Up Against A Wall and Walloped

A father and a daughter coyote had been lolling on a hillside when the daughter’s attention became riveted on something in the distance. She stared at it for a minute and then darted off, at a full run. Dad was surprised at her suddenly bolting away, but he followed not too far behind. And I, too, ran, but at a relatively slow follow.

When I caught up with them, they were sitting next to a house and their attention was focused on something I could not see. One of the coyotes then ran forwards and I could see flailing tails and lowered bodies, and rolling around. There was a third coyote there. It was because of this third coyote that the others had made their mad dash over to this area.

I soon recognized the third coyote as a male sibling to the female, son to the father — a family member! I had not seen him in months. This is a coyote whom I had characterized as timid and careful. He preferred “watching” his siblings roughhouse rather than entering into rough play. The last time I saw him, he had hurried off quickly — he avoided being seen by people and pets. I imagined that he had either moved into the bushes for good, where he would live his life hidden from view, or dispersed.

Could this be a joyful greeting of the kind I have seen so often? As I got closer, the sad truth revealed itself: teeth were bared. I realized that this male youngster had probably been driven off, banned, from the territory at some point. Today there was a confrontation because of the male youngster’s return to “forbidden” territory. This would explain his absence.

The fray moved to the open lawn at first but soon the yearling male coyote backed up against the wall of a house — and he remained there, possibly for protection. At first both father and daughter coyote charged him. But then the female youngster went off in the distance, focusing her attention elsewhere, but intermittently updating herself on the battle between father and son, with a glance in that direction.

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

11-month old male coyote, up against a wall

Dad coyote would stalk, then strike. The strike consisted of punching, nipping, and knocking the youngster over with a shove from Dad’s hindquarters, maybe in an attempt to sit on him, or throw him on his back. The son yelped and fought back in self-defense, all the while standing his ground and not succumbing to lying on his back submissively. I wondered why he didn’t just run off. Did he know he might be chased, and, out in the open, there would be no protection at all? Or was he himself making a “comeback” claim?

The assaults were not aimed to maim, they’re intended as a firm messaging device: “Leave! You are not welcome here anymore!” The father’s strikes were short but intense. After a few seconds of contact, Dad would withdraw about 30 feet and watch, either lying down or standing, probably giving the youngster “the evil eye” — communicating through facial expressions and body language. After a few minutes, there would be another round of this activity.

At one point a dog and walker appeared. I suggested to the owner that he leash his dog and keep moving. The man waited there for a few minutes. At that point the young female jumped IN FRONT of the dog and walker and lured/led them away from the battling coyotes! Fascinating!  The young female returned to her spot in the near distance after the dog and owner were far enough away.

Eventually Dad decided to walk away from the “interloper” coyote, but not before giving several backward glances over his shoulder at the young male — shooting him the “evil eye” again, and peeing a dislike message. He then slowly walked off, with the female close behind, stopping every now and then to look back at the young male who remained with his back up against the wall. When they were out of sight, the young male lay down for a minute, but only for a minute, and then he, himself, darted off quickly in the other direction, and into the bushes.

I caught up with the Dad and young female as they, too headed into bushes. I suppose that the young female is being guarded and protected, and that the territorial domain will be hers. I’m wondering if she has alpha characteristics which might have driven the mother away. Just a thought.

Interestingly, I’ve seen moms beat up female youngsters in this same manner, and now a dad doing the same to a male youngster. It’s as if each parent is jealous of it’s unique position and wants to keep it that way. It’s same-sex youngsters who present the biggest threat to any adult. Is it dispersal time, or some other rule which is being imposed? Pupping season is beginning, which means territories have to be secure for any pups which might be born this year.

Bay Nature: Coyotes Raising Kids in San Francisco

#68 BN6

Continue reading by pressing this link: http://baynature.org/articles/photo-gallery-coyotes-raising-kids-san-francisco/

Breeding Season: Different Behaviors and Edginess

Coyotes come into “season” once a year. This, unusually, is true of the males also. Females come into estrus in January. Coyote males produce sperm only at this time of year, and the process takes about two months. As happens with all critters, including humans, the hormones become powerful source of drives and behavior changes. Above are photos of a male showing a strong interest in a new odor. This is the kind of behavior you will see now.

