Trounced by a Father

Dad trounces a pup

Dad trounces a pup, 2nd youngster looks on with lowered ears

I observed another pup pommeling by its parent a few mornings ago. This time, it was a father coyote who interjected himself into the fun of his two coyote pups who were excitedly wrestling and and chasing each other. It was very dark, but I was able to capture some images, and, of course, I heard the high pitched, complaining “squeals” from the youngster being trounced. The pup took the beating lying on its back, as the second youngster just looked on with lowered ears. Then, all three coyotes — Dad and two pups — moved to a location not too far off, where the pups continued to play and Dad watched.  Dad actually seemed to be trying to lead them away, but he stopped indulgently, standing there, and watched their fun. After about 10 minutes of this, they all trotted off in a single file after Dad and into hiding.

Why had the Dad trounced the youngster? Had the pups been playing too “rough”? Had one been trying to dominate the other? Did Dad just need to establish some order, or maybe restore his hierarchy in this pack, the way the mother had in the other family pack I wrote about?

These pups here are 8 months old: full-sized, but still pups.

Mother’s Harsh Treatment of Female Pup Continues

Before I started videoing the above, two coyote pups had been foraging in an open field when they spotted Dad coming. They dashed ecstatically in his direction. After only a short truncated greeting, Dad confirmed his dominance towards the male pup, who willing submitted by lying on his back immediately and not protesting.

This “status confirmation”  has become a routine where everyone knows how to behave: the pups acquiesce willingly to the submission which is demanded of them, and all relationships are confirmed as stable. The other pup, the female, also immediately turned on her back and then kept low, even though Dad was on top of the other pup. This little threesome seemed happy for the few moments they were there: everyone did the right thing, everyone smiled and tails wagged.

Then mom appeared on the scene. With everyone’s attention on the mother, the dad let go of his hold on the male pup who calmly got up and wandered in the other direction from which the mom was coming. Mom immediately headed for the female pup — the one which has been the target of Mom’s animosity and displays of dominance in the last few days. Today the treatment became more harsh. That’s Dad casually viewing the altercation from in front; he’s still limping from an injury a week ago.

Note that the female pup is not compliant and snaps back, which may be the problem — but then who wouldn’t self-protect under this onslaught?  Also note Mom’s final emphatic statement: “And take this, too!” No holds barred.

[Please see the previous two postings on this behavior: Punishment and Punishment Again]

Punishment Again

This is the second time in the same day that I observed this behavior between this particular seven-month old female pup and her mother. Please see the previous posting.

I had two thoughts that might be related to this:  the first about Great Horned Owl dispersal, and the second about canine intuition regarding the alpha quality in another canine.

I’ve seen Great Horned Owls lovingly raise their owlets for almost a full year, from the time they are born in late March, through the fledging stage when they leave their birth nest, and through months of teaching hunting and other survival skills. Then one day, towards the end of the Fall season, both parents — these are parents who have mated for life and have raised their owlets together for the last 15 years — turn viciously against their offspring forcing them to leave the area. There is room for only one mated Great Horned Owl pair in any territory due to limited resources. As time approaches for the new reproductive cycle to begin, at the end of the calendar year, any offspring born that year are driven away by their parents. I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to be so totally loved and cared for, and then have those who loved you suddenly attack you. This is what goes on. The young owls fly off to areas as close as the next park over, if there is room there, or as far away as across the US.

My second thought stems from how my 2-year-old female dog reacted when we brought home a new 4-month-old puppy — a male. We found the puppy — abandoned — and we couldn’t just leave him. She must have intuitively known that he would be growing much bigger than her, and that, based on his behavior and activity level and disregard for her, that he would assume the dominant status eventually. It’s only with hindsight that we came to know that this was going on right from the start. Over an extended period of time we noticed that the alpha status had segued to him, and she just accepted the inevitable. An alpha coyote in the wild, it seems, would do its best to prevent this from ever happening, especially from one of its own pups who began showing signs of any kind of dominance.

So, we’ll soon see how this situation pans out: if it settles down, or if it leads to something.


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When “disciplining”, the alpha of a family pack gently puts her/his mouth around the snout of a coyote who is out-of-line, and maybe turns the “underdog” on its back for a few moments. This discipline could be reinforced by the alpha placing its paws on the back of the fellow who is out-of-line. The subordinate quickly shows deference and everything is back to normal within a few seconds:  the alpha status is reconfirmed and everyone knows their role in the family hierarchy. This is not what I saw today, twice.

