Coyotes have approached certain dogs in our parks — and not always just out of friendly curiosity. I have only seen this happen IF the dog first came to within about 100 feet of where the coyote was, and only to particular dogs. Could the wariness which coyotes have always had be waning? No one I have spoken to has ever seen a coyote approach a person in our parks, not ever — it is always the dogs which they approach. However, this has occurred even though a human was near by. Humans who are with their dogs can ultimately scare the coyote off because coyotes do maintain their fear of humans. But why are they sometimes approaching dogs?
There are a number of unleashed dogs which have had antagonistic encounters with a coyote. From what I have seen, these are the ones the coyote reacts to later on if the dog comes within its “critical distance” — about 100 feet, rather than just flee. In fact, these particular dogs — those that have had antagonistic encounters with a coyote — seem to actually “attract” the coyote: it is these the coyote monitors, it is these the coyote has followed. The coyote seems to need to keep tabs on these dogs, and to even “show them who is boss” . . . IF the coyote has a chance. The coyote’s behavior is a defensive “standing up for itself.” In this case, the coyote has taken the initiative to give warning to a dog to stay away.
My own little cattle dog, Cinder, is the very best example I have of this behavior: Two young and large unleashed Dalmatians went after her a number of times as she and I walked on a sidewalk. The owner apologized, but this did not solve the problem for my dog. She was a shy little dog who was actually afraid — she always stayed right next to me. Then at a much later date we passed these two dogs again. My husband and our larger dog were with us this time. We could not believe what we saw: my shy little cattle dog actually charged at these two dogs as they headed away from us — she barked ferociously at them — her body language was very clear: “take that, leave, and leave me alone.” She came loping back to us triumphantly. The shy little dog had the will to let the dogs know what she thought; she was sick of their treatment of her. She was standing up for herself. Our reaction was “Yay Cinder!”
Coyotes can distinguish each and every dog that frequents a park. And they certainly remember the behaviors that have been dished out to them by certain individual dogs. Some of these dogs, always those which are unleashed and unruly, have distressed the coyotes by chasing them and by approaching too close to them. The coyotes have always reacted in the past by fleeing, or by backing off to a safe distance before barking or exhibiting bluffing displays to ward off the dog. These self-protective warning displays are very clear messages.
Coyotes more recently have actually approached a few of these dogs in the same manner that Cinder approached the two Dalmatians. The coyotes don’t run across the park to accost a dog; what happens is that a dog will unknowingly come into the coyote’s wider “critical space”, or the dog and coyote will inadvertently find themselves heading in the same direction. This then is when the coyote might make a move — as far as I can tell, always coming up from behind, the same as my dog did. The coyote’s behavior involves the same “chase-chase” and “oneupmanship” which I have described before. Others have read it as taunting. In all cases it is a warning and a message. The “display” is clearly a repellant one. To understand the logic of this dynamic one has only to know how certain dogs have treated the coyote, no matter how long ago. A subtler interaction that few humans are attuned to is the eye-contact, body language and energy level which so easily communicate threat to a coyote. A dog pulling at its leash towards a coyote is in this category. The coyotes read the meaning of these behaviors easily, and may react to them. These are interactions we need to prevent. Keeping our dogs leashed and as far away from any coyotes as possible is the only method that works for keeping them from interacting on any level. Please keep your dogs leashed in our urban parks, both for your dog’s protection and the coyote’s.
In an urban park it is expected that there will be a certain amount of “habituation” taking place between a coyote and humans and dogs: each is going to get used to the other, no matter what, due simply to being in the same physical setting. However, it is actual “interaction” that needs to be prevented in order to keep our coyotes wild. Interaction seems to breed familiarity, and familiarity breeds contempt, it appears. Dog owners have allowed interaction and interference between their dogs and coyotes: chasing, communication which is antagonistic and getting too close to the coyotes. It is “interaction” of this sort between coyotes and dogs which is actually slowly breaking down the “wild” barrier that was in place when these coyotes arrived in our parks. It is this dog/coyote interaction which is actually drawing coyotes towards humans — it is happening through our dogs. The only interactions I have ever seen between humans and coyotes has involved humans shooing them away from their dogs: here you have a coyote and a human in close proximity — interaction and proximity is breaking down the “wild” barrier that we all want so badly to preserve. Dog owners can keep this sort of interaction from occurring. Humans observing or photographing coyotes in the park do not interact with coyotes or attract them. These same humans have not caused dogs to approach or pursue the coyotes, and neither do these same humans cause coyotes to approach the dogs. I’m mentioning this here, because it has been absurdly suggested by dog owners who refuse to leash their dogs. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to keep their dogs in check.