In addition, it appears that the hormones can cause an edginess around dogs — akin to PMS in humans!? If she’s in heat right now does she need to keep dogs away from herself?  Other behaviors I’ve noticed recently include much more wandering and a lot more marking and scratching the ground. Below is a video of a female coyote reacting to an unleashed dog even though the dog is quite a distance away.  The dog is barking threateningly at the coyote and then approaches. The coyote reacts by baring her teeth, raising her hackles, bouncing up and down and scratching the ground. When the owner finally grabs his dog, the coyote runs angrily down the hill to watch them depart.  You can tell she’s very upset at how she was treated by the intrusive dog, even though the dog, in this case, was a substantial distance away.

Classic Defense Pose

This coyote was lying down, peacefully relaxing in a remote open space when it was eyed by a dog in the distance. It is one of the dogs that purposefully looks for coyotes to pursue them. The owner of the dog doesn’t feel that it is her job to leash her dog, even though this dog continually harasses coyotes. So the dog, upon seeing the coyote, came bounding over in hot pursuit. The coyote reacted with this defensive display message: “leave me alone”.  The dog ignored this, so the coyote turned tail and tried hiding, which didn’t work.

The first photograph shows the coyote scratching the ground and bouncing up and down as the dog approaches. Second, third and fourth photos show the coyote’s lips pulled back, teeth bared, ears down and back, arched back with fur standing on end, tail tucked under. This classic defense pose — the “halloween cat” pose — is supposed to make the coyote look ferocious in order to get the message across, but it doesn’t help with some of the dogs. When the coyote finally flees here, it slinks closer to the ground with shoulders hunched and hind quarters pulled in. Hiding only gained the coyote a few minutes. The dog ended up chasing the coyote a long distance before losing track of it.

Rottweiler Harasses Coyotes

I have seen the kind of activity in this video too often. Our Animal Care and Control Department, ACC, points out that some individuals continue to allow their dogs, “off-leash in active coyote areas despite education, posters, flyers, signs and barriers all warning dog owners to abide by the law and keep their dogs on-leash, or, better yet, avoid the marked areas entirely.”  So a few irresponsible individuals are setting themselves up for unexpected coyote encounters by not following the simple rules. The only method to keep coyotes and dogs apart is to leash the dog in a coyote area. If you and your dog see a coyote, walk in the opposite direction, not towards it.

We are lucky to have an Animal Care and Control Department which is taking a proactive stance to protect both our native coyotes and companion pets. ACC has recently cordoned off areas and instituted temporary park closures — they have been forced into doing this because a few dog owners continue to be irresponsible towards their pets and our wildlife, putting both at risk.

People have asked about “relocating” our coyotes — this is not an option since another coyote would just fill the vacant niche left behind, and relocation is a death sentence for any moved coyote. Coyotes are here to stay and the community needs to learn how to peacefully coexist with them. Ninety-nine percent of everyone I speak to loves having coyotes — a bit of the wild — in our urban parks. It brings back something that they’ve been out of touch with for too long. Note that it is only a few individuals who are irresponsible. Please be a responsible pet guardian: leash your dog in a coyote area or visit parks which do not display coyote warning signs. We only have ten coyotes in the city — it doesn’t take a lot of effort to coexist with them.

Purposeful With Pups Around, by Charles Wood

Before twilight today I saw both of the parent coyotes who live in a small field that borders one of Los Angeles County’s concrete ‘rivers’.  The last time I saw them was May 3.  I’ve yet to see their puppies this year.

Dad is still looking a bit thin.  I came across them both as I was leaving their field.  Mom was partially in cover.  I moved about twenty feet away from my leashed dog to get a less obscured picture of her.  Seeing an opportunity, Dad quickly approached my dog Holtz.  Dad disregarded Holtz’s barking and then charged.  I snapped a quick picture and then moved to stand between him and Holtz.  His opportunity blocked, Dad broke off his charge, moved back, calmed down and did some investigatory sniffing.  Throughout the event, Mom stood at the ready.  My read of Dad is that he would have stopped short of contact with Holtz regardless of my having blocked him.  There is an element of bluff in Dad’s displays and he was aware that Holtz, for being constrained by leash, could not engage him and hence, a close approach was safe.

The photographs included in this post illustrate how purposeful my coyotes can be when they have pups around.  Note that upon seeing my coyotes in their field, I head for the exit at once.  On the way out, I’ll stop in a clearing and take some photographs.  At times they merely hide, other times they do as they did today.

