Following Behavior: Territoriality, Curiosity, AND Evading

2013-04-20

A coyote may follow you and your dog — the dog is the issue — out of curiosity or to monitor it, the same way you yourself might follow a “suspect” prowling through your neighborhood, to find out where they were going and what they were doing.

If you find that you are being followed by a coyote, walk away from the coyote — and don’t run, running invites chasing. Keep aware of the coyote and shoo it off effectively if it gets too close, and move on. And keep your dog leashed. Pick up a small dog.

The leashing is to keep your dog from being distracted by the coyote and going after it. You want to avoid engagement between the two.

I’ve seen this same following-behavior used for a purpose totally different from either curiosity or monitoring. It was used effectively by a coyote to avoid detection, as a human and his dog passed by. The dog had a history of chasing the coyote, and the man had a history of pursuing the coyote aggressively with his camera.  So this coyote had a particular interest in avoiding this duo. The dog and person passed while the coyote stood absolutely still and remained hidden and undetected in a dark wooded area. Then, to my great surprise, the coyote came out of hiding and followed them at a close 30 feet. The coyote did so carefully, on high alert and prepared to bolt  if necessary. This went on for about 200 feet before the coyote veered off to where the brush picked up again and it could continue undetected through the bushes. Neither the man nor his dog ever looked back!

In this case, what seems to be going on is that, by following in the duo’s “wake”, the coyote was continuing to avoid detection. Animals and people tend to look around themselves, but much less frequently  directly in back of themselves. We all tend to concentrate on sounds, smells and sights which are in front of us or to the sides. Coyotes know this, and “follow” as a method to avoid being seen.

Following Mom, by Charles Wood

Pup1

Both photographs are of my LA county pup following Mom around. Both were alarmed when they saw my companions, another human and two good sized dogs, and me. Mom headed down the road and within a minute her puppy followed. The road offered us a clear view of them, but for only parts of the way because brush along the road at times concealed them from view. Soon both coyotes were hidden. Yet Mom could have immediately hid with her puppy in the brush. Why didn’t she? I think she had decided it was to her advantage to use the road strategically.

When Mom took to the road, I didn’t know if she intended to approach or avoid. I think she knew that by taking to the road, I wouldn’t know where she would end up or whether she intended to come towards me or intended to go away. All I would really know was that she was on the move.

PupMom

After dusk, Mom came out from hiding to sit and stare at us, her puppy still in the brush. A third coyote, Dad, came in and out of view near them. Together, Mom and Dad formed a stone wall against an intrusion. Then, apparently instantly oblivious to danger, the puppy decided to come out and join Mom. Mom got up and the puppy followed her back into the brush. The puppy is too young to know that Mom doesn’t want to play when actively guarding the family.

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

Dad Gets Close, by Charles Wood

Dad

Saturday in LA County I took one dog, Holtz, out with my camera to look for my coyotes. Dad came close to us and then left. I photographed him leaving, after sunset and several hundred feet away. Despite the distance, Dad’s ears were pointed back in my direction. He disappeared after re-entering his field through a break in the fence.

In 2005 I let Holtz use the same break in the fence. Holtz wanted to cavort in the field and I let him. As he played in the field I noticed a coyote approaching him from behind. I yelled at the coyote, made Holtz come, leashed him, and left. I didn’t return to the field until 2009 when I took up bird photography.

Dad and Holtz have a history since 2009, and perhaps as far back as 2005. I have no way of knowing if it was or wasn’t Dad who had approached Holtz in 2005. I do know it was Dad who approached us Saturday at dusk.

I waited about half an hour and watched. Then Holtz stood, stared past the fence into the field, and began crying. Holtz cries when he sees rabbits or coyotes close by. He cries because he wants off leash to chase. I hushed Holtz, but didn’t see anything. He still stood on alert staring out into the field. I packed up slowly, hoping to see something. I even lobbed a couple golf balls. If a coyote was close, I wanted it to back off. Nothing stirred. Then we headed north to my coyotes’ rendezvous area.