What I saw today I’m going to call “punishment” — it is much more severe. I’ve thought about what might have lead to this kind of punishment:

The most probable reasons involve defiance of the alpha figure, in this case the mother, or possibly disobeying commands that are meant to protect the family pack and help with its survival. Hierarchy has to be rigidly maintained in a healthy coyote family.

Or, maybe the alpha needed to bring down the highest-ranking pup? Maybe it was becoming too powerful among its siblings?

Then again, this harsh discipline might just be the first steps in forcing dispersal. But then, why would the mother be targeting just the one pup, a female?

I suppose there are all sorts of possibilities. I don’t know enough at this stage to state with certainty what is going on, but I tend to think the punishment was for the youngsters own good, and not self-aggrandizement by a mean mother.  But I was totally taken aback as I observed it.

The youngster in this observation is almost seven-months old, a female. She approached her mother, belly scraping the ground, showing deference, submission and caution. This did not include the wiggly squealing happy meeting that I usually see. The pup approached and quickly turned on her back, with the aid of the mother’s legs. The mother then stood, crouched low, over the youngster for a long period of time, snarling now and then at the slightest hint of movement or protesting from the pup. At one point, as the pup lay there quietly, the mother licked the female pup’s private parts. and then the pup’s inner leg. The pup remained quiet at first. Then the pup seemed to protest and tried getting up, and even almost got up at one point. The mother snarled viciously and was able to quickly put the pup down again.  Then the pup did break away for a moment, but the mother quickly used her entire body to hold the pup down. There were then a series of hard punch-bites from the alpha-Mom.  This was all carried out in silence except for one high pitched whimper from the pup near the end of the “session”.  The pup then was able to get up and dash off for cover into some bushes about 50 feet away.

Mom then sat up and looked ahead and around, without a second glance towards the pup in the bushes. Within a few minutes she headed down the hill. The pup came out of the bushes and watched — watched longingly and sadly as the mother headed off. Were they not reconciled? Would this continue? At the bottom of the hill the mom looked back, seemingly disapprovingly, at the pup, and then continued on. The pup stayed at her spot by the bushes and looked very sad, watching the mother disappear into the distance. Many minutes later, the pup, too, headed down the hill, but in another direction.

A Dominance Interaction Between Two Coyotes

This looks like a dominant fella lording it over the guy in the water in an intimidating manner. The dominant guy struts and stretches, hackles raised and tail up, and then moves in closer with a snarly expression and more intimidation. Submissive guy stands still with his ears and head down, a non-threatening and submissive pose, and then walks away only when he thinks the coast is clear, tail down and constantly checking in back of himself.

My experience has been that young males are driven away from their birth families — out of their birth packs — by either a more dominant sibling or their father, or sometimes their mother. It looks to me as though this is what is going on in this video.

This video was sent to us by Amy Ries from the Raptor Resource Project. She said the EagleCrest Hawk camera is normally pointed at the tree, but the guy who pans saw the coyotes and filmed them. Thank you, Amy for sharing this!

Dominance Display

This is a rare observation. We’ve all heard of the term “dominance”,  but how many of us have seen it in operation? Here is a blatant show of dominance by one coyote. There is literal truth to the phrase “top dog”. These coyotes get along really well, but it is obvious that the existing hierarchy needs reconfirmation now and then. The underdog did not like being bumped by the dominant coyote and reacts. But the dominant one does not allow him to get away with his reaction, and literally puts him in his place.

The underdog struggles a little, but the dominant one is much more adept. The physical hold is finally let go when the underdog calms down. But not until the underdog reveals that he accepts his place does the top dog actually let go of the psychological hold over the underdog. When the less dominant coyote bows, keeping his head low, and stays that way for a few seconds, he has shown his submissiveness and the little display is over. The ending includes a little playful skip on the part of the dominant coyote. Both then continue grooming themselves and hunting, best friends as ever before.

By the way, I captured this clip in very bad lighting — on the dark side of twilight — I’m learning that my camera video capability is amazing!

Cain and Abel

Sibling rivalry exists in almost all families, and in almost all species. The first baby eagle born makes it his job to push the others out of the nest. Fratricide is the most extreme result of sibling rivalry. But before that point is reached, a sibling might be driven by another sibling from what had been his home.