As mentioned in my post of May 3, Mom apparently has had her puppies this year.  It isn’t clear to me if today Mom and Dad, upon seeing me from a distance, messaged their accompanying pups to stay hidden while they took action against the intruders.  Instead, perhaps the two daughters from last year were babysitting so Mom and Dad could have some time off.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for these and more coyote photos:Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

REMINDER: It’s Pupping Season: If Needed, Flash An Umbrella!

It is coyote pupping season. We all need to remember to stay away from coyotes and their dens. Coyotes are feeling particularly edgy and protective of their space right now. When the pups are brought out of the dens, and when they begin to explore further afield, the coyote parents will defend a much wider area around the pups and they will do so more fiercely than usual. We need to give them plenty of girth so that they feel safe. After all, we are the ones who are intruding on their homes.

Coyotes will inevitably flee from human beings when there is a chance encounter on a trail. They may stop for a moment to look — they are curious — but they don’t care to tangle with humans and will move off — unless you get too close to a den area, in which case they may stand their ground. With dogs, there is always the potential for conflict. Coyotes always see dogs as potential threats — this increases many times over for a coyote when there are pups to look after. Leashing dogs in coyote areas, which both keeps the dog calmer and closer to you, is the single most effective way to avoid problems. But even a leashed dog, if he is active and displays antagonism towards a coyote it sees up ahead, can occasionally incite a negative coyote reaction.

If you have a dog, keep walking on, away from the coyote. Try not to stop and stare because this sets up an opportunity for the dog and coyote to communicate through body language and eye contact — it almost always involves mutual dislike. If the coyote feels threatened, he/she may stand his/her ground with a warning display which includes what I call the “Halloween Cat” display: arched back, hackles up, snarly face with teeth bared, head down, pacing or bouncing: this is a message — it is the only way a coyote can make you understand what its needs are. This, sometimes, can then erupt into a long distressed barking session. And ultimately, the coyote may try to herd the dog away by actually nipping at its butt. You need to move on — away from the coyote, but you may need to shoo the coyote off if it comes in too close.

As you retreat from an upset coyote, make sure that you walk away, don’t run. Running might incite the coyote to chase — it’s an instinctual reaction. An angry and loud voice, along with sharp noises or flailing one’s arms might hurry them on their way. Clapping ones’s hands, or shaking a small 4-ounce juice-size can with coins in it works. The newest idea that has been suggested is carrying a small fold-up umbrella with you if you walk in a coyote area and feel a need for added protection. Just flashing the umbrella open and closed a few times will startle a coyote off! I’ve never used this method, nor seen it used, but I can see how it would work.

NOTE: I’ve never had a negative encounter with a coyote. But I have watched other people have them. Every incident I have seen has been caused by a human with their dog who inadvertently or purposefully refused to respect a coyote’s space. I’m writing this to let everyone know that you can control a situation by becoming aware of known coyote behaviors which I’m hoping to show in this blog.

Two Instances of Mom Dashing Off To Save The Day

Coyotes don’t appear to run much if they don’t have to. They tend to conserve their energy for when they need it, as far as I have seen. However, extreme joy or fear seem to prompt speed. During games of chase I’ve seen them whiz at top speed. Interestingly, the games are kept in a limited area by running in large circles: they never seem to get too far from where the game began. Another instance of joyful running is when they see Mom and decide to join her: Mom always has elicited ecstatic joy as pups run to greet her!

When I have seen coyotes run for other reasons than play, it has always been for more serious reasons. For example, when they are attempting to escape from a dog. Another example is when Mom, who is Alpha and pack leader, sees her pups approached or threatened by a dog: this is what I am depicting here: “Mom to the rescue”. This kind of run is bullet-fast and always in a bee line.

I show two examples of this. In both cases, Mom was resting when suddenly she became aware of a possible threat from a dog to one of her pups off in the far distance — as far as 500 feet away. A dog had either chased or come too close.  The pups are now 20 months old — not infants at all, and larger in size than she is. However, they are not extremely savvy and she knows this. So far, I have never seen them put on a warning display — instead they simply flee from danger. So, when she is within view of them being threatened, she fills in the void.

In the first case she dashed down a hill from where she had been watching, sprinted across a field. By the time she got to her destination the dogs were gone, but the pup was still sitting on the hillside. She continued her lookout — standing guard  — now from this much closer location.