Leashed and energetic, I let Holtz run wide half circles near me and down along the fence. With my back to him, I felt him return to my side and hold still. It dawned on me that although Holtz wasn’t running, the sound of running hadn’t stopped. I turned to see Dad running the fence on the other side. He wasn’t happy. When I looked at Dad, he moved away into brush. From Dad’s point of view I am a feared incompetent, slow to catch on, slow to see him, a sometime thrower of golf balls with bad aim, yet a sturdy barrier between Holtz and him.

For a month or so Dad has been satisfied to just show himself at a distance and stare to make us leave. Saturday, he spoke louder by getting close. One of Dad’s messaging techniques is to hide himself in brush about fifty or so feet away. He watches and waits. While I’m not looking, Dad shows himself to Holtz and gives him an evil eye. Holtz cries and I look to see at what. Once in a while I catch Dad sidestepping back into cover. Saturday Dad was quicker than I. After unnerving Holtz, Dad must have followed us to the rendezvous area. Holtz’s running around further raised Dad’s ire and so Dad came closer to run the fence. It was a strong message.

After Dad ran the fence he disappeared into the brush. I took a few steps in that direction. Holtz let the leash tighten up and planted his feet, looking at me like I was crazy. Holtz knew that Dad seriously wanted distance. Holtz wanted serious distance between Dad and us too. As we left I kept an eye on our heels for Dad. Far away, in dim light with the naked eye, a distant plant on the river bank looked possibly like a coyote. I put the camera on it and saw that it was just a plant. Only through the lens did I notice some motion down there and photographed Dad.

Dad is troublesome to Holtz and me because we are troublesome to Dad. Over the years I’ve seen and talked to several people who use my coyotes’ field. Some haven’t seen the coyotes at all, some see them play and hunt, and none have told me of being messaged in the way Holtz and I are. My coyotes watch people pass by on the river bank walking, jogging, or bicycling. Few stop to ask what I’m watching for. Those who do are surprised to hear coyotes live in the field. As far as I know, my coyotes are only troublesome to me. Going on four years, Mom and Dad have known me for about half of their lives. Other people to my coyotes are mostly background noise. One man spends the night in their field and the coyotes just avoid him. To have a chance of seeing puppies this year I will have to back off now and try and return later incognito.

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

Reading a Scent

After hunting for a while this coyote finally disappeared into the brush. I thought that was the end of my observations for the day, but not so. Soon thereafter, two large men and their two large pit bulls appeared from a path close to where the coyote had disappeared. They proceeded down a trail which would lead them out of the park. The coyote then reappeared from the brush, sniffed where this walking group had lingered for a moment, caught sight of them, and then follow them, not too closely, but within eyesight, until they left the park. The dogs and walkers never turned around, so they never saw the coyote, and when they exited the park, the coyote disappeared again into the bushes close to the park’s exit. No one was any the wiser because of this. And that was the end of my observations of that coyote.

Within 10 minutes, there appeared another coyote sniffing around where the first one had first caught whiff of the dogs.  This coyote sniffed intently and looked all around, stretching his neck high, but no one was in sight, and maybe the scent of the dogs and the other coyote had begun to dissipate a little because he didn’t seem sure of which direction to follow. He finally made his choice. Instead of following the scent on the trail that led out of the park — the direction the others had gone in —  he turned around and retraced the path the dogs had originally come from.

I’m wondering: Did he lose the scent which led out of the park? Or did he mean to retrace the direction from which dogs and coyote had come? Was his interest a curiosity in the dogs or in meeting up with the first coyote? Or, might he have been attempting to assess if the dogs and coyote had had an encounter?  We don’t actually know what pheromones and other clues were there for the second coyote to tap into. It’s always fun to try and figure out what these animals are up to!

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!

Charming Curiosity!