This is the best-case scenario I can think of, in a coyote family which I have been observing for two years now. The more submissive of the twin male siblings had been bullied and dominated for several months. Although when this happened he would always increase the distance between himself and his brother, more recently he had been standing up for himself by growling and snapping back, and even remaining close by — as if stating that he wasn’t going to be pushed around. Then, one morning, I heard unusual coyote sounds: these were complaining-like squeals which lasted about five minutes before petering out totally. Charles Wood has suggested that those squeals might have been from the type of fight that produced the rump wounds I had seen and posted earlier on. I don’t know if this is related or not, but the day I heard those sounds marks the last time I saw the more submissive of the two coyote siblings which I had come to know as a family. Until that point, he was the one that was most visible and out in the open. His disappearance was very sudden and very total.

Did he just disperse, or did something worse come to pass? Charles Wood has suggested another possibility: that this coyote might have been banished from contact but not from the area — hiding in the day and eating at night. If I see him again I will post it, but it has been a month now since I last saw him. Worst-case scenarios also exist, brought to mind by hearsay and conversations I’ve had with individuals in the parks. Although highly unlikely, these possibilities include kidnapping either for breeding purposes or as bait for pit bull fighting — an illegal practice which continues in this area, or even removal by park visitors who have been wanting coyotes “relocated” for some time. Let’s cross our fingers that any of these is not the case.

Interactions Have Become Predictable #3

In this posting, you have three different sets of interactions — each row across is a different set. In the first row, the dominant sibling approaches the more submissive guy. He displays his dominance initially by urinating. Then he approaches as overpowers the submissive guy. In the last slide of the first row, notice that Mom is calmly watching from the sidelines.

In the second row there is a display of oneupmanship by the dominant sibling. But then they seem to hunt together: each totally interested in what the other is doing. In the last photo of the second row they look like they are hunting peacefully side by side.

In the bottom row, the sequence begins with all three coyotes watching an onlooker and a dog-walker team in the distance. Then the dominating sibling, with hackles and tail up, approaches the less dominant fellow, who, in the last slide, runs off with head down and ears back.

Interactions Have Become Predictable #2

A family of three interacts in their habitual manner. In the top two rows, the submissive sibling is in the middle, with Mom on the right and the dominant sibling on the left. The submissive fellow keeps his ears back and somewhat together. He’s the one who puts his paw up on the dominant sibling in supplication: “hey, take it easy.”  The last photo of the middle row shows Mom reacting angrily to the dominant sibling, and he, in turn, reacting to her — each bares their teeth viciously, but only for show, for communicating feelings. This altercation ends quickly.

Bottom row: the submissive sibling, now in the middle, tries to assuage Mom’s anger. In the middle slide, this submissive fellow has moved to the right keeping a vigilant eye on the dominant sibling to the left — notice his eyes. In the last slide, with Mom safely off to the far right, the bullying sibling in the middle feels free to go after the more submissive fellow who snaps back. They all then moved apart and there were no more interactions.

Interactions Have Become Predictable #1

Here, Mom and one of her offspring, the more submissive of two siblings, watch dogs approaching in the distance — a common coyote activity. At one point, the offspring looks intently at Mom: visual communication is common — coyotes read each other through eye contact, expressions, and body language. When the more dominant sibling approaches — he’s the one standing to the right in slide #3, the more submissive sibling heads off about 50 feet and sits in the distance with his ears down — a submissive sign showing that he is not a threat. He does not want to tangle with his more dominant sibling.

Back When Play Began Turning Into Bullying

The two siblings in this coyote family used to play evenhandedly — this is not so now. In the first slide, as one of the siblings begins to dominate the other, Mom snarls her discontent at them and moves away from them. Notice that one sibling continually goes after the other one to dominate by pushing him, mounting him or forcing him to the ground — it is always the same one that does this. In the end, the dominated runs off from his tormentor, almost always with ears back, tail under and back arched.  These photos were taken at the beginning of October — about when I started noticing this one-sided pattern to sibling interactions.

When “Mouthing” Was Still Play Only A Short Time Ago

Here are some photos from September that I did not post. Posting them now actually works well, because the behavior they depict is in contrast to what is occurring now. Now a hierarchy seems to have been established between these two sibling males. The dominant one tends to bully the other, and the other one tends to run off to avoid it: this happens now always.