The second example began in the same way: a relaxed Mom, and then, as her attention became riveted on the situation in the distance, her ears focused forward, and off she dashed, over 500 feet away. By the time she arrived, although the pup was no longer in sight, having retreated into the underbrush, she began a distressed barking session. Walkers have been leading their dogs away when this happens, and that is what went on this time.

“Thoughts on Dogs and Coyotes” by Charles Wood

Over the last year the encounters between my dog and “my” coyotes have escalated into confrontations.  A year ago I could unleash my sixty pound dog in their field and successfully manage their infrequent interactions.  I’ve come to understand that my past success was influenced by chance and happenstance to a greater degree than I previously thought.  Today I consider my entering their field as potentially unsafe and provocative.  In contrast, other people use that field at times and have told me they have not seen coyotes there.  Young boys use a part of the field for bicycling, having built earthworks for that purpose.  Transients at times sleep there.  Groundskeepers make their appointed rounds.  Teenagers party.  Towards these other field users, the coyotes have remained a “ghost species”, perhaps because they don’t bring dogs with them.  My dog and I have caused the coyotes to single us out for increasingly confrontational treatment.  It took a year for those changes to develop, a testament to the coyotes’ natural tendency to avoid people.

By chance and happenstance I mean factors that influence coyote behavior.  At root their behavior is about food and reproduction.  Coyotes live mostly in family groups.  Consequently, if you see one coyote there is a good chance there is at least one more present nearby.  It doesn’t seem likely that one coyote and an equally or greater sized unleashed dog will seriously injure each other.  My opinion is that mature breeding coyote pairs together are smarter and stronger than one dog of their size or larger and that coyotes don’t play by the rules that a typical pet dog expects.  The encounters between a larger unleashed dog and such pairs seem to me to be advantaged to the coyotes.  The proximity of a human and the degree of human control exercised over the dog become critical to the outcome of such an encounter.

An unleashed larger dog appears to a coyote as an interloper, and intruder.  Coyotes are known to be intolerant of interloper coyotes.  Coyotes will defend their food sources and their young.  Their options in so doing are legion and their choice of tactics is perhaps situational.  My situation is that my dog foraged, he did not simply walk through the area and/or chase my coyotes.  Also, my dog interacted with a mated pair.  My observations of my coyotes and my interloper dog took place over the last year or so.  The contact with the coyotes began with them simply showing themselves.  They seemed to be saying, hey, you’ve smelled me and my markings, why are you still here?  After a time of being in view, they would withdraw into the brush.  At some point later Dad would attempt to sneak up behind my dog, presumably to deliver a nip to his haunches, nips I could prevent by yelling.  As time passed and I ignored these messages, Dad escalated to warning bark sessions after which he would return to the brush.  Barking sessions were later replaced by more aggressive displays of marking, scraping and mock charging followed by partial withdrawals where he remained in full view.  If we didn’t leave, he would begin those aggressive displays again.  Later, to those types of aggressive displays, Dad at times seemed purposed to separate me from my dog where I read his intent as to engage my dog in combat.  Mom recently temporarily separated me from my dog although we were on opposites sides of a chain link fence.

These behaviors developed over about a year, and about a month ago, Mom also began mock charges, marking and scraping without retreating from view.  I should mention that the zone of intolerance increased beyond their field and into other areas where my dog and I had never had problems with them.  My read of my dog is that he would not visit those coyotes of his own accord and that he has felt that way for some time.  Also, much of the time when we walk along the river bank or go to the bridge, we don’t see any coyotes.  When we do, many times my coyotes don’t behave aggressively.  I can’t predict when they will or when they won’t.  When I do see them, it is for an insignificant fraction of their day and I never know what kind of day they had.

Several years ago in a different area, at dusk, two coyotes followed my dog and me as we were leaving.  On the crest of a hill, one of the coyotes ran out in view of my dog while the other remained behind crouching.  My dog stupidly chased the moving coyote down the hill out of my sight.  The crouching coyote did not follow my dog, perhaps because I was present.  Perhaps the coyotes were practicing, but clearly my dog was at risk of being defeated in a frontal and rear attack.  I hadn’t visited that other area very often, yet those other coyotes engaged my dog at a level it has taken a year for my usual coyotes to approach.  Once, in that other area, my dog was off leash and out of my view.  I called him and he didn’t come.  I began to look for him and soon saw him running full speed towards the exit which is located about a mile from where we were.  I called him, he momentarily paused, missed one step in his galloping gate and looked me in the eye.  His look and body language said to me, “Forget it, I’m outta here buddy!”  It took me a while to catch up to him near the exit.  I believe he was responding to some wildness directed towards him by a coyote, again, one of my first visits to that other area.  Here again I am speaking to the unpredictability of coyote behavior, the reason the experts advise us, upon seeing a coyote, to go the other way.  We can choose to do so.  An unleashed dog may decide to chase the coyote and the outcome may or may not be consequential to the chasing dog.