As I, along with a dog and its owner, headed out for an early hike, this young coyote appeared on a hill way ahead looking at us. As we got closer we noted that it’s eyes actually were on the dog — of course, coyotes are especially curious about dogs. I snapped a few photos and we went on. I looked back, and the coyote had disappeared. We walked for about half a mile when we again saw this same coyote — this time peeking at us from around a bush! It was really very charming!  It must have gone around another way, but following us nonetheless to find out where were were going and what we were doing. Seeing that we had eyed it, it again vanished into thin air. We walked on until my friend left the park. I followed the same path back. A sprinkling of other dogs had come into the area, and now I found this coyote curiously watching the show from high up on another hill. It was so delightful to watch this yearling behave as the curious the little twerp that he was!! We have a lot of affectionate names for our coyotes!

Coyotes Respond to Previous Dog Behaviors; Coyote/Dog Interactions Are Drawing Coyotes Towards Humans

Coyotes have approached certain dogs in our parks — and not always just out of friendly curiosity. I have only seen this happen IF the dog first came to within about 100 feet of where the coyote was, and only to particular dogs. Could the wariness which coyotes have always had be waning? No one I have spoken to has ever seen a coyote approach a person in our parks, not ever  — it is always the dogs which they approach. However, this has occurred even though a human was near by. Humans who are with their dogs can ultimately scare the coyote off because coyotes do maintain their fear of humans. But why are they sometimes approaching dogs?

There are a number of unleashed dogs which have had antagonistic encounters with a coyote. From what I have seen, these are the ones the coyote reacts to later on if the dog comes within its “critical distance” — about 100 feet, rather than just flee. In fact, these particular dogs — those that have had antagonistic encounters with a coyote — seem to actually “attract” the coyote: it is these the coyote monitors, it is these the coyote has followed. The coyote seems to need to keep tabs on these dogs, and to even “show them who is boss” . . . IF the coyote has a chance. The coyote’s behavior is a defensive “standing up for itself.”  In this case, the coyote has taken the initiative to give warning to a dog to stay away.

My own little cattle dog, Cinder, is the very best example I have of this behavior: Two young and large unleashed Dalmatians went after her a number of times as she and I walked on a sidewalk. The owner apologized, but this did not solve the problem for my dog. She was a shy little dog who was actually afraid — she always stayed right next to me. Then at a much later date we passed these two dogs again. My husband and our larger dog were with us this time. We could not believe what we saw: my shy little cattle dog actually charged at these two dogs as they headed away from us — she barked ferociously at them — her body language was very clear: “take that, leave, and leave me alone.” She came loping back to us triumphantly. The shy little dog had the will to let the dogs know what she thought; she was sick of their treatment of her. She was standing up for herself. Our reaction was “Yay Cinder!”

Coyotes can distinguish each and every dog that frequents a park. And they certainly remember the behaviors that have been dished out to them by certain individual dogs. Some of these dogs, always those which are unleashed and unruly, have distressed the coyotes by chasing them and by approaching too close to them. The coyotes have always reacted in the past by fleeing, or by backing off to a safe distance before barking or exhibiting bluffing displays to ward off the dog. These self-protective warning displays are very clear messages.

Coyotes more recently have actually approached a few of these dogs in the same manner that Cinder approached the two Dalmatians. The coyotes don’t run across the park to accost a dog; what happens is that a dog will unknowingly come into the coyote’s wider “critical space”, or the dog and coyote will inadvertently find themselves heading in the same direction. This then is when the coyote might make a move — as far as I can tell, always coming up from behind, the same as my dog did. The coyote’s behavior involves the same “chase-chase” and “oneupmanship” which I have described before. Others have read it as taunting. In all cases it is a warning and a message. The “display” is clearly a repellant one.  To understand the logic of this dynamic one has only to know how certain dogs have treated the coyote, no matter how long ago.  A subtler interaction that few humans are attuned to is the eye-contact, body language and energy level which so easily communicate threat to a coyote. A dog pulling at its leash towards a coyote is in this category. The coyotes read the meaning of these behaviors easily, and may react to them. These are interactions we need to prevent. Keeping our dogs leashed and as far away from any coyotes as possible is the only method that works for keeping them from interacting on any level. Please keep your dogs leashed in our urban parks, both for your dog’s protection and the coyote’s.

