same coyote has sustained severe left back leg injuries. This time, however, is the first time I have seen a wound. I’m wondering why this same leg continues to get hurt? Could the coyote have been in a fight with another coyote or a raccoon? Or could it have been trying to escape from such a fight when it sustained this injury?

Springtime: Other Babies and Fun Behavior

It is pupping season for the coyotes. Coyotes keep their pups well hidden and safe for a long period of time. A mother herself may stay more secluded during the beginning of this time period, re-emerging quite a bit more defensive and vocal than when she last was out and about. Pups, for the most part, will not be seen until they are nearly full grown. You’ll be lucky to spot one at about three months of age: although the almost full size might deceive you into thinking it is an adult, the behavior will be the dead giveaway!!

However, other babies are around, including Great Horned Owlets who are, right now,  about ready to take flight. All animals have fascinating habits and behaviors. I’ve put these owls in here to create some variety from the coyotes, and for the fun of it. These owls “branched” on the day I took these photos: they left the nest to sit on nearby branches of the same tree. They will remain in the tree for only a few more days. After they take their first flight — enticed out of the tree by their mom — they will not return to their nesting tree, but they will inhabit trees in the immediate vicinity and they will spend a lot of time with their parents learning to hunt and defend themselves, and honing their flying skills which are very awkward at first.

“Teenage” animals of all species are the most interesting ones to me. They are almost full-sized, but still exhibiting a lot of juvenile trust and curiosity. A number of people have had the experience of a coyote following them: the coyote often is a young one which is curiously watching and trying to understand. Well, I met a woman yesterday who told me that several years ago she spotted an owl fairly low in a tree. She was thrilled to have spotted it, so she remained with it for a while to watch it. And it watched her, not moving from the perch on which she had found it. After a while, she decided it was time to go. As she walked away, the owl actually hopped and flew along beside her, keeping up with her some distance! I tell this story to let everyone know that coyotes are not the only ones who follow out of curiosity. I myself had a hummingbird follow me and examine me up close — and I’ve seen hummingbirds do this same thing to a howling coyote!! The woman did not remember the date when this happened, so we could not know if it was a juvenile owl or an adult one.

In the photos above, the owlet to the left is the “younger” one — owls lay their eggs one at a time every few days, and the few days difference in age is readily apparent. Here they are huddled together, maybe for warmth and maybe for security. As I was taking the photos suddenly the one to the right opened its eyes really wide as if it had been startled. It bent its body over, beak agape as if it were really onto something it was watching on the ground. It continued to lean over, somewhat opening and closing its beak. I thought it was reacting to a black Labrador which was sitting with its owner below the tree. But no, a few seconds later I was flabbergasted: an owl pellet came out and I caught it in an image!! The entire “urp”, took exactly 24 seconds.

An owl pellet consists of a compacted mass of teeth, hair, feathers and bone remains of the animals eaten by the owl. Owls eat early in the evening and upchuck this one pellet, once a day, just about 20 hours after eating. The owl’s stomach acids are not strong enough to dissolve these remains of their meal, and instead, the undigested fur, bones and feathers are compacted into a wet, slimy pellet.

To see the progression as three owlets grow up go to: Owl Family of Triplets Grows Up!

Coyote Pupping Season is Here

Coyote pupping season is here: mid-April is when pups will start being born. Expectant mothers may go into a time of “confinement”  for the birthing period. In previous years I  have seen the new mothers much less often and sometimes not at all for an extended period. Food may be brought to them by the male or other family members. A female coyote’s becoming less conspicuous is often the first sign that a new family is being raised. The more definite sign will be if someone spots her as a lactating mom: her tits will be engorged.

Female coyotes have litters only once a year. They mate only in February during a short 10 day period. Males, too, only produce sperm during this period, I have read. The gestation time is nine weeks, and a normal litter size is from 4-7. It seems that the territory size and the amount of resources on it might affect litter size. In an urban park with limited resources, the litters appear to be smaller in size. Respecting wildlife means allowing them to raise their families with a feeling of safety: this means not seeking out their dens. So, although we can’t be sure how many pups are originally born to any particular female — this is because survival rates are sometimes as low as 5-20% — if we are lucky, we can often count the pups who do live to become adults. In one instance we know that two years ago one of the females in one of the local parks ended up with just ONE pup, and last year, this same female ended up with TWO pups. This year NONE were born at all. Is this population control? Or is it a sign of a stressful environment with too many dog incidents in the parks?