Part of the unpredictability of coyote behavior could be attributable to the fact that the circumstances in which coyotes find themselves change over time.  Food may be plentiful one year and scarce the next.  A female may lack a mate one year and acquire one the next.  One year there may be no puppies and the next there may be several that survive for months or longer.  I have no idea why the coyote I call Mom recently became aggressive when for the longest time she was timid and obsequious.

I want to reiterate that the behaviors of escalating aggression I observed over a year were behaviors that I elicited by ignoring the messages the coyotes were giving me.  My behaviors caused the increasingly aggressive behaviors I observed.  From the point of view of the coyotes, my behavior was that of a perpetual repeat offender.  I continually brought my dog, whom they perceive as an intruding competitor, into their home.  I had decided to give my 60 pound dog a little space with coyotes in order to find out for myself what would happen.  I don’t like what happened.  My behavior was to repeatedly intrude into their home range and seek contact and take pictures.  My unwise dog used the space I gave him to seek food and to disturb the coyote family.  The coyotes’ home range contains their children and their food, the two things coyotes care most about.  They responded accordingly.  After all, coyote behavior is rooted in food and reproduction.

I’ve wondered, considering how little territory my coyotes occupy, how it was that rabbits were always present.  Why weren’t the rabbits depleted and why hadn’t the coyotes moved on?  One reason is rabbits reproduce rapidly.  Another is that other rabbits nearby come in and take over the space formerly occupied by rabbits that the coyotes ate.  The same kind of habitat seeking applies to coyotes.  Removal or extermination creates empty habitat for other coyotes to find and occupy.  The idea that “something must be done” about coyotes is simply an idea that is obsolete.  Coyote survival in urban and suburban areas doesn’t depend at all on how many are removed or killed.  Their ability to find and use habitat in urban and suburban areas depends on how we behave towards and think about coyotes.  Understanding the nature of coyotes helps us to manage our lives in ways that minimize unwanted contacts with them.  Coyote presence requires us to change a little.

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.

More Imitating Mom and Curiosity

An incident  which caught my attention was when a dog came into an area where three coyotes had been hunting. The mother coyote slowly approached the dog in her usual “halloween cat” stance warning pose, while the younger ones for the most part ignored the dog in the distance.  However, as the mother continued her warning stance, and continued her darting towards and then back from the dog, the two younger coyotes joined her in approaching the dog: one did so distantly, but the other actually seemed to imitate the mother a little bit.

This is the first time I have seen a younger pup imitating this stance of the mother’s. My thought has always been that this mother puts on this warning posture, not only to warn the dog away, but also as a lesson to her young charges. The young coyote appeared to imitate, in this case, without the underlying motivations of the mother. I say this because, having seen this coyote and dog in proximity a number of times before, I knew that the young coyote felt no threat from this dog — but the point seemed to be to imitate just the outer behavior of the mom. A few minutes later, almost as if to prove what I had just observed — the the behavior driven by the need to threaten — this same young coyote approached the same dog carefully, again without fear, in a curious manner from behind — always from behind because it is safer that way. If the dog would have turned around, the coyote would have jumped back to increase the distance as I have seen it do before — but this did not happen because the dog never turned around. The dog had been intently sniffing something on the ground and ignoring the coyote. When the dog moved on, the coyote went right up to the spot the dog had been sniffing to check it out: “What were you doing there and what was so interesting?” And here, again, is the reason we humans are so charmed by coyotes: their “insatiable curiosity.”

A Coyote Is Intruded Upon, yet again, by a Dog

The only time I have ever heard a coyote yipping has been after it was intruded upon. I heard a coyote yipping, the same coyote, both yesterday and again today. The yipping is a distressed, high-pitched barking. It may go on for 20 minutes or more. It appears to be the coyote’s way of complaining. In the parks where I have heard it, it always has been caused by a dog. A dog had either chased the coyote, or came in too close to it. A human intrusion, such as throwing stones to ward it off, could possibly cause the same barking reaction from a coyote, however, a coyote is more likely to flee this scenario. By yipping, the coyote is both voicing its discontent and standing its ground, albeit at a distance, as far as I have seen. Please keep your dogs leashed when a coyote is around.