In an urban park it is expected that there will be a certain amount of “habituation” taking place between a coyote and humans and dogs: each is going to get used to the other, no matter what, due simply to being in the same physical setting. However, it is actual “interaction” that needs to be prevented in order to keep our coyotes wild. Interaction seems to breed familiarity, and familiarity breeds contempt, it appears. Dog owners have allowed interaction and interference between their dogs and coyotes: chasing, communication which is antagonistic and getting too close to the coyotes. It is “interaction” of this sort between coyotes and dogs which is actually slowly breaking down the “wild” barrier that was in place when these coyotes arrived in our parks. It is this dog/coyote interaction which is actually drawing coyotes towards humans — it is happening through our dogs. The only interactions I have ever seen between humans and coyotes has involved humans shooing them away from their dogs: here you have a coyote and a human in close proximity — interaction and proximity is breaking down the “wild” barrier that we all want so badly to preserve. Dog owners can keep this sort of interaction from occurring. Humans observing or photographing coyotes in the park do not interact with coyotes or attract them. These same humans have not caused dogs to approach or pursue the coyotes, and neither do these same humans cause coyotes to approach the dogs. I’m mentioning this here, because it has been absurdly suggested by dog owners who refuse to leash their dogs. It is the dog owner’s responsibility to keep their dogs in check.

“What Are You Doing & Where Are You Going?” -Following

In the morning I saw a small border collie and its owner before I noticed a coyote trotting along a short distance behind them. I called out that a coyote was right there — but this did not phase the owner, who slowly bagged the dog’s droppings before leashing up. This dog and coyote know each other visually, but keep their distance. The owner leashes her dog because she does not want the possibility of an altercation between her dog and the coyote. The result would be a bad reputation for the coyote — so we all guard against this.  In this case, the small dog, about the same size as a coyote, was totally oblivious to the coyote — he had not seen it. Most dogs become aware of any coyote in the immediate vicinity well before their owners do.

The owner continued walking up the hill where she looked back to finally see the coyote herself. The coyote knew it had been sighted, so it jumped into some bushes further back, “just in case” the dog might go after it. The woman and her dog walked on, saying they would be back on their way out of the park. The coyote came out, no longer to follow these two, but to bask on a rock in the sun, even dozing off a little now and then. The coyote might have been waiting for the return of this dog — if it had learned of their walking routine.

After exactly half an hour, the coyote stood up and gazed intently in one area. It kept its eyes glued on a trail which I could not see. It turned out that the coyote was watching this same woman and her dog returning. When I finally did see the owner, we waved at each other and she acknowledged the coyote’s presence, and then she proceeded onto a trail out of the park. The coyote at this point got up, stretched, and follow them to the entrance.

By the time I reached the entrance to the park, the walker was gone, and the coyote was examining something at the end of the trail. I wanted to put this into my blog because it seemed to me that the coyote actually had chosen to follow this particular dog as it entered the park, and then to follow it as it exited the park. There was nothing “threatening” about the following, just a certain “nosiness” on the part of the coyote: “what are you doing and where are you going?” I think the coyote was confirming for itself what she already knew as the pattern: that the dog was just “visiting” the park and then “moving on”.

I have seen lots of instances of coyote “nosiness”. A few mornings ago I was walking with a friend when we noticed a coyote dart by quickly, almost undetectably. Sometimes a coyote might dart by on its way somewhere, and that is the end of that. But sometimes, especially if you, or you and your dog, stop to observe the coyote, it will do the same, even coming back around a bend or a bush fairly close so as to be able to examine you. The coyote wants to know what you are doing and where you are going.  I suppose nosiness elicits nosiness in this case!! Or call it curiosity. The coyotes might engage in this for a few minutes, but inevitably more walkers and dogs appear and the coyotes run off.