The pups normally leave the den at around 4 to 5 weeks of age, and actually stop using the den after they double this age. I have seen that the families are strong, staying together for at least a year, which allows time for the pups to learn all they can, and allows parents to help with feeding and protection. I have seen some pups disperse — leave the family and the area — at about a year-and-a-half of age, but others stay on to remain with the family that raised them. It is only a dominant female and leader of the group who is allowed to reproduce in any one “pack”. IF a younger female ends up having pups, she is kicked out of the pack — or so I have heard. I have not seen an instance of this.  How long do feeding and suckling actually continue seems to vary. I have seen a mother carry off a gopher towards her “home” or den area as late as December. There is the possibility that this female was carrying off the gopher to bury it somewhere. However, because she hurried off towards her “home” area, I am assuming it was to give to a youngster, as I had seen her do many months before.

And, although the right-hand photo may show a submissive approach to the mother, as I have seen often, it appears actually that this youngster may be attempting to suckle as late as December — that pup was eight months old and full-sized. This particular youngster is particularly shy of humans — is usually the quickest to flee and hide — but will only occasionally allow himself to be seen with his family group, as long as he can look up to them for guidance — this is at one year of age. This particular coyote also seems to love to play —  he’s ready to do so often: tossing up what serves as a ball or toying with a floppy item which I could not identify, or enticing the other coyotes to play chase. The other coyotes in this group appear to keep an eye out for this one and oblige him with the playing.

Specifically in one coyote family group, I have not seen a father around on a regular basis. I spotted the male fleetingly only twice with the female, once in her park and once far from her park — but this was last year. The males I have come across are much shyer than the females and seem to prefer not being seen at all.

Please be considerate of the coyotes during this time, by giving them extra space and calmness when you visit the parks with your dogs. Please leash your dogs for your dog’s AND for the coyote’s feeling of safety and protection. If you see a coyote, keep walking on.


All Chases Are Remembered

This coyote was out and about when people and their dogs began arriving in this park in the morning. I was at the other end of the park when some runners told me that people were talking about having seen a coyote. I headed in the direction they had come from. As I walked, I heard a couple of women repeatedly yelling at their dogs to “come” — it was the same desperate commanding tone I’ve heard every time from dog owners around a coyote. The dogs apparently did so, because when I actually arrived there, everything was calm, and the walkers had moved on. However, I am sure the coyote was feeling defensive at this point. I saw the coyote way off to the side by a hill where I could tell it had planned to make its getaway if it had needed to.

With the way clear, the coyote meandered about, sniffing the ground in various places. When it came to a specific spot, after sniffing the spot carefully, it urinated on it. I suppose that the coyote was leaving a message which “trumped” whatever smell the coyote had just found — this may have been the coyote’s reaction to the dogs that had been called away. It was right at this moment that a very large German Shepherd, an unleashed dog which has chased the coyote repeatedly, spotted the coyote and went after it in a full blown, fast and long chase. The coyote took off like a jackrabbit and was able to evade the large dog by dodging through some thick underbrush — coyotes all have a collection of secret escape routes if they need them. The coyote had gone on up to a high rock where it began barking its shrill discontent, loudly, for about 20 minutes. The dog was unable to pursue the coyote through the thicket. The dog owner finally retrieved his dog and took off for a walk away from this area. However, when he came back past this same spot, not long thereafter, the now calmed down coyote, still up on the rock, started in again: it was at this particular dog that the coyote was complaining.

