Distressed Barking? from Andrew

Hi Janet – I just came across your web site and blog due to my curiosity about coyote communication. I live in the Eastern Sierra on a 50 acre “ranch” (no cattle, just my two dogs) at around 6000′ elevation. We’re surrounded by the Inyo National Forest in sagebrush/pinyon pine country.  The property is fenced with 5 foot “dog-proof” field roll fencing. My dogs will oftentimes howl along with the local coyotes in the distance, but over the past month I’ve been hearing a coyote just outside my bedroom window. The ranch has a lot of rabbits and quail, and I can see why coyotes would pay us a visit now and then. Tonight, about 40 yards outside my window, a coyote was doing a high pitch sort of barking, and so I went online to research what the bark might mean. The barking sounded exactly like that in your “Distressed Barking after Interference from a Dog”. The coyote carried on barking for about 15 minutes, and my dogs barked along for awhile but eventually stopped while the coyote continued.

I’m not sure what to make of this; my dogs are contained within a 20 x 40 foot fenced area adjacent to my house and wouldn’t seem to pose a threat to a coyote. Perhaps the coyote got over or under the perimeter fence around the ranch and then couldn’t find its way out? But I had heard a coyote near my house several times before over the past month, so if it’s the same one I would guess that it knew its way in and out. Also, it had never barked like that (distress or alarm bark). I have no problems with coyotes, and enjoy hearing them. I know you focus on coyotes in an urban environment, but thanks for the site and the info!  Regards, Andrew

Hi Andrew — I enjoyed your email — thanks for writing! I, too, am fascinated by coyote communication. I’m wondering if the distressed barking might have been directed at another coyote rather than at your dogs? This coyote might have been guarding its turf against another coyote who was passing through?! It’s hard to tell without knowing the whole situation, but coyotes don’t like interloper coyotes in their areas, especially one that might have threatened it on some level. Then again, one of your dogs might have simply spooked or surprised the coyote in some way which set off the barking — that happens. Maybe someone else who reads this will be able to suggest another possibility. Thanks for sharing this. It’s nice hearing about your slightly different rural situation. If you heard a change in the type of bark, something different definitely was going on.  Janet

Easing Up A Little After Intense Barking

This is a continuation of the previous posting on “Distressed Barking”. It is part of that same 20 minute barking session. The barking became less “distressed” and less “insistent” as time wore on, probably because there was no “threat” anywhere in sight. Here there are more pauses, and more half-hearted huffs, puffs and grunts, although the coyote still throws its head up and far back for the high-pitched barking. The coyote is also sitting, which furthermore relaxes the impact of any warning message that the coyote might have wanted to impart.

At one point, the coyote takes a break — a totally unthreatened stance — to scratch itself. Hmmmm. But it got up to bark some more, more half-heartedly, before finally walking away to find a spot to lie down. A few more barks were in order, and then rest. I was going to add the last sequel: the coyote finally lying down — but I feel that would be overkill — or rather, overbark!!

Distressed Barking After Interference From A Dog

He could have been belting out the Star Spangled Banner, holding the notes perfectly — after all, it happened to be the fourth of July!

I started taking the video as an Irish Setter spotted a coyote trotting down a hill. It was a chance encounter — a mere momentary brush-by — but a surprise for both. The dog turned to go after the coyote, but stopped in an instant response to his owner’s “no”. Nonetheless, adrenalin was already flowing, and the “I’ll get you” look had already been exchanged between the canines, so the coyote ran to an out-of-reach spot and began its distressed and upset barking. The owner and dog left immediately, which made no impact on the coyote who kept barking away for about 20 minutes to an audience of no one. However, as the minutes ticked away, the intensity of the initial barking subsided — I’ve posted a second video of the next part of this same barking session — to be continued on the next posting.

Male and Female Barking

Sirens sounded, and then I could hear the familiar sounds of coyotes “howling”. The howling always includes high pitched squeals along with some barking. I ran to where the sounds were coming from, but did not arrive in time to catch the “howls” on my recording device. The howls segued into a “barking” session, probably prompted on by the appearance of a hostile walker and dog approaching in the distance.

I’m including this recording of the “barking” section to show the slight difference in male and female coyote voices. The female has a “ra-ra-ra-ra” type of bark and a very high pitched, continuous tremolo. Her voice fills most of the recording, with the male’s interspersed. The male has a deeper bark — more like a barking dog’s. The grunts are his. His tremolos are always short, as if he can’t quite keep them going — there are only a few of them: at 17 seconds, 101, 222 and I think 227. See bottom of page: Male and Female Coyotes Barking.

