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.