I have noticed that once a dog chases a coyote, the coyote remembers the particular dog — as, of course, the dog remembers the coyote. It is the dogs which chase, along with the uncontrolled hyperactive dogs which the coyote watches in the mornings. The large, never-leashed German Shepherd is one of those which the coyote watches out for — monitors — because of its previous, and consistent chasing behavior — the coyote does this for its own safety. What I had not seen before is this coyote starting up its barking session again for a second time when the same dog re-appeared ten minutes later, albeit at a greater distance and without chasing this time.  The barking is both a complaining and a warning to the dog to keep off. The intense barking ultimately keeps most dogs at a distance.

Also, most dogs won’t continue in at a coyote if it turns around and faces the dog. A similar type of behavior happened several times with my own dog shortly after we had adopted him: he chased a cat. When the cat just stood there and faced my dog, my dog had no idea what to do — it was the chase that mattered. However, by the time a coyote turns around to face its aggressor, the coyote is now in the driver’s seat and it may very well actually defend itself by nipping at the dog to get it to leave. For this reason, we need to keep our dogs from chasing the coyotes. Chasing is a game for our dogs, but not so for the coyote.

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Family Interactions

First I noticed one, then two coyotes sitting calmly out on a grassy hill. They were both staring in the same direction — the reason for the staring became apparent when a third coyotes appeared. This was a family group of a mom and two one-year-old pups. When the second pup appeared, the two young ones joyfully ran up the hill to mom as she stretched in anticipation: this is depicted in the first nine photos above. As they neared mom at the top of the hill, one of the pups, the male, held his ears back and went into a crouching — submissive? — position. This one came up towards the mom by coming up under her chin. The three then walked a short ways, rubbed heads and happily hugged in close to each other. I could not see all the details of the interactions because of my distance and the tall grass. Mom then moved out of the picture.

The two younger ones began romping and exploring. Each kept looking at the other: they were very curious about what the other was up to. Finally they romped down the hill where one of them found something that must have looked like fun. This coyote pawed at the object, tossed it in the air a few times and finally pounced on it. I could not tell what the item was except that it was floppy rather than rigid. The other coyote watched, transfixed, but never tried to go for the object. Eventually, without leaving this spot, one of the coyotes sat down and the other one lay down, doing nothing — the play seemed to be over. When they were ready, they got up and meandered into the brush where I could no longer see them.

Grooming Shows Affection and Care

These two coyotes were out looking around: a mother and her yearling pup. They were together, but one would go off to explore separately and then see the other, or even look for it, and then trot over to be with it. They kept tabs on each other and looked for each other after being apart only a few moments. One reached this rock first, and then the other joined. Immediately the mother began grooming the younger one’s back. Could it be that she was taking off a tick? I say this because it looked like there might have been a tick on the younger one’s eyelid earlier on. After the grooming was completed, and it lasted only a minute, both coyotes continued to look about.

Grooming serves both to get rid of potential health hazards and to strengthen social bonds. There is a lot of affection between this pair of coyotes. Coyote family life is as intimate and as involved as our own.

“Coyote Behavior 101″ for Dog Owners

Coyote Behavior In Our Urban Parks for Dog Owners To Be Aware Of: Based my own first-hand observations of coyotes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Coyotes are shy — they don’t really want to confront dogs, and much less so do they want to confront humans. They prefer maintaining their distance and normally will run off when they see you. If you happen to see a coyote, it is because it is “passing through” the area. However, all coyotes, as all dogs and all humans, don’t follow a single norm — there are variations. I will try to explain some possibilities here.

A coyote may stop to observe you and your dog from afar, especially if you yourself stop on a path to look at it — and especially if your dog “looks” at the coyote.  A coyote may even come towards you a way to see “what you are doing” and “where you are going”. If a coyote approaches as close as 25-50 feet, it would be a good idea to shoo it off. You should know that it is not out to attack you, it is curious about its world which you and your dog are a part of.  Only a handful of times have I seen a coyote actually come in close to a dog. Be assured that the coyotes in our parks have never specifically approached humans — it is your dog which the coyote is curious about.

At their core, coyotes have a natural shyness, or “fear” of humans. Along with the curiosity always will be the fear. Even though most of us move away from what we fear, sometimes we may try getting a little closer to what we fear to “test” it, maybe even to test ourselves. Maybe we should see such a parallel between ourselves and the coyotes. The coyote’s curiosity about the dog may be pulling stronger than the fear repelling it away from the human owner.