Observing, Responding, and Rest — Hinge On The Human Factor

This story hinges on human conduct, which is always the cause behind coyote “incidents”, and also the route through which misinformation is turned into nasty rumors.  The only way we can control coyote behavior is through our own behavior. Leave them alone, and they will leave you alone.

So, the day began peacefully, as usual. Very often, when coyotes are out early resting on a hillside, a group of unleashed dogs will aggressively run up to their remote location and chase them. It is always the same group of dogs with the same set of owners who have never taken responsibility for keeping their dogs away from the coyotes — this group is one of the few who are not fond of having coyotes around. Ninety-nine percent of dog owners, however, are respectful and want to do what they can for the urban coyotes. They are totally responsible, keeping their dogs leashed or under voice control when coyotes are out. Repeated “incidents” always occur with the same few dogs. Fortunately, today the coyotes were not out when these dogs went by.

However, not long after they passed, a coyote did appear up on a hilltop, observing her surroundings. We know it was the mother coyote because of the behavior which followed. Several groups of walkers stopped to admire her presence in the park as she sat so calmly looking around: this was magical urban wildness. It was all so peaceful. Then the coyote jolted to a sitting up high position: her attention became riveted into the distance. She ignored the walkers below her. And then, as suddenly as she had sat up, she darted off like a bullet at full speed with hackles raised.

I’ve seen her do this before, so I knew what it was about. She sped to the spot which she had been so keenly observing. On the way she encountered one of her full-grown pups — but this is not the one she was worried about. She had the aim of heading-off a dog which was pursuing her other year-old pup. I didn’t even have to be there to know this. We then began hearing this mother coyote’s distressed and upset barking — barking she only engages in if she or one of her pups have been pursued by a dog. The barking is an indication of her distress, but also imparts a message: “Keep your distance.”

A few of us who just a few moments earlier had been watching her peacefulness, headed off to where the distressed barking sound was coming from. On the way we passed the angry owner of the dog which had chased the coyote — she now had her dog leashed. This huge dog continually chases the coyotes — it is a game for the dog who is about four times larger than any coyote. The owner wouldn’t even look at us: for her, the incident was the coyote’s fault for being there — not hers for not having leashed her dog.

We walked a little further until we spotted the mother coyote: she was rearing up on her hind legs and barking. The young coyote which had been pursued had taken cover in the bushes, but the second young coyote sat on the hillside nearby watching as its mother continued her barking for about 20 minutes.

The reactions to this incident were various: these are the reactions which get reported to our Animal Control Department.  Some people were furious that a dog walker had allowed her dog to chase a coyote again — and that dogs are not kept leashed in this “leash-law” area. Some were just fascinated by the barking, and fascinated that a mother coyote would run such a long distance to defend one of her year-old pups from a dog. Some twisted the information to fit their own image of coyotes, saying the coyote had not been chased at all, that she was aggressive and bold and a danger to humanity. And finally there was the individual who points to observers or photographers so as not to have to address his own reasons for not leashing his dog.

It was nice having the witnesses who saw the young coyote chased by the German Shepherd. More and more people are willing to give their names to defend the coyotes and I want to thank them all. When a coyote defends itself or its pack members, it is not an act of aggression or an attack. In fact everyone needs to become more aware of  nuances in terminology so that they may be able to describe what they see more accurately. Lynsey White and Stanley Gehrt of Ohio State University point out that the phrase “coyote attack” is sensationalistic and fear-mongering. We need a better choice of words and consistency to better understand how coyotes actually interact with humans. People often conflate words like “aggressive”, “assertive”, “bold”, “curious”, “defensive” and “investigating”. Details of the behavior of people, dogs and coyotes prior to and during any coyote incident are needed to really understand what is going on.

Our mother coyote finally calmed down. I watched her slowly head down a hill and into the bushes and finally up to one of her remote lookout posts, where she gave one last glance around to make sure the German Shepherd was gone. Then she lay down and napped. A couple of hours later I returned to the park to find her still in that same spot resting. Coyotes just want to be left alone. If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. Please keep your dogs leashed around coyotes.

Calm & Relaxed Before Being Chased Four Times: There By Design?

This coyote attempted to enjoy a relaxed morning four times, but each time a dog came up barking at it, chasing it, or coming too close antagonistically. The coyote responded slightly differently each time, but always ended each time in a prolonged barking session which lasted long after the dog had departed.