But before this, at the end of September, there was more equality and lots of playing and affection between these two siblings. These photos show the coyote which has become less dominant — to our left — playfully putting his snout around the one who now has become more dominant in a bullying sort of way. It is almost a role reversal, except that back then, these behaviors were just being toyed with and didn’t seem to carry much weight at all as far as I could see.  The mouthing in these photos was part of the play involved with chewing a stick together and dealing with some bugs which were flying around their faces. But now I see it used to confirm dominance, this along with mounting behavior. Again, in a reversal of behaviors, the coyote who is less dominant now used to mount his sibling excessively — always in play: it didn’t seem to carry any weight because the other coyote did not react to it. So, the excessive mounting behavior, along with the mouthing I show here, may have driven the dominant to become so in order to squelch this behavior — maybe he got tired of it. Note that this behavior is what is occuring between 20-month old male siblings. Mom is still very clearly pack leader and has never been challenged in her position.

A thought about dominance and alphas occurred to me.  A friend recently told me that Alpha animals tend to have lower resting heart rate than the rest of the pack — they are calm and in control. After being told this, I remember how an Alpha dog was able to calm and control my dog who had a bout of “oneupmanship” when they met. My dog approached the other dog with hackles up, standing upright and ready to do battle to show the other dog where the relationship stood. However, the other dog, the same size as my dog, was the calmer and the one in control — the true Alpha. He gently pushed my dog, in a playful manner to begin play: “hey, knock it off” he seemed to be saying. They immediately became best friends, with seemingly equal status, but the other dog was in control. The point of this story is that the animal who needs to be a bully very often is not the one in control, not really the dominant one. Maybe such an animal is dominant only in a very superficial way, and in relationships below the Alpha.

Today I was able to see the coyote who has been exhibiting less dominance, the one with less “fight” in him, lead the others in a play session. Both the mother and the current “bullying” sibling were being “led” by the sibling which shows less dominance! I don’t know if this short play session has significance.  Maybe there are more nuances that the rest of us need to pick up on!

Love & Rigid Social Order

A coyote social order is maintained by rituals which constantly confirm who fits where in a group. Here, Mom goes through the ritual of enclosing the snouts of both of her offspring, 19 months old, in her snout and the confirmation seems to be appreciated by everyone — they seem to have interjected their snouts into hers for this confirmation. The two siblings often battle — the battles are only a few seconds long, but they definitely are there. Here, sibling #2 begins to dominate, but Mom walks off at one point and shows her teeth in another. Sibling #2 keeps peace by walking under his dominating sibling’s chin. In the end, the two siblings banter amicably.

More Play and Dominance

In this sequence a coyote plays with both the core and the shell of a golfball. The core is more highly prized because it has a better consistency: it is rubbery and therefore more fun to chew and some of the rubber bands which make it up actually “flick” the coyote back, making it appear to be alive. I’ve described this in a previous posting.

So here you have a coyote playing contentedly with the inner core of a golfball, the shell is nearby — until the coyote’s dominating sibling appears. The dominating sibling shows his dominance by standing over this fellow with his hackles raised and tail up — he demands a show of submission. The dominated coyote complies by exposing his vulnerable parts.  A distraction in the distance gives this dominated fellow a window to slip away, which he does. But the dominating sibling then grabs the core of the golf ball which the first fellow had been playing with — along with a mouthful of grass. The dominated fellow then settles for second best: the outer shell of the ball — you can see him eyeing it and moving in, but he is afraid to actually grab it. So instead he moves in and watches enviously as the dominating fellow chews the core — one might almost think from the photos that the dominated guy is actually asking for the core.

Then the dominating fellow walks off with the core ball still in his mouth, and the dominated guy, keeping his eyes on the dominant one, grabs the shell, lies down and chews on this for a little while. But soon he turns to a piece of cork which is close by. The dominating fellow comes back for the abandoned shell, but instead simply marks it, and then leaves passing the other coyote almost with a snarl, as the less dominant fellow ignores him and works on his piece of cork.

And Again, Sibling Squabbles

These wranglings are always rather short, ending with the less dominant guy running away from the dominating sibling. A hierarchy is establishing itself between these two sibling coyotes, as it must, and this is the way they work it out.

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