Regarding dogs, we all need to know that for the most part, coyotes keep “outsider coyotes” out of their areas and out of their tightly knit family group. Dogs are in this category. Coyotes do not want the dogs interacting with them. I do know that loner coyotes have solicited play from dogs for short spurts of time, but when there is a coyote family this is less so, the dogs are not welcome — coyotes will vex these dogs.

Dogs are often “monitored” and kept track of in certain parks by the alpha coyote — always the mom — of a coyote group. I’ve watched as this same coyote even moved to a better vantage point to watch until the dog group left the area. The reason dogs are monitored is because they are the coyote’s chief threat in an urban setting: dogs have chased coyotes, and are often seen as competition for the available resources in the park. Resident coyotes are treating the dogs as they would any other coyote intruder. But also, once a coyote has been chased by a dog — and therefore has seen the dog as an aggressor — the coyote will forever be leery of this dog. Dogs, as opposed to coyotes, are not responsible for their own survival since we take care of them. Dogs often think such chasing as “play”, whereas for a coyote the chase is much more serious. But dogs also often feel protective of their owners or the group of dogs they are with, so they may chase a coyote for this reason.

Note that a coyote “pack” is always a tight-knit family group — not similar to classic “dog packs” where unrelated dogs get together for mutual survival needs — these dogs are more on the level of a “gang”. A group of coyotes is really a family — and from what I have been able to observe, a very warm, affectionate, caring and mutually supportive family — one we would all be proud to have around.

There are exceptions to a coyote’s keeping its distance, depending on the coyote AND on the situation and the “history” of a particular coyote’s interaction with particular dogs. The dominant female in any coyote group is going to take charge of keeping her family safe. This coyote will actually come to the aid of the other coyotes if she sees dogs getting too close to one of her family members.

Few humans are aware of the communication going on between our own dogs and other dogs. Well, the communication also is occurring between coyotes and dogs, through eye contact and body language and activity level. Keeping our dogs next to us and leashed lessens this communication. We humans are too absorbed in our own conversations and activities to catch the subtle messages between our dogs and the coyotes. It is important to minimize interaction, even eye communication, to prevent it from escalating. At the crux of what dogs and coyotes are communicating is their feeling of safety, and safety very often has to do with personal space. Predation is another area involving communication via body language which we humans are not always attuned to [Aloft]. Keeping a large distance between a coyote and you and your dog, and keeping the dog leashed will minimize the dog-coyote communication since communication is normally carried on at a closer range, and will lessen the possibility that any communication might be acted upon.

If a coyote has been chased by a dog, or even “intruded” upon by having the dog come too close — and the coyotes are the ones that decide when this is the case — it may begin an intense high pitched, distressed barking session. The barking session is a complaining, but also a signal to the dog that “I’m here and not to be messed with.” If the dog doesn’t back off, the scenario intensifies, with the coyote engaging in sequences of darting at the dog and retreating, and finally, if the coyote can get away with it, with a nipping at the haunches of the dog to herd it away from itself, cattle-dog fashion.

The problem is that although coyotes tend to “go home” shortly after dawn, this is not always the case. I have seen coyotes out at all times of the day: 10:00 am, Noon, 2:00 pm, 4:00 pm — these are not the times one would expect to see a coyote, and although the chances are less at these times, the possibility is still there that you might encounter one. So a coyote might be just around the bend on a path or hidden behind a nearby bush where it will surprise you, and you will surprise it. This is another reason why it is important to keep our dogs leashed in coyote areas. Although a young coyote would normally just flee, the mother will stand up for herself and for her pups, grown though they be. This kind of surprise encounter could easily lead to a charge-and-retreat sequence. If your dog is leashed you can hurry off, rather than let your dog react.

