The Case Of The Squeaky Ball

In this case, we wondered about a coyote’s extreme interest in a dog walking along with its owner. The dog was leashed and a coyote was following, at a safe distance, but definitely following them. When the owner stopped to talk to me, so did the coyote, coming in even closer and eyeing the dog intently but keeping safely off to the side.

The dog had a ball in its mouth which it put down and, puppy-like, assumed a rear-end-up and front-part-down playful position as it toyed with the ball. The ball squeaked which added to its appeal. All the while, the coyote kept eyeing the dog intently. We wondered about the coyote’s interest until the woman told me that the ball had been picked up by her dog in the park a few hundred feet back. Aha! Finally it made sense that the ball may have been a toy the coyote had used and considered as his own!

The coyote’s attention had probably been drawn to the dog’s squeaking the ball as the dog and owner walked along the pathway. Suddenly the coyote’s behavior made total sense — and it was very interesting! The coyote is a “teenager” and one who still enjoys “playing” with objects he finds in the park. I’ve seen coyotes play with objects and then “mark” them before leaving the toy behind.

The woman’s loyalty was to her dog, so she was not going to toss the ball out to the coyote. Instead she pocketed the ball and went on walking. The ball, no longer visible, disappeared from the consciousness of both dog and coyote! The dog went with its owner, and the coyote went now in a different direction.

I have seen coyotes often stop to observe another dog that is playing by itself with a stick or a pinecone — usually chewing these things with lots of gusto. This kind of situation — calm play — has lots of allure for young coyotes — they are curious and can relate to it — and I always get the impression that they would like to participate. They never do actually participate when the dog is there, but after the dog leaves, they often “try it out” for themselves!

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