The first three photos show how I originally found the coyote resting on a small incline.

The first dog came up like a dart, chasing the coyote aggressively and intensely for a long distance, round and around, and way up an incline. The coyote’s response to this was a prolonged barking spell, which includes the second row of photos.

When the coyote had calmed down, about 20 minutes later, it returned to the same area to relax.

Then the second dog intruder came by. This time the dog neither barked at the coyote nor chased it, but the dog came too close, and this occurred shortly after the preceding incident, so the coyote was already in an aroused mood.  Again the coyote responded with an intense barking session. Notice the two photos showing the coyote coming down an incline after this barking session: the coyote is still upset as you can see by its expressions.

The coyote then went to a green area further from the beaten path. But soon another third dog spotted it there and approached the coyote barking. This time the coyote knew it could chase this particular dog off, so after the coyote had had enough of the barking, that is what it did, successfully. This time there was not a barking session. Note that the coyote narrows its eyes as it sees the second dog approaching and barking at it — it has decided to chase the dog off.

The last incident involved another full-fledged chase by a dog which chases the coyotes often — the owner refuses to leash in the area. The coyote ran far off and began barking its discontent.  The barking session appears to be a complaining and a standing up for its space.

Some chases — dogs chasing after coyotes — appear to verge on teasing, taunting and play from the dogs’ point of view. I think the coyote is well aware of this. And it needs to be recognized that this coyote placed itself in these locations where there was a very high possibility that one of these dogs might come after it: it appears that the coyote may have been gambling on this design. All of the dogs except the first, have encountered this coyote often and the coyote knows them. The coyote may place itself so that it will be seen to keep all dogs aware that it is around and this is its area.

Coyotes yipping: Coyote behavior

I have made several recordings of coyotes yipping. These recordings are not the classical howls we all know about, rather they are of a very high pitched barking — it has a violin smoothness or purity of sound. The barking has intent, is very intense, and is distressed sounding. Every episode of barking that I have heard was the result of a coyote having been chased or intruded upon on some level by a dog. Chasing is easy to recognize. Less obvious causes of the barking are antagonistic dogs simply coming too close to the coyote without actually chasing it.

And now I’m seeing coyotes react to individual specific dogs walking about 100 feet away. These are usually dogs which have  chased or intruded on the coyote in the past. But also, now, I’m seeing that a coyote will feel intruded upon if specific dogs “eye” the coyote on its perch — possibly in an antagonistic way — something like giving the coyote “the evil eye”. In addition to the complaining and standing up for itself which I’ve seen when a dog actually chases it, the coyote’s barking at these intrusive dogs may also be a statement to them of territoriality.

I used to think that the barking might be a warning to other coyotes in the family group, but I have now seen two instances where this was definitely not the case. In the first case the dominant coyote — the mother — was relaxing on a hilltop when one of her full-grown pups started a barking session not too far off — it had been disturbed by a dog. I immediately started watching for a change in the mother’s behavior, waiting for some type of reaction. There was none. This mother ignored the barking, even though I had previously seen her run to a pup’s defense when she saw a dog — a particular dog which she deemed dangerous — approach too close to one of the pups. In the second case I was on a hillside photographing one of these full-grown pups when I heard the mother in the distance — it is a signature bark which I have come to recognize. The young coyote totally ignored the barking and continued its hunt!  Now, maybe there are barks and then other barks, but in these cases the barking was not an alarm signal to others.

I have heard that coyotes will howl or bark just for the pleasure of doing so, and I’m sure they do, but I have never heard them under these circumstances. Males have a lower tonal range — barely — but you can tell them apart from the females if you hear them within a short space of time. Coyote “songs” can go on for 20 minutes or longer. I call them “arias”. Here are two recordings from two different coyotes, the first is a female — the second I thought was a female due to its behavior which I’ve seen before in females protecting an area, but I’m not absolutely sure, and the tone is lower pitched than the first:  ARIA #1 and ARIA #2. More barking and howling can be found by pressing here: BARKING and HOWLING.

Several coyotes barking at the same time can often sound like many more than there really are. I think this is because they “come in” at slightly different pitches creating dissonances that sound like many. The “howling” link above has group recordings.

Coyotes make various other sounds. There is the classical howl, there is childlike complaining in high pitched tones, there is grunting which sometimes precedes a barking episode — as if the coyote is trying to decide whether or not to go ahead with it. And there are more, but these I’ve listed are all I have heard up to this point.