Another behavior I have seen, the significance of which I’m still working on, is the short “chase-chase” behavior — this seems to occur only between a dog and a coyote which know each other, either through previous visual communication, or because of a chasing episode which they both remember.  In this case the coyote will be traveling in the same direction as a walker and his/her unleashed dog, and will come in close with a little “darting in” and “retreat”. The dog will return the behavior. It is almost a “dare” or oneupmanship” with no other intention than just this — it verges on play. A leashed dog can easily be led away from this to prevent its reacting.

A mother coyote may come to the aid of one of her full-grown pups and the two will work as a team to vex a dog to get it to leave: one coyote will distract the dog, the other will come around to dart in from the other side. This coyote behavior can be quite intimidating because of its intensity.

Pupping season is upon us — April for birthing and May through October for raising the young. We all need to know that all of the self-protective and defensive behavior coyotes display throughout the year will be intensified during pupping season. A coyote will be defending a den and a large area around it, and she will be more sensitive to rambunctious or intimidating dog activity. Please be especially careful during this time about keeping your dog leashed and calm in coyote areas.  A coyote will leave your dog alone if your dog leaves her alone and gives her the space she needs to feel safe. A dog off-leash cannot do this on his own. He needs your help and guidance in coyote areas.

With all of these behaviors, leashing the dog creates a barrier of sorts: it calms down the dog — and this can be seen by the coyote. But it also  keeps the dog right next to the owner which serves to deter the coyote from coming in closer. Coyotes do not want to tangle with humans.

Also, if you are walking in an area where there are several coyotes who are either sitting on the lawn, hunting, or headed in a certain direction, it is best not to intrude upon them, but to leave — why test this situation with your dog. By simply being there, they have claimed the area temporarily.

There are various types of dogs that upset coyotes — that cause them to react. It is mostly the more active dogs that appear to arouse the coyotes. Leashed dogs are calmer and the coyote picks up on this. There is an exception to this: if a dog owner becomes anxious, he communicates his anxiety, via the leash, to the dog and this causes the dog to become even more actively anxious. If you know you are an anxious type of person, maybe you could walk in a different park.

Small fluffy very active dogs seem to cause an instinctual adrenalin rush in the coyotes: I’ve seen a coyote monitoring when such a dog passed on a path — the dog and owner were unaware of the coyote perched on a ledge above the trail. The coyote stood up, hackles raised and began trotting back and forth on the hilltop. In this case, the dog’s owners moved on quickly, but the little dog was not leashed. Most dogs are calmer when they are leashed. I’ve actually seen a coyote calm down as a dog was leashed. Two different dog owners told me that when their dog sensed that a coyote was around, they actually “asked” to be leashed by hugging against their owner’s legs! Leashing gives a sense of protection to everyone.

Any extremely active dog may arouse a coyote. I’ve seen a calm, resting coyote jolt up to attention when it saw this kind of activity, even from the distance. I think this may be because coyotes themselves are not at all hyperactive unless it is in a predator type of situation. It might be that seeing hyperactivity, such as that engaged in in dog-play may arouse predator and defensive instincts in a coyote.

What do coyotes do when dogs are not around? Life is exquisite for them in our urban parks which are full of small rodents and sources of water! I’ve seen young ones play, I’ve seen them all hunt, I’ve seen them sleep, and mostly, I see them resting on hilltops, basking in the sun, just like the little bull Ferdinand. Ferdinand was discovered by his captors as he sat on a bee: he was taken for being the most ferocious bull in all of Spain, when in fact, he just wanted to sit in a field and smell the flowers. Coyotes, too, are not aggressive, but they will defend themselves from dogs. Dogs are a coyote’s main threat in an urban area. Thanks for reading this.

IN SUM

*coyotes are not aggressive, but may actively attempt to keep their territories safe for themselves and their pups. The biggest threats to urban coyotes come from our dogs. We can help keep both our dogs and the coyotes safe, and feeling safe, by keeping them well apart in our parks.

*keep dogs leashed in a coyote area

*avoid active “play” with your dog in a coyote area, such as catching a ball

*if there is an encounter with a coyote and your dog, leave the area for both animals to calm down.

*you are unlikely to see a coyote often, but when you do, it is best to know what behaviors it might exhibit.

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