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 may also be voicing its territorial claim.

I know a number of people who think, “Well, it’s a coyote and that’s what they do: they yip.” However, there is always a reason for the yipping; it never occurs without cause.

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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Chase-Chase Behavior: Looking Beyond What Meets the Eye

An incident was described by a woman to me this morning. I am attempting to understand and explain coyote behavior so that we may all learn to better deal with it. The general setting involved a park with a pretty regular set of dogs and their walkers, and, in this case, a resident female coyote.

The woman said that at sunset, about 6 weeks earlier, she had been sitting in a little open park with her dog — this was not the wild part of the park where one normally might see a coyote. Suddenly, a coyote came stalking up towards her dog, and chased her dog. The chase went back and forth. The coyote seemed not very afraid when the woman first tried to deter it, but finally, with flailing arms and lots of noise, it fled. Her dog is smaller than a coyote and is 11 years old. This is a leash-law park, but no one obeys that rule. This coyote has previously engaged in “short distance back-and-forth chasing” with several dogs before finally fleeing. There is never any harm done, but dog owners don’t like it. The coyote only engages in this behavior with dogs it knows. Please see my posting of February 4th: A short back-and-forth chase. But I want to look a little further.

My question to the woman was:  But what did the dog do? The woman said “nothing”. She thought something might be “wrong” with the coyote because of its behavior. I couldn’t draw out anything that her dog might have done. But she also told me that previous to this, there had been a number of times in which this coyote had followed her and her dog out of the park on a little-used trail. A coyote might follow a dog and walker if it is curious about the dog or if it is assessing it, or possibly if it is making sure the dog is leaving. It would do so if there was something threatening about the dog.

The little-used path is by a thicket area with little coyote-size exits, where I’ve seen a coyote enter into a secluded back area — my assumption has always been that the dens might be behind this area. A possibility is that when this coyote was “following” this dog, it might have been “escorting” the dog out of the park and away from an area it felt very protective of — making sure the dog didn’t enter the secluded area.

This coyote is an alpha female with a family. She has been seen frequently enough, sitting quietly on a hilltop, observing the world. I see her as similar to Ferdinand the bull in the children’s story — peacefully smelling the flowers.  But she has defended herself when chased by a dog, and she has run down to aid another coyote when it was chased by a dog: she is not one to just flee — at least initially. She also seems to communicate displeasure, or “oneupmanship” with a few of the dogs whose behaviors she has come to know, reminding them that “I’m here, so stop your threatening activity.” We humans would not know what the threatening activity might be, but almost certainly a coyote would pick up on these.

Someone recently suggested that dogs urinating at these underbrush exits may actually be provoking a defensive response from coyotes. The dogs smell the coyote and then urinate there — I’ve seen this often. Canines use urination to mark their territories. So a coyote might see this as a possible challenge to its claim on a territorial den area. In addition, over time I have become conscious that this female coyote appears to know most dogs individually that frequent the park. This coyote knows which dogs do what — as all canine’s do.

The dog and owner regularly have walked through that side area of the park — unleashed — and the dog may have regularly urinated by one of the underbrush exit trails the coyote takes to its den. So, the coyote’s behavior as described by this woman could have been a reaction to what this coyote has seen and knows about this dog. Leashing a dog might make it adhere to the path so that “territorial marking” does not take place.

Coyotes have rich family lives and need to protect their families, they also must protect themselves and they must protect their food source. They do not just eat vegetation which can be found everywhere. Rather, coyotes must search constantly for their source of protein…. other animals, such as voles, gophers, squirrels, rats. And they need to monitor their territories to insure that competitors of any sort — in this case dogs, especially dogs with certain behaviors that we may not fully comprehend.

Coyotes are not like domestic dogs — they are wild animals with instincts and rules of their own which they must follow to survive — rules that we may not know about and may not comprehend.

We know to guide our dogs through heavy traffic intersections with leashes. We all follow the rules because there is too much going on to make it work otherwise. Our parks are becoming more environmentally friendly, more natural and diverse: there is a lot going on, including new wildlife that has been attracted to them. Our parks are not back yards made just for our pets — but places to enjoy the out of doors in all of its diverse aspects. Dogs are not wild animals and don’t know how to deal with the wild. Dog owners need to deal with coyotes in the parks the same way they would with the traffic on the streets. Following some simple rules can make it work: please leash your dogs in coyote areas.

I wanted to add one other observation. The little dog in this posting is of the type that intently and hyperactively retrieves a ball. This is absolutely normal behavior, but in the coyote’s eyes it might be distressing because of the hyperactivity it entails. I have seen this coyote calmly watching all types of dogs walk by from atop a hill. She often reacts to the smaller, extremely active types — her attention becomes temporarily riveted on them and I’ve seen her get up and pace until they pass. So here is another “distressing” dog behavior which the coyote could have remembered when it engaged in its “chase-chase” or “oneupmanship” behavior with this dog.

Please read postings on December 12th: “Dog Reactions to Seeing a Coyote”, November 4th:“Some Reactions to Dogs”, November 17th: “ANOTHER Reaction to Dogs”, and December 1:“Significance of a Seemingly Unprovoked Challenge”.  “A short back-and-forth chase: coyote interaction with a large dog” 2/4/10. “Coyote Safety” of 11/3/2009. “Blatant Visual Message for Newcomer Dog” on 2/8/10.

√Coyotes in the News

“Get any good photos?” someone asked, seeing me with my camera. “Not really,” I answered. I never had seen the fellow before, so I asked, “And what are you up to.” He said, “I’m looking for a coyote.” I asked, “Why?” He said that there had been a report of an “aggressive” coyote — maybe one biting a dog. I let him know that this has only happened in our parks when a coyote was defending itself from a dog chasing it. There is a leash-law in our parks, but people don’t abide by the rules. I told him the coyotes here were not aggressive.

He said he knew this, that the park department liked the coyotes, and that the park department would be patrolling the area for a little while to make sure dogs in the area were leashed. Most of us want coexistence with wildlife to work, but this entails some effort from us humans — a simple effort that many are not willing to make: simply leashing our dogs in a coyote area.

Everyone should be aware that our coyotes have never approached people, they have always fled away from humans in every instance that I have seen. Coyotes are naturally wary of humans and will keep a safe distance. Humans have not caused coyotes to approach dogs or be more out and about:  In one of our parks this idea has been propagated by a very tiny but cohesive and vocal group of dog walkers who prefer not to leash their dogs. This small group represents themselves as the voice of the park when in fact, as so many other walkers with and without dogs have told me, they represent only themselves. Dog/coyote behavior is the bigger issue, a definite tripartite one which includes the dog owners themselves. Dogs react differently to coyotes, and the coyotes react differently to different dog personality types. All coyote “incidents” in the park have involved dogs.

Two “coyote alert” signs were strategically placed at the entrance to the park and on a main path. Hopefully, everyone will become a little more savvy about coexisting with coyotes. But some will soon want to dispense with their leashes and the situation may very well be repeated.

This incident could have escalated into a far bigger one — the media has traditionally printed negative news about coyotes, but seldom do we see the positive or how everyone could make coexistence work better — the media could take responsibility for helping with this. In 2007 sharpshooters were called in to eliminate an “aggressive coyote”. The public, fortunately, reacted with outrage, especially since it was learned that the dog had chased the coyotes, in a den area, and there were pups involved.

Only the side of the story that promoted fear and sensation was initially reported: that a dog had been bitten by a coyote. The other side of the story: the den, the chasing, that this dog had chased these coyotes often, the self-defense, and that the dog was unleashed, were not publicized until much later and not very prominently. Fortunately, now, everyone is becoming much more aware that there is “the other side of the story” as new incidents of this sort are reported.

Apparently, “aggressive” coyotes, are regularly reported by any number of people to the police, to the park service or to animal control. Often, when questioned about “what” the coyote was doing to be aggressive, the answer has fallen into two categories: “well, it is standing there” or “howling”. The other category is the coyote defending itself after having been chased by an unleashed dog.

Please be aware that by far, most bites to dogs are from other dogs — and few of these make the headlines. However, a coyote story involving a self-defensive bite will catch the public’s eye — simply due to latent fears that exist in our human minds. Would a raccoon bite be reported? Would a skunk spray be reported? Real aggression does need to be reported, but coyotes are not generally aggressive — they just defend themselves. Please read about coyote safety.

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